On April 17, 1935, two fishermen, Bert Hobson and his son, Ron, were fishing from Coogee Beach, a popular family-friendly beach located 8 kilometers south-east of the Sydney business district, when Ron hooked a small shark. As the fishermen were reeling the shark in, a f13 foot tiger shark swallowed the smaller shark, which allowed the fishermen to catch the tiger shark. The fishermen thought of releasing the shark back into the ocean, but then decided that donating the shark to the Coogee Aquarium Baths, an aquarium on the northern end of Coogee Beach, would make an exciting attraction for visitors. The catch and donation happened just before the Anzac Day Weekend, similar to Memorial Day in the U.S., and the fishermen believed the shark would be a huge attraction for the event.
Enemy of the times
During that spring in Sydney, the shark, or a shark, was the villain of the time. Between late February, and early March, a shark, or sharks had attacked and taken three men at South Wales Beaches, and bounty hunters were out to get the shark(s). With the news of the shark attacks, and the bounty hunters working diligently to eliminate the attacking shark(s), crowds flocked to see the shark on display.
For about a week, the shark was active and maintained a gluttonous appetite, but on April 25, Anzac Day, the shark began to act odd; it seemed ill, was moving slowly, and acting disoriented. As spectators watched, out of nowhere, there was a ruckus in the pool, and the shark regurgitated a human arm. People were shocked, and instantly believed the shark that had attacked at least one of the three men, had been caught.
However, after a medical examiner examined the arm, he disclosed that the arm had not been bitten off by the shark; the arm had been removed with a knife, or sharp blade, but not by a medical professional. The examiner also disclosed that the gastric juices of sharks is highly acidic, so it was hard to say for sure, but he believed the arm had been in the shark’s stomach between 8-18 days, and surprisingly, the arm was well preserved. The arm had a tattoo of two boxers preparing to fight on it’s forearm.
The Arm’s Owner
Once the medical examiner’s findings were reported in the Sydney newspaper, Edwin Smith believed the arm may belong to his brother, Jim, who had been missing for several weeks, and he contacted police. With the arm being so well preserved, police were able to collect fingerprints from Jim’s home and compare them to the fingerprints on the arm. The prints were a match; the arm had belonged to Jim Smith.
The case became a murder investigation, and investigators found out that Smith had been a bankrupt builder, a lightweight boxer, a small-time criminal with minor convictions, and his job at that time was being a well-known suburban billiards saloon keeper. Investigators also learned that Smith had recently gotten involved in illegal gambling, which was becoming prevalent throughout Sydney, and was socializing with known criminals. As investigators looked deeper into his life, they learned that Smith began working as a builder in the early 1930’s and was hired by a major crime figure, Reginald Holmes, to build a block of flats. The building project led to more jobs from Holmes, which were from both his legal and illegal businesses.
The Real Holmes
Holmes came from a family of boatbuilders that began in the 1850’s, and like his father and grandfather, he ran a successful speed boat business. However, most of his success came from his less-than-legal business. Holmes used his speed boats to pick up cocaine, cigarettes, and other contraband from ships passing at Sydney Heads, the entrance to Sydney Harbor, and would then sell the items in Sydney. Smith was often the driver of the speedboats during the smuggling operations. The pair then teamed up with Patrick Brady, an ex-service man and known forger, and started forging checks from Holmes’ wealthy clients for random amounts and running them through both Holmes and Smith’s accounts. Eventually, Smith and Holmes had a disagreement and parted ways, but because Smith knew so much about Holmes’ secret business, and also knew that Holmes stood to lose too much if that secret life was exposed, Smith began to blackmail Holmes.
Smith’s Final Hours
Smith’s final hours began on the evening of Sunday, April 7. Smith was last seen alive with Patrick Brady, and spent the evening drinking and playing cards at the Cecil Hotel in Cronulla. When the men left the hotel, they retreated to the small cottage Brady was renting, which was less than 2 km away from the hotel. Smith’s night out with Brady led investigators straight to Brady, but the link that connected Brady to the murder came from a Cronulla cab driver. The cab reported that in the late hours of Sunday night, or early hours of Monday morning, he picked up a nervous and disheveled Brady, who was trying to hide something in his jacket, up from the cottage in Cronulla, and dropped him off at a home in North Sydney. When the investigators looked into the address the cab driver had given them for the home in North Sydney, they found that the home belonged to Holmes.
As if this case wasn’t shocking enough…
The evidence and statements the investigators had collected led them directly to Brady, and Holmes, but it was all circumstantial; without a body, they needed a confession. After three weeks of investigating, police arrested Brady, and it didn’t take long for him to point the finger at Holmes, so police immediately brought Holmes in for questioning. Holmes denied that he knew Brady, but the murder must have been causing him inner turmoil because on May 20th, Holmes attempted to commit suicide. He took a pistol, and drove one of his speedboats out to the middle of the harbor. He then attempted to shoot himself in the head, but miraculously, the bullet hit the bone in his forehead, and knocked him out. The force also knocked him off of the boat, and into the water, but shockingly, as he fell, his wrist got caught in a rope, and prevented him from drowning. The shock of the cold water revived him, and he crawled back into the boat. He then began to erratically drive the speed boat through the harbor, causing chaos. Water police chased him for over four hours, until he finally surrendered just outside Sydney Heads.
The Break in the Case
Holmes was arrested, and finally began to talk. He told investigators that he was a victim of extortion. He said that Brady showed up at his house in the late hours of April 7th, or early morning hours of April 8th, with Smith’s arm. Brady then told Holmes that he killed Smith, dismembered his body, placed the body in a trunk and tossed the trunk into Gunnamatta Bay, but he kept the arm so that the body couldn’t be identified. He then threatened Holmes with blackmail unless Holmes gave him ₤500. Holmes gave him the money, and Brady left, but left the arm in Holmes’ living room. Holmes then explained that he panicked, drove the arm to Maroubra, and threw it in the ocean. He also agreed to be a witness against Brady, and Brady was arrested and charged with the murder of Smith.
On the morning of June 12th, just hours before the start of the inquest into Smith’s death, Holmes was found slumped over the steering wheel of his car, with three bullets in his chest, in a deserted area of Dawes Point. With the star witness in the case against Brady dead, Brady’s conviction was less likely. The cab driver testified on the events of the night that he drove Brady, but his testimony wasn’t enough. The trial was over in less than two days, and the judge ordered a verdict of not guilty. Brady was acquitted, and left the court a free man. No one else was ever charged with the murder, and Brady maintained his innocence of both deaths until his own death in 1965, at age 76.