Anzac Day 1935 was the day that one of Sydney’s most bizarre murder cases came to the public attention. A 2.7m tiger shark, caught some days before off of Coogee Beach and on live display at the former Coogee Aquarium, stunned the late afternoon crowd by going into spasms and regurgitating a human arm! Sydney already felt under siege from the sea with 3 fatalities in and around the beaches from shark attack in the previous two months (not unlike today). It looked like a fourth victim had just been given up.
However something was amiss. This arm had a rope around its wrist and on closer examination had not been chomped by the shark but rudely sawn through before the shark had ever come along. Murder, surely, but who owned the arm? The arm was decorated by a tattoo of a pair of boxers facing each other. Newspapers quickly reported the whole affair and soon enough a man came forward to report his brother, who had a similar tattoo, was missing. The missing man was part time smuggler and minor crim Jim Smith. Jim Smith had a growing reputation around Sydney’s inner city as a battling boxer of middling talent, a barman at Balmain and later the operator of a billiard room which fronted a more lucrative illegal gambling den. Smith ran this for 3 years before inexplicably moving into the building trade, for which he had no background. His first major work was a block of apartments at McMahons Point for a Reginald Lloyd Holmes.
Holmes was a boatbuilder, making high class motor boats and pleasure craft. He was also a smuggler, using his fast boats to meet passing ships at sea, picking up contraband throw overboard by agents on ship, most notably cocaine, which was popular amongst Sydney’s younger crowd. Smith also worked the boats for Holmes as one of his drivers. So there is the link we all were waiting for.
The third person in the frame was Patrick Brady. Brady was a master forger, a skill picked up in trenches of World War I, and a handy skill in Sydney’s underworld. He was also a close friend of Smith.
Working a few thin leads, the police made their way to Cronulla where Smith was supposedly heading when last seen. Sure enough, a bartender recognised a photo of Smith and identified Brady as a person he was with in the hotel. Brady was renting a small shack on the water nearby. Further investigation uncovered a taxi driver who had picked Brady up late one night before Anzac Day. The driver remembered Brady appearing nervous, always checking behind them as they drove and of hiding his left hand from sight the whole trip. Furthermore, the trip took them from Cronulla to the North Shore, Lavender Bay, the house of one Reginald Lloyd Holmes.
Hang on a minute, whats Brady doing going to Holmes’ house after Smith disappeared? Brady allegedly was there to blackmail Holmes. He claimed Brady demanded money and produced the severed arm to warn him of what would happen if he didn’t pay.
Holmes had quite the story about Smith and Brady, about threats, blackmail and suspected murder. It looked set for closure, but there was one more strange twist. The night before the coronial inquest, where Holmes would testify and put Brady away, two beat police patrolling in Dawes Point under the Harbour Bridge noticed a parked car with its lights on, a man at the wheel, slumped over. The man looked asleep or maybe drunk. His hat was on his head, glasses on, his hands rested on his thighs, feet on the peddles; three bullet wounds in his chest. He was dead and he was Reginald Lloyd Holmes!
In Sydney, sharks are the least of your worries. Its more often your associates that kill you.
PS: If you want more, Alex Castles book, The Shark Arm Murders should sate your appetite.