Anna Hoffman, 74, was given the skull 30 years ago while on holiday in Melbourne by a security guard who told her it was “Ned’s head”.

When she read recently that the famous outlaw’s skull was missing, she was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.

The discovery has raised the interest of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, which matched Kelly’s remains to the DNA of a surviving relative.

Ms Hoffman, who courted notoriety as a witch in the 1960s and `70s, told New Zealand’s Herald On Sunday newspaper she was given the skull by a mysterious uniformed man at a family dinner in 1980.

“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’.”

Hoffman said she had cared for the remains – 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.”

Kelly, an Australian bushranger, was hanged in 1880 for killing three police officers, but the location of his remains had been a mystery until late last year. Scientists identified his bones through DNA testing of two dozen skeletons exhumed from Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison site.

Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine spokeswoman Deb Withers said on Sunday it was keen to learn more.

“There is a chance that that is his head, although it is a long shot,” she said. “That would be wonderful if it was.”

But a forensics expert at Auckland University, Gina McFarlane, said the way the skull had had wires attached, indicating it had been used in teaching, which made it less likely it was Kelly’s.