Updated August 8, 2004

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8/08/04 ABC TV Tom Baxter's skull probably that of Ernest Knox

West Australian Tom Baxter has been claiming for many years that he holds a skull stolen from the Old Melbourne Gaol, which he has always maintained is Ned Kelly's. ABC's TV show 'Rewind' investigated his claim and, to no one's surprise, concluded that it is not Ned's.
A forensic expert (with little knowledge of Ned Kelly's appearance) did a facial reconstruction based on a cast made from the skull in Tom Baxter's possession. It was then assessed, and the determination made, that the face reconstructed from the skull did not resemble either photos of Ned, or his 'death mask'. It was thereafter compared to other 'death masks' of criminal's executed at the gaol, and is now believed it is probably that of hanged criminal Ernest Knox, (who notably shared the same initials as Ned, i.e. E.K.). Knox was executed in 1894 for murder, after the shooting death of a jeweler's son during a bungled armed robbery.

The fact that the skull does match one of the gaol's former inmate's appearances shows why Mr. Baxter (despite all evidence it wasn't Ned's) has been so adamant that he obtained it from the gaol. Because, although misidentified by Mr. Baxter, it does mean that the human remains were stolen from the gaol.
For all those who have been following this story over the years, Mr. Baxter still remains true to form. For, even when shown the evidence that the skull was not Ned's and asked if he would now give up the skull for DNA testing he still refused. Interestingly, he did not appear to be overly concerned by the news that the skull is not that of Ned Kelly, and even appeared to be somewhat gratified by the idea that the skull has now been identified as probably that of Ernest Knox. (He may realise he still possesses a carrot to dangle before the press, even though a less famous one.) Nevertheless, it is now safe to say conclusively that the mystery of this skull has now ceased to become part of the Kelly story - and Mr. Baxter along with it.
The full transcript of the ABC TV's investigation is published on Rewind's website.

Thus the location of Ned Kelly's true skull still remains unknown, (but we all knew that already). For more information about possible accounts of the whereabouts of Ned's skull see Ned's Grave.

 

Baxter's skull (pictured) is not Neds

(Conclusions at bottom of page)

21/05/02 8:30am Radio National (AM621) 'The Law Report' (Jan Wositzky)

Jan Wositzsky explained that todays Law Report was investigating the mystery of the disappearance of the skull of Edward Kelly. It addressed three main questions: Is the skull in Tom Baxter's possession that of Ned Kelly? How did it wind up in West Australia? and, What are the possible legal implications for handing it back over to the proper authorities?
The radio investigation of 'Ned's Skull' began with a brief introduction and history of the skull. Ned Kelly was said to have a "strange hold" over Australian's imaginations. Ex-curator of the Old Melbourne Gaol (OMG) Mr Thompson was quoted on file as saying, no value could be put on the skull - it was indeed "priceless".
The history used on the Law Report was the 'official' history of the skull. They claimed it was buried with Ned Kelly's body a short time after his hanging and dissection. It was dug up during excavations of the graveyard. In 1978 the skull disappeared from display at the OMG and in the late 1980's Tom Baxter surfaced claiming he had it in his possession.

Jan met Tom Baxter last year. Baxter claimed that his intention was to return the skull to descendants for a 'proper' burial. He told Jan the skull was secreted in the West Kimberly's in W.A. (about 200 km from Broome). He would not disclose how the skull came to be into his possession.
During a recent interview Baxter said that he has never claimed that the skull he has actually is that of Ned Kelly. He said if it turns out not to be genuine, then the reason why not is for the National Trust to justify. Jan asked Baxter why during his conversations he frequently said "we" or "us" in indication that he was not the only person involved. He answered that he has a lot of supporters around the country. All of who support his intention to return the skull to the "descendants".

Kelly authority Ian Jones was quoted as saying, when he first saw the skull at the OMG and handled it; he was struck by two anomalies. The skull was whole and that it was his understanding that the skull should have been in two distinct pieces to allow for the removal of the brain during autopsy, and secondly that his impression was that the skull was "too delicate" to have been Ned's. He also thought it might possibly be the skull of a woman?

Jan also spoke to forensic sculptor Ron Taylor who said, that from studying a picture of the Baxter skull, he determined that some things suggest that it is a male skull, but he would need to have the skull in his hands to make a "proper analysis". He explained that such an anaylsis would require a photo to be taken of the skull and placed over the top of other photographs of Ned to compare them directly. A facial reconstruction could be performed (as per forensic police tests). He added of course the best test would be a DNA test. Jan questioned him on how possible it was to be sure to a percentage and he answered "…pretty much 100%".

Lawyer Ken Oldis explained that the legal requirements of the day stated that the body of executed prisoners was the property of the state and must be buried within prison grounds. He suggested it was therefore not likely to be 'legal' to have the skull on display at any stage. That handling stolen goods was a felony. Baxter was quoted as saying he wants to do "what's right"… not necessarily what's legal. He said, "…morality drives me, not legality…" The main point of contention from Baxter's point of view is that Ned did not receive a 'fair' trial.

