Thursday 25th April 1935:
|The Arm In The Shark Case|
On Anzac Day in 1935, eight days after it had been captured, a 4.3 metre tiger shark in the Coogee Aquarium began a series of violent writhings. The shark disgorged a foul mess from its stomach that turned the heads of onlookers -- floating to the surface came a human arm, well-preserved and with a length of rope attached to the wrist.
The next day the arm was studied by two experts who agreed that it had not been bitten off the body by the shark, but had been severed by a knife. Miraculously the fingerprints were still intact, and proved the arm belonged to one James Smith, a forty-year-old former bookie with a string of convictions. CIB detectives launched a full-scale enquiry that carried them into the world of drug-running, blackmail, racing crooks and murder.
|'armless' one-time criminal|
James Smith, the now 'armless
' one-time criminal, had last been seen alive on 7 April, eleven days before the tiger shark was caught. Ironically he had told his wife he was going fishing - somehow he had become the bait.
Two men appeared to be vital to the case: Reginald Holmes, a well-known North Sydney boat builder involved in business dealings with Smith, and Patrick Brady, a convicted forger.
Brady became the prime suspect. He had rented a flat at Cronulla, south of Sydney, and had been seen drinking with Smith in the area. He had recently moved out of the flat, but several alterations to the furniture made police suspicious. An old storage trunk was gone, replaced by a smaller one; an anchor was missing, as were two window weights.
Police believed that Smith's remains had been stored in the trunk and dropped into the sea. Brady admitted having last seen Smith on 9 April. The circumstantial evidence was enough for police to formally charge Brady with the murder of Smith.
He later added to his earlier statement: Smith had left his flat in company with two men, one of whom was Reginald Holmes. Holmes was in charge of a boat allegedly used in drug-running activities. He had already made one statement to police, and was not keen to be questioned again.
Holmes took his newly built speedboat out into Sydney Harbour and brought a .32 pistol to his head. The attempt at suicide failed and he only managed to graze the temple.
The body of James Smith was never recovered; the murderers of Smith and Holmes were never convicted. The unfortunate tiger shark, which had been destroyed soon after disgorging the tell-tale limb, had been the key to the complicated story -- but the ensuing revelations led only to another murder.
With blood streaming down his face he raced his boat around the harbour, police launches in hot pursuit. Finally he cut the motor off Watsons Bay. Police found him drunk and dazed, but he was far from being mortally wounded.
Holmes' statement to police implicated Brady in the murder of Smith. Brady, he said, had admitted to killing Smith and dumping his body in a trunk off Port Hacking. He also said to Holmes that if he talked he would be a marked man. Brady's lot seemed to be settled, but for some reason Holmes received no protection, despite the threats that had been made against him.
The inquest into the death of Smith was set down for 12 June, but that morning two constables on a routine patrol came across the body of Reginald Holmes. He had been shot twice through the left side.
Brady could not be accused -- he was in the cells -- but two men were subsequently charged. They, like Brady, were released due to a lack of evidence. Without Holmes the Crown had no hope of a conviction.