A Shark Regurgitated A Human Arm - And It Led To A Murder Investigation

It's not every day that human appendages are found in animals. But in 1935, a 14-foot tiger shark regurgitated a human arm at an Australian aquarium and prompted a legal investigation. The shark was caught by a fisherman when it got tangled in his line, and the animal was brought it to the Coogee Aquarium Baths for show. And what a show it turned out to be. The mangled arm was vomited out along with a bird and a rat, and investigators were immediately called to the scene.

This shark arm case was particularly unusual because it appeared that the shark hadn't bitten the arm off a person. So if there was no Shark assault on an unsuspecting swimmer, where did the animal find the arm? And most importantly, who did it belong to? As detectives explored the case, they found details far more grisly than the random arm.

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  • A Shark Expert Concluded That The Shark Had Not Bitten Off The Arm

    A Shark Expert Concluded That The Shark Had Not Bitten Off The Arm
    Photo: Courtesy Photo James Smith / via Central Telegraph / Public Domain

    When one finds a human arm in the belly of a shark, chances are the shark pounced on a swimmer, and things ended in a bloody mess. But when shark experts were called in on April 25, 1935, to examine an arm a new shark arrival at the Coogee Aquarium had regurgitated, they found that it had not been bitten off. In fact, there were no tooth marks on the arm at all.

    Instead, experts determined a blade had been used to separate the limb from the shoulder. This was very troubling, as it indicated officials were not dealing with an accident. New South Wales authorities had a homicide on their hands. The case opened up as detectives further examined the arm for clues.

  • The Tattoo Was A Crucial Clue In Cracking The Case

    When the homicide investigation was launched, the arm was examined for unusual marks or scars. There was a rope tied around the wrist, which suggested to police that something sinister had occurred. The appendage also had a tattoo of two boxers in sparring position, which they desperately hoped someone in the public would recognize. A man named Edwin Smith came forward and identified the tattoo, and the arm it belonged to. It was that of his brother, 40-year-old James "Jimmy" Smith, a boxer who had recently gone missing. 

    The discovery led to more questions: How did Smith's arm end up in a shark? And where was the rest of him? The police used the information Edwin provided to trace James Smith's last movements and try to find a suspect. Pretty quickly, they found that one of Smith's friends was up to no good.

  • The Police Found A Suspect In Local Small Time Crook

    When James Smith's final movements were tracked, the police found that he'd been playing dominoes with a friend named Patrick Brady at a local seaside hotel bar. Brady had a few prior convictions and was known to be a little shady. Looking into it further, they discovered that Brady had vacated his apartment right after Smith had gone missing.

    His apartment had been deeply cleaned. Furniture and bedding had been replaced, including a brand new trunk. There was even a rowboat there, and it had been cleaned from top to bottom. Police found this suspicious. Brady became the prime suspect in the investigation, but there was no motive yet.

  • The Aquarium Terminated The Shark And Messed Up The Investigation

    Just three days after the severed arm was found in the tiger shark, the Coogee Aquarium in New South Wales terminated the shark and gutted it. This hampered the criminal investigation, as every inch of it was supposed to be examined for medical evidence.

    Still, no other human remains were reported to have been found in the shark, which later corroborated Holmes's story about how Brady disposed of the evidence. 

  • A Taxi Driver Came Forward With Crucial Information

    With Patrick Brady as a suspect, the police were onto something. But when a taxi driver came forward, that's when the case unraveled. He admitted to having driven Brady, the day after James Smith was last seen, to Reginald "Reggie" Lloyd Holmes's house. According to the witness, Holmes was bad news; he orchestrated elaborate drug smuggling rings and insurance scams under the guise of a boat building business. Both Smith and Brady worked with Holmes, even though Holmes initially claimed not to know either of them.

    The police suspected that something had gone horribly wrong with one of their transactions, but couldn't extract any information out of the men. Holmes refused to talk and was released from questioning. Brady was charged in connection to Smith's passing.

  • After Police Questioning, A Witness Tried To Commit Suicide

    After Holmes was brought in for questioning, he shot himself while out in his speedboat and fell into the water. But the bullet didn't end his life as intended, and he climbed back into the boat a little wounded. There were people out on the harbor who had witnessed this incident, and they called the police. That initiated a wild goose hunt around the harbor as police chased Holmes until he gave up.

    He went back in for questioning, and this time, he told them the whole story of Patrick Brady and the severed arm.