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