Shark Arm case

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The Shark Arm case refers to a series of incidents that began in Sydney, Australia on 25 April 1935 when a human arm was regurgitated by a captive 3.5-metre tiger shark. The tiger shark had been caught 3 kilometres from the beach suburb of Coogee in mid-April and transferred to the Coogee Aquarium Baths, where it was put on public display. Within a week the fish became ill and vomited in front of a small crowd, leaving the left forearm of a man bearing a distinctive tattoo floating in the pool. Before it was captured, the tiger shark had devoured a smaller shark. It was this smaller shark that had originally swallowed the human arm.

Identification of the limb[edit]

Fingerprints lifted from the hand identified the arm as that of former boxer and small-time criminal James (Jim) Smith, (born England, 1890), who had been missing since April 7, 1935. Smith's arm and tattoo were also positively identified by his wife Gladys and his brother Edward Smith. Jim Smith led a high-risk lifestyle, as he was also a police informer. Examination revealed that the limb had been severed with a knife, which led to a murder investigation. Three days later, the aquarium owners killed the shark and gutted it, hampering the initial police investigation.

Early inquiries correctly led police to a Sydney businessman named Reginald William Lloyd Holmes (1892-1935). Holmes was a fraudster and smuggler who also ran a successful family boat-building business at Lavender Bay, New South Wales.[1] Holmes had employed Smith several times to work insurance scams, including one in 1934 in which an over-insured pleasure cruiser named Pathfinder was sunk near Terrigal, New South Wales. Shortly afterward, the pair began a racket with Patrick John Brady, a convicted forger and ex-serviceman (born Rozelle, New South Wales, 18 October 1893). With specimen signatures from Holmes' friends and clients provided by the boat-builder, Brady would forge cheques for small amounts against their bank accounts that he and Smith would then cash. Police were later able to establish that Jim Smith was blackmailing the wealthy Reginald Holmes.

Murder of Jim Smith[edit]

Jim Smith was last seen drinking and playing cards with Patrick Brady at the Cecil Hotel in the southern Sydney suburb of Cronulla on 7 April 1935 after telling his wife he was going fishing.[2] Patrick Brady had rented a small cottage in Taloombi Street, Cronulla at the time Jim Smith went missing. Police alleged that Smith was murdered at this cottage.

Port Hacking and Gunnamatta Bay were searched by the Navy and the Air Force, but the rest of Smith's body was never found. This caused problems for the prosecution when Brady was eventually brought to trial.

Arrest of Brady[edit]

Patrick Brady was arrested on 16 May and charged with the murder of Smith. A taxi driver testified that he had taken Patrick Brady from Cronulla to Holmes' address at 3 Bay View Street, McMahons Point, New South Wales on the day Smith had gone missing, and that "he was dishevelled, he had a hand in a pocket and wouldn't take it out... it was clear that [he] was frightened."[3]

Holmes's statement to police.

Initially, Holmes denied any association with Patrick Brady but four days later, on 20 May 1935, the businessman went into his boatshed and attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head with a .32 calibre pistol. However, the bullet flattened against the bone of the forehead and he was merely stunned. Revived after falling into the water, he crawled into his speedboat and led two police launches on a chase around Sydney Harbour for several hours until he was finally caught and taken to hospital.[4]

In early June 1935, Reginald Holmes decided to cooperate with the police investigating the murder of Smith. He told Detective Sergeant Frank Matthews that Patrick Brady had killed Jim Smith, dismembered his body and stowed it into a trunk that he had then thrown into Gunnamatta Bay. He then claimed Patrick Brady had come to his home, showed him the severed arm and threatened Holmes with murder if he did not receive ₤500 immediately. Holmes also admitted that after Brady had left his home, he travelled to the Sydney coastal suburb of Maroubra and discarded Smith's arm into the surf.[5]

Second murder[edit]

On 11 June 1935, Holmes withdrew £500 from his account and late in the evening left home, telling his wife he had to meet someone. He was also very cautious as he left his home, accompanied by his wife to the door of his Nash sedan. Early the next morning, he was found dead in his car at Hickson Road, Dawes Point. He had been shot three times at close range.[6] The crime scene was made to appear that Holmes had committed suicide, but forensic police had no doubt that he was murdered. Holmes was due to give evidence at Smith's inquest later that morning.

