The missing head of the Australian folk hero Ned Kelly has reportedly been discovered in the cupboard of a self-confessed witch in New Zealand.
74-year-old Anna Hoffman told New Zealand’s Herald on Sunday newspaper that a uniformed security guard had given her the skull at a family dinner 30 years ago while she was on holiday in Australia.
“We got talking about skulls and the next day he turned up with this skull. He said it was Ned Kelly's skull, and told me to 'put it in the bottom of your bag and wrap it up'.”
Ms Hoffman, who in the 1960s and 70s attracted media attention after claiming to be a witch, said she had cared for the head - one of more than 20 skulls in her collection.
“I have treated it with respect; I haven't lit candles in it or drunk red wine out of it or anything bohemian like that.”
Ned Kelly and his gang of outlaws became folk heroes in Australia in the late 19th century.
The group roamed the outback robbing banks, killing three police officers in the process, after which a record bounty of £8,000 was placed on their heads.
The gang’s crime spree came to an end in 1880 after three members were killed in a gun battle with police in Glenrowan, Victoria.
Shortly after the shoot-out, 25-year-old Ned Kelly was captured while wearing a homemade suit of armour.
He was later hanged and his body thrown into a mass grave at Melbourne's Pentridge Prison. The prison closed in 1929, and in 2009 a developer on the site discovered the mass grave.
After comparing the DNA of one of one skeleton to that of Kelly’s great grand nephew Leigh Olver, scientists publicly confirmed that they had discovered the outlaw’s remains. Much of the skeleton’s skull was missing, however.
Ms Hoffman was encouraged to come forward by a recent campaign by Kelly’s descendants requesting the skull be returned in order to organise a proper burial.
Scientists were excited by the possible discovery of Ned Kelly’s skull, with Deb Withers, a spokeswoman for the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine saying: “There is a chance that that is his head, although it is a long shot…That would be wonderful if it was.”
Not everyone was quite so positive about the chances of the skull in Ms Hoffman’s cupboard belonging to Ned Kelly though.
Gina McFarlane, a forensics expert at Auckland University, pointed out that wires attached to the skull suggested it had been used in teaching, making it less likely it was Kelly's.