On Thursday, April 25, 1935, a proof reader for The Sydney Morning Herald named Narcisse Leo Young was out enjoying the collection of exotic fish at the Coogee Aquarium and Swimming Baths near Sydney, Australia. Their accumulated menagerie was impressive for its day. The newest addition was an 11.5-foot Tiger shark that had been caught by an angler a week before some two miles out to sea. All were mesmerized by the massive beast as it cruised menacingly around its ample tank.
Narcisse saw the big shark begin to behave erratically. The beast suddenly wretched and deposited some unfortunate guy’s left arm in the pool. Aquarium personnel duly retrieved the ghastly limb. She later reported that the stench was “frightful.”
The arm was duly presented to police on the justifiable assumption that its former owner might yet have a vested interest in it. A forensic analysis showed that the stump had been severed cleanly with a cutting tool. There the case likely would have languished had it not been for a certain distinctive tattoo.
Adorning the unfortunate man’s severed limb was a crude depiction of two boxers in mid-punch. There was also a short length of rope tied around the wrist. While the arm had clearly seen better days, the tattoo remained both unique and intact. The authorities documented the curious ink extensively.
Three days after the shark’s unfortunate performance it was sacrificed for the greater good. Here the tale gets even weirder. Inside the creature was found a smaller shark that had apparently done the actual arm eating.
The fingers were surprisingly intact, so the cops were able to retrieve usable fingerprints. The prints were traced to a small-time thug named Jim Smith, who had gone missing nearly three weeks before. His wife Gladys and brother Edward positively identified the tattoo.
Jim Smith was a known associate of a crooked local businessman named Reginald Holmes and a former soldier-turned-criminal named Patrick Brady. Holmes was a boat-builder by trade who used his fast powerboats to retrieve cocaine shipments dropped from passing ships to make a little dark money on the side. These three model citizens supported themselves by running a variety of rackets ranging from check forgery to insurance fraud.
The criminal fraternity is a fickle thing indeed, and the successful businessman Reginald Holmes had the most to lose. Diligent police work uncovered some compelling circumstantial evidence tying the now unarmed (an intentionally awkward metaphor) Smith with the veteran Brady, as well as some good old-fashioned blackmail of the bent businessman Holmes. Now distraught over the inevitable brewing scandal, Reginald Holmes retired to Sydney harbor aboard one of his boats and shot himself in the forehead with a .32-caliber automatic pistol.
Alas, the synergistic combination of Holmes’ thick skull and his little mouse gun resulted in nothing more than a flattened slug and a killer headache. Reggie Holmes was knocked into the water by the blow but revived in short order. He then remounted his personal speedboat and led the harbor patrol on a merry chase for several hours before finally being apprehended.
What likely got Jim Smith in deep with the criminal Brady in the first place was his reported cooperation with police as an informant. Now, Reginald Holmes saw a cozy relationship with law enforcement as his lifeline out of this mess. The following month he spilled the beans to Detective Sergeant Frank Matthews.
It seemed that Brady had indeed killed and dismembered the hapless Jim Smith. Always game to optimize his return on investment, Brady then materialized at Holmes’ domicile with Mr. Smith’s severed arm in tow. He brandished the appendage to prove he was serious and then purportedly demanded Holmes pay him 500 pounds. Brady left the arm at Holmes’ place as a token of his sincerity. Not wishing to alarm the missus unduly, Reggie Holmes drove to nearby Maroubra and disarmed himself in the ocean. It was here that the sharks apparently first became involved.
A few days later, the businessman Holmes was found dead in his car of an apparent suicide. This time he had been shot three times in the chest. Though sometimes forensic evidence can indeed be difficult to interpret, even I know that it is nigh impossible to commit suicide by shooting yourself three times in succession. Holmes had an appointment to testify against Brady later that day. It was here the lawyers got involved.
Brady’s Solicitor, Clive Evatt, asserted that his client could not be convicted of murder on the strength of a single severed arm barfed up by a shark with gastrointestinal issues. He alleged that the arm “did not constitute a body” and that many people were thriving who had lost an arm or worse. With the prosecution’s star witness now finally demised, the case imploded, and Brady walked free.
Patrick Brady maintained his innocence for the next 30 years. In the spring of 1965, he died peacefully at the Concord Repatriation Hospital in Sydney at the age of 76. Recent analysis has posited that Holmes actually hired a hitman to end his own moral misery and that Brady had indeed been innocent of that particular crime, at least. Despite some diligent Googling, I was unable to ascertain a final disposition on the arm.