Posts Tagged With: Robin Hood

Joaquin Murrieta – Patriot or Desperado?….

Depending on a California pioneer’s point of view in the mid 19th century, Joaquin Murrieta was described by some as a Mexican Patriot, while others would say he was nothing but a vicious desperado.


Thought to have been born in either Alamos, Sonora, Mexico or Quillota, Chile in 1829; Joaquin traveled with his older brother, Carlos and his wife, Rosita, toCalifornia in 1850 to seek his fortune in the gold fields of California. The three immigrants soon set up a small farm and the brothers began to work a claim near Hangtown. However, in the same year as their arrival, a Foreign Miners Tax was imposed in California and their Anglo-Saxon neighbors tried to run them off by telling them that it was illegal for Mexicans to hold a claim. Reportedly, the Murrieta brothers tried to ignore the threats as long as they could until they were finally forced off their claim. Angry and unable to find work, Joaquin turned to a life of crime, along with other disposed foreign miners, who began to prey upon those who had forced them from their claims. 


Joaquin Murrieta, California bandit

Joaquin Murrieta

Murrieta soon became one of the leaders of a band of ruffians called The Five Joaquins, who were said to have been responsible for cattle rustling, robberies, and murders that occurred in the gold rush area of the Sierra Nevadas between 1850 and 1863. Comprised of Joaquin Botellier, Joaquin Carrillo, Joaquin Ocomorenia, and Joaquin Valenzuela, and Murrieta’s right hand man Manual Garcia, known as “Three-Fingered Jack,” the tales of their crime spree included stealing over 100 horses, making off with more than $100,000 in gold, and killing 19 men.


With posses trailing after them, the bandits were able to avoid the law for several years, killing three lawmen in the process. When travel through the goldfields was made nearly impossible by the Five Joaquins, a bounty was placed on Murrieta’s head for $5,000. Finally having had enough of the Five Joaquins as well as the rest of the lawlessness in California, its Governor, John Bigler, created the “California Rangers” in May, 1853. Lead by former Texas Ranger, Harry Love, their first assignment was to arrest the Five Joaquins.


On July 25, 1853, the rangers encountered a group of Mexican males near Panoche Pass in San Benito County. In the inevitable gunfight that ensued, two of the Mexicans were killed, one of whom was thought to have been Murrieta, and the other — his right-hand man, Manual Garcia.


As evidence of the outlaws’ deaths, they cut of Garcia’s hand and Murrieta’s head and preserved them in a jar of brandy. Seventeen people, including a priest, signed affidavits identifying the head as Murrieta’s and the Rangers involved received the $5,000 reward.


Murrieta’s grisly remains then began to travel throughout California, displayed in Stockton, San Francisco and the mining camps of Mariposa County, to curious spectators willing to pay $1.00 to see the “sight” of the dead bandit’s head.


But not long after he was killed, speculation began to arise that it had not been Murrieta who had been killed, especially when a young woman, who claimed to be his sister, viewed the head and said that it did not have a characteristic scar that her brother had. Others began to make reports that Marietta was seen in various places in California after his alleged death.


If his legend wasn’t enough during his short life time, it would soon grow larger when in 1854, the first “fictionalized” account of his life appeared in a San Francisco newspaper and a book by John Rollin Ridge. In The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murrieta.


Ridge portrayed Murrieta as a folk hero who had only turned to a life of crime after a mob of American miners had beaten him severely and left him for dead, hanged his brother, and raped and killed his wife. According to Ridge’s account, Joaquin was a dashing, romantic figure that swearing to avenge the atrocities committed upon his family, committed his many crimes only in an effort to “right” the many injustices against the Mexicans.


According to the tale, Murrieta fled from his claim only to set up a saloon in nearby Hangtown, where miners began to go missing. One by one, the dead bodies of the miners, all who were said to have been part of the killings at the Murrieta claim, turned up with their ears cut off.


Joaquin Murreita's Head Advertising

After Joaquin’s supposed death, advertising posters were displayed where the head could be viewed, 1853.

After fourteen miners had been found dead or missing, a Hangtown settler identified Murrieta who fled once again. Before long, he had gathered up his outlaw gang and began to take out his vendetta against the white settlers through robbery and mayhem.  However, to his Mexican compatriots he was generous and kind, giving much of his ill gotten gains to the poor, who in turn helped to shelter him from the law.


