The Infamous Shark Arm Case in Australia

Samuel Reason - January 8th, 2021

In 1935, the infamous case of the shark arm started when a tiger shark in captivity vomited up a human arm. The tiger shark was in the Coogee Aquarium Baths on public display. After just a week it became very ill and vomited in front of a crowd. What came out was the forearm of a man with a very distinctive tattoo. Apparently before being captured the shark had eaten a smaller shark who had eaten the arm.

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The investigation quickly became mainstream news because the tattoo indicated that the arm belonged to James “Jim” Smith. Smith was a former boxer and small-time criminal who had gone missing completely. It came out that Smith was also a police informer, so it was more than likely he had been murdered by a gang. The coroner confirmed the arm had been cut off by a knife and not by a shark bite.

Mysteriously the aquarium owner then killed the shark and got rid of it, which slowed down the police investigation. Many suspected the gangs had bribed him. However, inquiries led the police to William Holmes, who was a well-known smuggler and fraudster. He also owned a family boat-building business which was quite successful. It’s believed he had used Smith several times to work insurance scams where they would over insure boats and then sink the boats.

Nobody ever found the rest of Smith’s body, but it’s thought Holmes was involved. Because then the police were closing in, he attempted to commit suicide. But his .32 caliber pistol only stunned him, he even tried to get away from going to the hospital with a mad police chase around Sydney Harbour for several hours. In the end, Holmes agreed to cooperate with the police, but just a few days later he turned up dead after withdrawing £500 from his bank account.

A very strange tale of the Australian crime underbelly that has never really been solved. All because a shark vomited up an arm! Later a theory came out that Smith owed money to a major gangland figure known as Eddie Weyman, who was notorious for defrauding banks during the same period.

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