Mysteries, WA History

The Ginger-Haired Skeleton

The Daily News Friday evening edition was first to break the story and deemed it interesting enough to be front page material. They ran with a concise headline, one which would immediately catch the public’s attention:

Skeleton Found At South Perth

Perhaps readers were initially sceptical of the find. It was, after all, 1 April 1938 – April Fool’s Day – and The Daily News had even printed an image of a young boy being ‘fooled’ by his friends. Was the skeleton another joke?

Earlier in the day, sewerage workers employed by the Water Supply Department were digging an eight foot deep trench on the fence line of a row of houses located between First Avenue and Fremantle Road (now Canning Highway) in South Perth (today the area forms part of Kensington) in order to connect the houses to the main sewerage pipes.

Mr William Mason was one such worker and, as he was digging, he started to come across bits of old wood. He ignored the wood but halted work when his shovel suddenly hit something solid. Carefully digging around so as not to cause any damage to the object, he eventually uncovered it, removed more dirt and came to the realisation that what he was looking at was actually a human skull.

Then I struck something hard, and I dug it out carefully. I dug under it, and turned it over, and saw part of a skull facing me. I picked it up and recognised immediately that it was a human skull. I got a bit of a shock.

The trench where the skeleton was found.

Police were notified but didn’t arrive until much later. The workers however continued to dig and unearthed the rest of the skeleton which looked as though it had once been buried in a thin, wooden coffin which disintegrated once it was hit with the shovel.

Near where the skull was buried Mr Mason picked up what he initially thought was some stringy bark. Upon closer inspection he realised it was actually a tuft of straight, dark ginger hair, two to three inches wide and six to eight inches long. He placed the hair inside the skull for safekeeping. A large, metal, corroded belt buckle was also found with the remains.

There was practically a full set of teeth in good condition, indicating that the bones were those of a young person.

Mr Mason noticed…

There was a hole in the temple. At first I thought it was the hole of the ear but it was too high. The hole was abolt [sic] the size of the top of my finger.

Once the Police arrived they took control of the scene and seized the remains for further investigation.

Initially there was much speculation as to whether the remains were European (perhaps a convict) or Indigenous. The tuft of hair inside the skull led the Police to believe that the skeleton was Aboriginal until Mr Mason explained that he had put the hair there. There was also talk as to whether the area (located on rising ground near water) was once an Indigenous camping ground. This however was quickly dismissed.

daily-newsThe remains were examined the next day by a Doctor who concluded that the individual had most likely been in the ground for at least 50 years but possibly longer. They were then turned over to the Government Medical Officer for a thorough investigation while Detective Sergeant McLernon was handling the police inquiries.

At this point, the story goes cold. No follow up article appeared in any of the Western Australian newspapers. No brief outline of the report written by the Government Medical Officer was printed weeks, months or even a year later. The story disappears.

Contacting the State Records Office of Western Australia also produced no further leads. They had no records within their collection relating to the skeleton. While the response from the SROWA was unfortunately negative, it does not mean that no record exists absolutely. Perhaps the information has not been recorded yet or is located deep within the archives.

What became of the ginger-haired skeleton? Initially I believed the truth of the story but the lack of follow up information printed in any newspaper has me questioning the legitimacy of the find. Was it simply an elaborate April Fools Day stunt which fooled everyone, including the press? Is this why there is no follow up article? Too embarrassed to admit they had been fooled, perhaps they simply chose to remain silent.

The Mirror was the only newspaper who decided to print the words of Mr Mason’s mates after he made the discovery and yelled out, “Look what I’ve got – a human skull!”

“Another April Fool stunt” chuckled fellow workmen.

Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t but until further information is uncovered, I guess this mystery will have to remain unsolved.



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