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Experts identify Ned Kelly remains

The headless remains of Australia's most infamous criminal Ned Kelly have been identified, ending a decades-long mystery surrounding the whereabouts of the folk hero's body.

Kelly, who led a gang of bank robbers in Australia's southern Victoria state in the 19th century, was hanged in 1880. His final resting place was unknown, though it was long suspected his body lay alongside 33 other executed inmates in a mass grave at a prison.

Officials pinpointed the location of the grave site in 2008 and later exhumed the bodies for analysis. A DNA sample from one of Kelly's descendants confirmed that one of the skeletons - which was missing most of its skull - was that of the notorious Ned, said Victoria attorney general Robert Clark.

"To think a group of scientists could identify the body of a man who was executed more than 130 years ago, moved and buried in a haphazard fashion among 33 other prisoners, most of whom are not identified, is amazing," Mr Clark said.

Kelly, whose father was an Irish convict, led a gang that robbed banks and killed policemen from 1878-80. These days he is considered by many Australians to be something of a Robin Hood or Jesse James-like character, fighting the British colonial authorities and championing the rural Irish underclass.

For years Australians have wondered what became of Kelly's remains. After he was executed at 25, his body was buried in an unmarked grave at a prison called the Old Melbourne Gaol. But when it closed in 1929, officials decided to exhume Kelly's body along with the remains of other executed convicts and move them to the nearby Pentridge Prison.

The exhumation, however, turned into something of a debacle when a mob of onlookers descended on the site and stole some of the remains, including what was believed to be Kelly's skull. That skull was later recovered and put on display at the Old Melbourne Gaol - now a historic site - next to Kelly's "death mask", a plaster cast of his face made after his execution.

Stephen Cordner, the institute's director, said the DNA left no doubt the skeleton was Kelly's. Tests on the remains also uncovered evidence of shotgun wounds that matched those Kelly suffered during his criminal rampage.

The DNA sample used for comparison came from Leigh Olver, a teacher in the Victoria state capital Melbourne and the great-grandson of Kelly's sister Ellen.

He told reporters in Melbourne that he hoped his notorious ancestor would finally be laid to rest in a place of dignity. "It's such a great relief to finally have this side of the story resolved," he said.

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