There is no evidence that Ridge’s version of the tale is accurate; however, similar atrocities were committed on both Mexicans and Chinese who were living in California at the time.


Over the years, the telling of the tale continued to grow until the dead Mexican outlaw began to be called the Robin Hood of El Dorado and take on a symbolized resistance of the Mexicans to the Anglo-American domination of California. And all throughout Gold Country, tales were told of how the outlaw had stayed at this or that hotel, drank in various saloons, and those who claimed to have actually met or was robbed by the man.


As to what happened to Joaquin’s head, it was finally placed behind the bar of the Golden Nugget Saloon in San Francisco, until the building was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake.


The head itself would become yet a part of another legend – the ghost of Joaquin. Even today, the tales continue of Joaquin’s headless ghost riding through the old gold fields, crying like a banshee – “Give me back my head.”

Categories: California, gold, Myths, Outlaws, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ned Kelly…famous outlaw’s final resting place….

Edward “Ned” Kelly, Australia’s most notorious bushranger and outlaw, sat for a portrait the day before his execution in 1880.
In the photo taken the day before he was hanged in November 1880, Ned Kelly’s eyes are fixed in a firm, defiant gaze. Though much of his face is hidden beneath a thick beard, it is possible that a little smile plays about his lips. But it’s hard to tell for sure.

Kelly is one of the most iconic and polarizing figures in Australian history. He is the most famed of the guerilla bandits known as bushrangers, some of whom, in their day, personified revolt against the colony’s convict system (“Australia’s Shackled Pioneers,” July/ August 2011) and against the excesses of wealth and authority. There’s no real non-Australian analogue for Kelly—he was part Clyde Barrow, part Jesse James, part Robin Hood, but with media savvy and a strong political sense. To some, particularly Australians of Irish descent, he’s a populist hero. To many others, he’s a cop-killer, and his lionization is distasteful at best. He is, at the very least, an enduring subject of fascination.

For all that is known about his life and the crime spree that ensured his immortality, theories have long abounded about what happened to Kelly’s remains after his execution. “Whilst he was an outlaw, there’s a lot of interest in how he was treated by the police, the courts, and judicial systems,” says David Ranson, a pathologist at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine. In the place of certainty, there was rumor, supposition, and endless questions. Had his skeleton been taken apart by trophy hunters? Was his skull put on display and then stolen in the 1970s? Had doctors conducted a clandestine autopsy and taken his remains away for study? It has taken a decade of archaeological, forensic, and historical sleuthing to understand the convoluted story of Kelly’s remains—and those of more than 40 other executed criminals—and learn that everything we thought we knew about that history was wrong. Finally, many of the mysteries surrounding Kelly’s bones can be laid to rest. But not all of them.
In 1929, construction had begun on a school that would become the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) at the site of the recently closed Old Melbourne Gaol. It was known that around 30 executed criminals had been buried there between 1880 and 1924. The graves were located in a long, narrow yard at the base of a wall that held markers for each burial, including one grave marked “E.K.” with an English broad arrow, signifying the grave of Edward “Ned” Kelly. The construction workers expressed misgivings about digging through a graveyard, but were told that the remains had been covered with quicklime and would have disintegrated. Even though some of the remains had been in the ground for only a few years, workers were still shocked when bodies started turning up.
Plans were made to exhume and rebury the bodies at Pentridge Prison, about five miles away. On April 12, 1929, the first graves were opened, including the one thought to contain Kelly. Onlookers were seized with desire for a souvenir from the great outlaw. “As soon as this gruesome discovery was made a crowd of boys who had been standing around expectantly while eating their luncheons rushed forward and seized the bones,” read a story in the newspaper the next day. Authorities retrieved most of the bones that were taken, reports said, but the process can charitably be described as disorganized. The remains in the graveyard were moved to a series of mass graves at Pentridge in 1929 and, in 1937, four more were relocated there from the jail’s hospital grounds.