Reginald Holmes was cremated at Northern Suburbs Crematorium on 13 June 1935.[7] He left an estate valued at over ₤34,000 in 1935, which would be worth millions of dollars today.[8]

In his 1995 book The Shark Arm Murders, Professor Alex Castles claims that Reginald Holmes took out a contract on his own life to spare his family the public disgrace of conviction.[9]

Coronial inquest[edit]

The coronial inquest into Smith's death began on 12 June 1935 at the City Coroner's Court led by Mr. E.T. Oram, the same day Holmes was found dead in his car with gunshot wounds to his chest. Although Holmes was the inquest's star witness, he was never offered police protection before his testimony could be heard.

The lawyer serving Brady, Clive Evatt KC (1900–1984),[10] claimed to the coroner that there was not enough substance to begin the inquest. Evatt argued that an arm "did not constitute a body", and that Jim Smith, minus his arm, could still be alive.[11] The case has remained unsolved to this day.

The inquest's most important witness, Reginald Holmes, was then dead; the case against Patrick Brady fell apart due to lack of evidence.[12] The Shark Arm Murders suggests that Jim Smith was killed by Patrick Brady on the orders of gangland figure Edward Frederick (Eddie) Weyman, who was arrested while attempting to defraud a bank with a forged cheque in 1934 [13] and later during a bank robbery, apparently due to information Jim Smith had given to the police. Smith had been exposed as a police informant, and therefore would have been a target for assassination.[14]

The police charged Patrick Brady with the murder of Jim Smith, although he was later found not guilty and acquitted.[15] For the next 30 years, Patrick Brady steadfastly maintained that he was in no way connected to the murder of Jim Smith.[16] He died at Concord Repatriation Hospital in Sydney on 11 August 1965.[17]

The investigation into the murder of Jim Smith and his severed arm became legendary in Australia's legal history.[18]

Cultural references[edit]

The Shark Arm Case was the basis of a 2003 episode of CSI: Miami.

Bill Bryson mentions this case in his book Down Under (known as In a Sunburned Country in the U.S.), but wrongly implies that the arm belonged to a swimmer who was eaten by the shark.

Further reading[edit]

  • Vince Kelly. The Shark Arm Case. Angus & Robertson Publishers, Australia. 1963 & 1975. (ISBN 0207132127).
  • Peter Luck. A Time To Remember. Mandarin Press, Australia, 1991. pages 274-275, 'The Shark Arm Case'. (ISBN 1 86330 090 2).
  • Alex Castles. The Shark Arm Murders. Wakefield Press, Australia. 1995. (ISBN 1 86254 335 6).

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sydney Morning Herald. "Holmes family - New Zealand Boatbuilders." 14 June 1935 (page 11)
  2. ^ Whiticker, Alan Twelve Crimes That Shocked the Nation 2005
  3. ^ The Shark Arm Case - "Dimensions in Time" ABC radio transcript
  4. ^ Vince Kelly .The Shark Arm Case. Angus & Robertson Publishers, Australia. 1963
  5. ^ Whiticker
  6. ^ Sydney Morning Herald."MURDERED IN CAR - Principal Witness in Aquarium Mystery Inquest". 12 June 1935. (page 13)
  7. ^ Sydney Morning Herald. 14 June 1935. Death Notice : Reginald William Lloyd Holmes. (page 10).
  8. ^ Sydney Morning Herald. "Late Mr. R HOLMES.Application for Probabte. Gross Estate £34,137." 30 July 1935. (Page 9)
  9. ^ Alex Castles. The Shark Arm Murders. Wakefield Press, Australia. 1995 (ISBN 1 86254 335 6).
  10. ^ http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A170363b.htm (Clive Evatt Biography)
  11. ^ Sydney Morning Herald. "Proceedings Challenged by Mr. Evatt" 13 June 1935. (page 11)
  12. ^ Sydney Morning Herald. "Mrs. Holmes's Evidence. Dreadful Allegations." 15 June 1935. ( Page 15)
  13. ^ Sydney Morning Herald. Quarter Sessions Court. Weyman 'Bound over'. 11 July 1934. (Page 10)
  14. ^ Alex Castles The Shark Arm Murders. Wakefield Press. Australia, 1995 (ISBN 1 86254 335 6).
  15. ^ Sydney Morning Herald. "MURDER CHARGE in Crown Case. Trial of PATRICK BRADY." 11 September 1935. (page 10)
  16. ^ Vince Kelly. The Shark Arm Case. 'Chief Justice Frees Brady' - Part 2, Chapter 22, page 156. (ISBN 0207132127).
  17. ^ Vince Kelly. The Shark Arm Case. page 167
  18. ^ Peter Luck. A Time to Remember. Mandarin Press, Australia, 1991. (ISBN 1863300902).

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