Gun Alley Murder
The Gun Alley Murder was the rape and murder of 12-year-old Alma Tirtschke in Melbourne, Australia in 1921. She was a schoolgirl and had last been seen alive close to a drinking establishment, the Australian Wine Saloon; under these circumstances her murder caused a sensation. More recently, the case has become well known as a miscarriage of justice.
Alma's task that day had been to go from her grandmother's house in Jolimont to a Swanston Street butchers, collect a parcel of meat, drop it at an aunt's Collins Street home and return to Jolimont.
It was uncharacteristic for Alma to take so long on her errands. A witness said he saw a man following Alma. Reliable witnesses who had nothing to lose or gain by telling police what they knew said Alma was dawdling, apprehensive and obviously afraid.
Just a few metres away from the Australian Wine Saloon in the Eastern Arcade, between Bourke and Little Collins Streets, where Alfred Place runs off Little Collins Street (next to present day 120 Collins St), Alma was last seen about 3 pm on 30 December 1921. Her naked body was found early the next morning in a lane running east off Gun Alley, not far from Alfred Place.
Following the discovery of the body, the owner of the Australian Wine Saloon, Colin Campbell Ross, was charged with her rape and murder. The case against him was based on the evidence of two witnesses, plus some strands of red hair, apparently from Tirtschke's head, which provided a vital connection between Ross and the murder. Ross protested his innocence but was hanged.
The two witnesses were later considered by many to be unreliable, both having had a motive to lie. The only credible piece of evidence was the red hair that connected Ross to the case.
Ross could account for his movements at the time Alma disappeared, and later that night, when her body was dumped in Gun Alley. With nothing to hide, Ross had told detectives who interviewed him that a little girl matching Alma's description had passed his saloon, but that this was his only connection with the victim.
More reliable forensic examinations in the 1990s disproved the red hair connection and showed that Ross was probably innocent. Colin Campbell Ross was granted a pardon on 22 May 2008, the date on which the Victorian governor, as the Queen's representative, signed it. The pardon was announced publicly on 27 May 2008. It is the first - and to date only - pardon for a judicially executed person in Australia. In the book which led to Ross's pardon, author Kevin Morgan revealed for the first time the evidence missed by the police in their original investigation and identified by name Tirtschke's probable killer.
Notes on Gun Alley
- Gun Alley no longer exists. Present day 80 Collins St (formerly Nauru House) stands on the site where the laneway once was.
Referring to the map:
- If you zoom in on the image, you can see Gun Alley running south off Little Collins Street, immediately below the Eastern Market (on the corner of Bourke and Stephen streets). There is a small dog-leg at the end of the alley, which is where Alma Tirtschke's body was found.
- You can see Alfred Place running between Collins St and Little Collins St next to the Independent Church property (this site now has 120 Collins Street built on it), but the church (St. Michael's) still exists. Alma Tirtschke was last seen on the corner of Alfred Place and Little Collins streets.
- The Eastern Arcade, which housed the Wine Saloon, is the building at the back of the Eastern Market running between Bourke Street and Little Collins Street. The arcade was demolished in 2008.
- Kevin Morgan (2012) Gun Alley: Murder, Lies and Failure of Justice (2nd Ed., updated). Hardie Grant Books (Australia) Melbourne. ISBN 9781742702667
- "Melbourne Laneway Murder". Talk-n-tours.com. 2009-05-29. Retrieved 2012-07-26.
- Wrong man hanged, The Age, 9 July 2005
- Kevin Morgan (2005) Gun Alley: Murder, Lies and Failure of Justice. Simon & Schuster (Australia) Sydney. ISBN 073181228X.