In 2002, archaeologists from La Trobe University were monitoring landscaping work at RMIT when they were surprised to find a grave—one had apparently been missed in 1937. Archaeologists believe this was the only body that had been left behind. But they also knew the reburial of the others had been haphazard, leading them to speculate whether these remains moved from the old jail were where they were supposed to be—including the remains of Kelly, if there were any left. Pentridge, where they were reburied, was used as a prison from the 1850s until 1997, but the precise location and layout of the cemetery within its sprawling grounds had been forgotten, and the government had recently sold portions of the site to private developers.

“We decided we really needed to be confident that we knew everything about [Pentridge]—particularly about its archaeology, and particularly about the burials,” says Jeremy Smith, an archaeologist at Heritage Victoria, the state’s historical authority, which oversaw a series of excavations there between 2006 and 2009. Somewhere at this site, unmarked amid the remains of dozens of other criminals, might be the remains of Kelly himself.

Ned Kelly was born in Beveridge, north of Melbourne, in 1855, the son of an Irish convict. Young Kelly ran afoul of the law throughout his teens, but his bushranging career didn’t really begin until April 1878, when a constable arrived at the family home to arrest Ned’s brother Dan, and afterward claimed that the Kelly family had attacked him. The brothers, who denied the accusation, took to the bush. Their mother, Ellen, was charged with attempted murder for the incident and sentenced to three years, fueling Ned’s hatred of the police and distrust of government. Ned and Dan joined up with friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, forming the Kelly gang, which consistently tried to one-up itself over the next 21 months.
Ned Kelly was born in Beveridge, north of Melbourne, in 1855, the son of an Irish convict. Young Kelly ran afoul of the law throughout his teens, but his bushranging career didn’t really begin until April 1878, when a constable arrived at the family home to arrest Ned’s brother Dan, and afterward claimed that the Kelly family had attacked him. The brothers, who denied the accusation, took to the bush. Their mother, Ellen, was charged with attempted murder for the incident and sentenced to three years, fueling Ned’s hatred of the police and distrust of government. Ned and Dan joined up with friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, forming the Kelly gang, which consistently tried to one-up itself over the next 21 months.

In October 1878, Ned killed three constables at Stringybark Creek. The reward for the gang’s capture went from £100 to £500 per man, dead or alive. In December, they took 22 hostages at a sheep station and then robbed the National Bank in Euroa of £2,000. The reward doubled. In February 1879, the gang took over a police station in Jerilderie, locking up two officers while they robbed the Bank of New South Wales (wearing police uniforms) of another £2,141 pounds, after which they rounded up 60 people at the Royal Hotel next door. There, Ned dictated a fiery, quasi-political, 8,000-word manifesto about his Irish roots and the injustice of the courts and convict system. The reward was doubled again and Aboriginal trackers were brought in to find them. In late June 1880, the gang took over the Ann Jones Inn in Glenrowan (see “Anatomy of a Shootout,” page 31), holding another 60 people hostage, and attempted to derail a special police train sent to bring them in. Surrounded by police at the inn, the gang donned armor made from metal plows. Ned fled the hotel and flanked the cops, coming out of the shadows in his mailbox-like, but no less intimidating for it, armor. His legs weren’t protected, so Ned was taken down with low shots. In the hotel, Byrne was killed in the shootout and Dan Kelly and Hart took poison before the police set fire to the building. On November 11, 1880, Ned, the last surviving member of the gang, was hanged at Old Melbourne Gaol. Reportedly, 8,000 fans and sympathizers turned out at a rally for his reprieve. His last words are said to have been, “Ah well, it has come to this.” It’s the stuff of legends.
According to historical records, 44 bodies had been buried at Pentridge—30 moved there in 1929, another four in 1937, and 10 prisoners executed at Pentridge between 1932 and 1967. One version of the Pentridge cemetery plan showed that the remains moved in 1929 were buried in three mass graves, but wasn’t clear on where they were actually located.

In 2006, Heritage Victoria had private company Terra Culture conduct test excavations at what was thought to have been Pentridge’s cemetery, but they found only one set of remains— those of Ronald Ryan, the last man to be executed there in 1967. “I remember thinking that day,” says Heritage Victoria’s Smith, “we’ve got more than 40 bodies unaccounted for, including some of the most notorious and infamous Australians that there are, including the most famous of all Australians, Ned Kelly.”

