Sev­ered arm found in­side shark yields few clues to for­mer boxer’s demise

The Western Star - - Canada / Crime Flashback - Max Haines

To say co­in­ci­dence played a large part in Aus­tralia’s fa­mous “shark arm” case would be an un­der­state­ment. The se­ries of co­in­ci­dences sur­round­ing this case baf­fles the imag­i­na­tion.

It all be­gan in­no­cently enough in 1935. Al­ber Hob­son and a com­pan­ion were fish­ing at sea out of Syd­ney, Aus­tralia. Hob­son hooked a small shark.

While he was do­ing his best to land his catch, a 14-foot tiger shark ap­peared on the scene. In an in­stant the larger shark be­came en­ta­gled in Hob­son’s lines. With as­sis­tance, Hob­son man­aged to land the mon­ster.

Co­in­ci­den­tally, Hob­son’s brother owned the Coogee Beach Aquar­ium. The en­ter­pris­ing fish­er­man re­al­ized that he had caught a prize ex­hibit for his brother.

On April 25, 1935, a week af­ter its cap­ture, the shark went berserk. It turned and thrashed in the wa­ter as if in great dis­tress. Fi­nally the shark re­gur­gi­tated the con­tents of its stom­ach. Among the con­tents was a hu­man arm. Po­lice ex­am­ined the limb. Tat­toed on the mys­te­ri­ous arm were two tiny box­ers in a fight­ing stance.

Part of a rope was still tied around the wrist. Po­lice went about in­ves­ti­gat­ing miss­ing men with dis­tinc­tive tatoos. They im­me­di­ately came up with James Smith, a 40year-old for­mer boxer, who was listed as miss­ing.

Smith’s wife and brother pos­i­tively iden­ti­fied the arm as be­long­ing to Smith. A fin­ger­print check es­tab­lished the iden­tity be­yond a doubt.

On April 8, nine days be­fore Hob- son cap­tured his cel­e­brated shark, Smith had left home. He had told his wife that he was go­ing on a fish­ing trip with a friend, but did not re­veal the friend’s iden­tity. Two weeks went by be­fore Mrs. Smith re­ported her hus­band miss­ing to the po­lice.

At this point in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion there was some spec­u­la­tion that Smith may have com­mit­ted sui­cide.

Then, of course, there were those op­ti­mistic in­di­vid­u­als who sug­gested that Smith may have lost his arm to the tiger shark but could very well still be alive. Per­haps the shark held the se­cret.

As if an­it­ci­pat­ing of­fi­cial­dom’s next move, the shark con­ve­niently died.

Upon be­ing dis­sected it was found to con­tain no fur­ther por­tions of James Smith.

In­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cers then turned to trac­ing Smith’s ac­tions from the time he had left his home.

His em­ployer, Reg Holmes, a boat builder, could shed no light on the move­ments of the miss­ing man. How­ever, po­lice were suc­cess­ful in trac­ing Smith to a rented cot­tage at Cronulla on the coast.

A friend of his, 42-year-old Pa­trick Brady, had ac­com­pa­nied Smith to the cot­tage. Brady had a po­lice record and at the time of the Smith in­ves­ti­ga­tion was await­ing trial for forg­ing cheques. The cot­tage at Cronulla was searched by po­lice, but no blood­stains or other di­rect in­crim­i­nat­ing ev­i­dence against Brady was un­cov­ered.

It was learned a large mat­tress and a tin trunk nor­mally in the cot­tage were now miss­ing. Po­lice felt Smith could have been mur­dered and dis­mem­bered on the mat­tress, stuffed into the tin trunk and the whole works tossed into the sea. On this sup­po­si­tion Brady was ar­rested and charged with mur­der. Dur­ing ques­tion­ing he in­crim­i­nated Reg Holmes in a forgery ring, but Holmes stead­fastly de­nied ever know­ing Brady.

A few days af­ter Holmes de­nied know­ing Brady, Syd­ney har­bor po­lice noted a speed­boat be­ing driven er­rat­i­cally in the har­bor. They dis­cov­ered Holmes drunk at the wheel of the boat. Holmes had a su­per­fi­cial gun­shot wound on the side of his head. In­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cers felt the wound was self-in­flicted and Holmes had at­tempted sui­cide. He told a dif­fer­ent story. He swore Brady had con­fessed to him he had killed Smith.

Holmes was cer­tain some­one was try­ing to kill him. They had just missed killing him on the boat and he was sure they would try again. The po­lice didn’t be­lieve him. They should have.

On the evening be­fore the in­quest into Smith’s death, Holmes’ body was found in his parked car un­der Syd­ney bridge. He had been shot three times with a .32 re­volver.

At Brady’s mur­der trial the pros­e­cu­tion was ham­pered by not be­ing per­mit­ted to present the de­ceased Holmes’ state­ment in­crim­i­nat­ing Brady.

Ob­vi­ously the ac­cused could not have been per­son­ally in­volved in the Holmes’ killing as he had been in jail at the time of the mur­der. Lurk­ing over the en­tire pro­ceed­ings was the slight doubt as to whether Smith was ac­tu­ally dead.

While the shark arm case was oc­cu­py­ing the front pages of Aus­tralia’s news­pa­pers, Sir Sid­ney Smith, the il­lus­tri­ous Bri­tish forensic ex­pert, was in Au­tralia at­tend­ing a meet­ing of the Bri­tish Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion.

Af­ter study­ing the arm and all cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the case, Sir Sid­ney came up with what is prob­a­bly close to the truth.

He con­cluded that Smith and who­ever shared the cot­tage with him ar­gued over some­thing which led to Smith’s mur­der. The body was then dis­mem­bered on the mat­tress. The parts were placed in the tin trunk, but the arm wouldn’t fit in.

The mur­derer than at­tached the arm to the out­side of the trunk by means of a rope. Ev­ery­thing was dumped at sea. The arm worked loose and was swal­lowed by our friend, the shark.

In­side a cap­tured shark, fish­er­men found a hu­man arm, above, with a small tat­too of two box­ers inked upon it. In­ves­ti­ga­tors de­ter­mined the arm be­longed to James Smith, right, an exboxer who had gone miss­ing sev­eral weeks be­fore the shark was caught....

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