Victorian Chief Justice John H. Phillips (author of the book 'The trial of Ned Kelly') said he has never suggested Ned Kelly was not guilty, but that the judge in the case did not allow the jury to decide. He said that Judge Barry directed the jury to find Ned guilty, and that certain evidence (in Ned's favour) was never presented at trial.

Father Nordan was approached some years ago to be an intermediary for Baxter. He said that "initially" he thought it a genuine request. On being questioned he explained that the fact that the issue had continued for several years suggested to him that there was not a "genuine effort" to return the skull. He said every 6 months or so publicity around Tom Baxter surfaces but tend to go nowhere. He said he thinks the wishes of the family should be taken into consideration and that the fact that the skull Baxter has is human remains should not be forgotten.

Roma Crotty (descendant) did not wish to be interviewed but did give Jan a quote. She said that she indicated to Tom Baxter that if it were to be proven the skull is Ned's, then she sees nothing wrong with returning it to the family. She added that providing permission from the proper authorities was granted.

Richard Berman-Hardman from the National Trust (NT) stated that the NT would be prepared to relinquish their rights of ownership providing certain conditions were met. He said if Tom Baxter handed the skull to experts for testing and if tests were positive, and a "popular and ethical outcome" were to be established (involving the family, church and state), then they would relinquish their claims of ownership.

Baxter is currently open to charges of handling stolen goods, but Ken Oldis said that he knew a number of lawyers who would be prepared to assist Baxter with a letter of indemnity from prosecution.

Senior Constable Wayne Wilson of the police said that under such circumstances the police would be happy to work along those lines. He said much of the resentment of the police killings at Stringybark Creek in 1878 was dissipated after the memorial last year at the site.

Kate Kelly's granddaughter Ellen Hollow (initially misnamed as Roma), was "delighted" on hearing the news that the NT was prepared to relinquish their rights of ownership. She said everyone was clearly seeking an end to the issue. She explained that in speaking publicly she represented only herself, but believed the issue was a "matter for family members".

After collecting agreement from all sources for a suitable resolution, Jan rang Baxter with the good news. His response was not perhaps in line with what would be expected from his expressed desire for such a universally acceptable resolution. In fact he said he would "...have to think about it". Jan questioned him on how long would be required for him to decide, and he gave the vague reply "...as long as it takes...". He appeared suspicious and claimed he required more proof that the resolution was genuine. Jan pointed out to him that it would appear that he has been offered everything he wished for. He asked what exactly Baxter required now? Baxter did not appear to give a laudable response. Jan went further to point out that by rejecting such a resolution that Baxter was running the risk of looking like an attention seeker. Baxter appeared to become defensive at the question replying, that just because Jan said that didn't make it true. He said that having the skull "was a burden", but that he was happy to bear the burden for Ned's sake.

The investigation ended with the Jan saying Ellen Hollow after offering her DNA for testing, remained waiting. Ellen was given the last word and offered Baxter this judicious request, "Please Tom, do the right thing…" she appealed to Tom to allow the issue to be put to rest and be finished once and for all.

Conclusion:

In my opinion, by not complying with the reasonable outcome offered him, Tom Baxter appears not to be genuine. As Jan said, he does indeed run the risk of looking like an 'attention seeker'. After all he has no plausible grounds for holding on to the skull now.
Baxter's admission that the skull may not be genuine was interesting. He attempted to draw attention away from himself and direct it at the NT, if the skull proves not to be genuine, but this is hardly the only explanation. There were many years between the skull in the possession of the NT and Baxter's surfacing with 'a' skull, and anything could have happened during that time. At this stage the skull stolen from the gaol and Baxter's skull are not connected. We have no more than Baxter's word that they are one in the same, and as he is claiming he did not steal the skull personally so how could he be sure? Presuming it is the same skull stolen from the OMG and that he did not steal it, then he is relying on hearsay from the real thief. Baxter would have to show hard evidence to prove that the skull he has, is in fact the same skull that was on display at the OMG in the 1970's. If that cannot be established then the NT is under no obligation to justify why the skull Baxter has is not genuine. That would be for Baxter himself to justify.
Few in the Kelly community believe the skull Baxter has is that of Ned Kelly. His decision not to hand it over tends to indicate that he himself knows this fact, as formal testing on the skull itself would show it not to be genuine.
Further information on the complicated mystery of Ned Kelly's skull and a detailed study of Baxter's skull can be found here.


All efforts have been made to present the information and quotes in the article to be accurate. Please refer to Conditions of Use below. (Includes details of Copyright).

Photo of the 'Baxter' skull from Sun newspaper clipping (provided by D. White).

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First published 21st may 2002

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