A 1955 aerial photo was used to locate mass graves containing the remains of Kelly and more than 40 other executed criminals. (Courtesy State Library of Victoria)
The team then found a 1955 aerial photograph that showed a rectangular, overgrown, fenced yard that appeared to match the dimensions of the cemetery plan. Archaeologists found the area muddy, covered in weeds, and surrounded by the prison’s massive, intimidating bluestone buildings. “As an archaeological site, it’s quite unusual. It almost had echoes of a Bronze Age site. You had these large monolithic structures looming over these equally large open areas,” says Smith. “It still very much had that sense of isolation and remoteness even though it’s only 10 kilometers [six miles] from the center of Melbourne.”
The excavations first uncovered the more recent graves, and later located two of the three mass graves from 1929—roughly where the plan indicated they might be. But the last and largest of the mass graves, containing the remains of 15 more men, probably including Kelly, was not where the plan indicated. In February 2009, the owners of the site phoned Heritage Victoria to say they had uncovered a deeply buried box. Archaeologists investigated and found the third mass grave, 100 feet from where it was indicated on the plan. It contained two layers of burials, with 24 coffins and boxes that held the remains of 15 men (some spread across multiple boxes). It is thought it might have been relocated—without documentation—during drainage work in the 1960s. Somewhere among this jumble of bones and boxes may have been evidence of Ned Kelly himself. “Kelly’s important,” says Smith. “If it wasn’t for the notoriety, the significance, the profile of Ned Kelly, probably the project would have trickled along.”
Most unidentified human remains in Australia go to the coroner, who must determine whether an inquest is required. With so many sets of remains, an inquest would have been lengthy and costly, so it was incumbent on the archaeologists to establish a clear history of the site. “It was all about demonstrating to the coroner, through the archaeological processes, that we were confident that these were late-nineteenth-century executions that had been done as part of the judicial process, and that the stratigraphy showed no signs of recent disturbance,” says Smith.

The oldest remains were sent to the coroner at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM). “This is a very unusual case. It was old skeletal remains and they are difficult to examine, but in addition, there was a very large amount of historic interest among the general public and also at a political level,” says Fiona Leahy, Senior Medico-Legal Officer at VIFM. While the excavations were taking place and the remains were being examined by forensic pathologists, anthropologists, and odontologists, another mystery was unfolding. “We had the long-standing, quite interesting, scandalous story of the alleged Ned Kelly skull,” says VIFM pathologist David Ranson.
In 2008, Heritage Victoria reached out to a man named Tom Baxter who claimed to know the whereabouts of Kelly’s skull. A complete cranium thought to be Kelly’s had a long and checkered history. This skull was apparently not reinterred at Pentridge, but was given to government officials and then passed to Colin Mackenzie, first director of the Australian Institute of Anatomy in Canberra. The institute made a cast of the skull, and eventually turned it over to the National Trust in 1972, which put it on display in the museum of the Old Melbourne Gaol, next to a Kelly death mask (a postmortem plaster cast). This skull, which had been labeled “E. Kelly” at some point in its history, was stolen in 1978.

Baxter, without saying how he came into possession of it, agreed to return the skull on November 11, 2009, 129 years to the day after Kelly’s execution. With it in their possession, the experts at VIFM had any number of questions, and a sophisticated arsenal of techniques by which to answer them. Was this the skull held at the Institute of Anatomy? Was it the one on display and stolen from the Old Melbourne Gaol? And, perhaps most importantly, was it Kelly’s?

Researchers at the VIFM took photographs, X-rays, and CT scans, and conducted craniofacial superimposition—layering the new images of the skull over the replica made at the Institute of Anatomy and photos of it on display later at the old jail. All the images matched up. They also located a tooth—kept by the grandson of a workman present at the 1929 exhumation— and it fit perfectly. The pathologists then superimposed the CT scan of the skull over CT scans of death masks from the executed men. While this process cannot provide conclusive evidence, and not all the executed prisoners had death masks, it helped reduce the number of possible candidates. These comparisons eliminated all but two men: Frederick Deeming, a serial killer who was suspected of having been Jack the Ripper, and Ned Kelly.
By September 2010, the coroner had determined no inquest was necessary. The VIFM, working with the experienced Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, subjected the left clavicles from 30 sets of remains from the mass graves to mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing. The Baxter skull was also tested, as was a sample from the living great-grandson of Kelly’s sister. “It’s about delivering certainty,” says Smith.

The mtDNA from the surviving Kelly ancestor was a match to a set of remains from the third pit—and not a match for the Baxter skull. Surprisingly, the matching remains were among the most complete of any of the Pentridge burials. They were missing only a few cervical vertebrae, some small bones, and the skull, except for a palm-sized fragment—further proof that the intact Baxter skull could not have been Kelly’s. “The Kelly remains are almost complete. It’s one of the best sets of remains from the entire site. That I did not expect at all,” says Smith. “It contradicted the historical evidence that Kelly’s burial had been targeted by trophy collectors.”

Closer examination of the bones showed unmistakable evidence of Kelly’s injuries from the shootout at the Ann Jones Inn. Injuries to the top of the right tibia, the left arm, and the right foot all matched those documented by prison surgeon Andrew Shields when he examined Kelly after arrest. Using an otoscope and dental instruments, Ranson even removed two lead pellets from the tibia. “We had genetic evidence and a lot of anthropological evidence, and then when we looked at the historical evidence as well, it really tied it all together,” says Soren Blau, the forensic anthropologist who examined the remains. Smith describes the outcome as “staggeringly conclusive.”
As for the Baxter skull, it actually matched another set of remains, one that was in the fragmentary condition that Smith expected of Kelly’s. A closer look at plans from the original cemetery at the Old Melbourne Gaol suggests that Deeming— whose death mask is consistent with the skull—may have been buried close to Kelly. This raises the possibility that the trophy seekers in 1929 simply raided the wrong coffin. But without Deeming family DNA, “we haven’t been able to prove that conclusively,” says Leahy.

If the Baxter skull does not belong to Kelly, and the mass grave contains only a palm-sized fragment, what happened to the rest of Kelly’s head? A lurid account from 1880 refers to rumors that Kelly’s remains were dismembered and taken away by “medical men” after execution. It is now known this didn’t happen, and it is also known that Kelly told the prison surgeon Shields that he did not want his body dissected. Helen Harris, a historian working with the VIFM team, found evidence of a letter from the prison governor, John Castieau, stating that there was no truth to the dissection rumors. But Kelly’s remains have a story of their own to tell, somewhere between rumors and official record.

The skull fragment with the Kelly remains came from the back of his cranium, and shows saw marks across the top and down the sides. The cuts clearly continue on the cervical vertebrae below. A physician had explored the remains of Kelly with more than his eyes. In that era, authorities were concerned with whether hanging was indeed an instantaneous, humane form of execution. Hangings were known to have been botched, resulting in long, drawn-out choking rather than death from a hangman’s fracture— a quick, decisive snap of the neck. “This piece of skull suggests the individual had been subject to a limited autopsy, probably to investigate the interior back half of the neck following an execution,” says Blau. “That was probably not uncommon given that there was interest in whether hangings were effective or not, and it was important for the jail to say that it was a successful hanging.”
It is impossible to say what became of the rest of Kelly’s skull, beyond the fact that any complete skull couldn’t possibly belong to him. “Unfortunately we only have part of the answer,” says Leahy. “It could be sitting in someone’s garage or it could simply have gotten lost, discarded, or disintegrated. We don’t know.”

“The mystery continues,” she adds. “What exactly happened in the jail after his hanging has not been fully explained. We have our theories.”

And theories are the coin of the realm for a figure as nearmythic as Kelly. The stories and speculation will continue— some even refuse to believe the definitive findings from Heritage Victoria and VIFM. Mythos notwithstanding, archaeology and forensic work have provided knowledge about the end of Kelly’s life: The back of his skull was opened, he was buried at the Old Melbourne Gaol, his grave was not looted, and his remains were reburied at Pentridge Prison mostly intact. Almost all the remains of the executed prisoners will be reburied again in an official cemetery at Pentridge. But probably not Kelly’s. Officials are still trying to decide his final resting place.

“It’s introduced certainty,” says Smith, “into a project where 10 years ago everything we knew about this was wrong.”

Categories: Strange News, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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