The Bizarre Murder Mystery That Began With An Arm Inside A Shark

In New South Wales, Australia lies the beach town of Coogee. Known for its four ocean pools — a kind of public pool sitting on the coastline that allows ocean waves to lap the swimmers (via Ocean Pools) — Coogee sports the usual tourist trappings found in beach towns with, perhaps, one unusual difference: a murder that involved a shark barfing up an intact human arm.

Back in 1935, Bert Hobson ran the Coogee Aquarium and Swimming Baths. Located near the beach, the baths were a favorite destination for families. Constructed in the 1880s (via Dictionary of Sydney), the aquarium took up a whole block's worth of space and included not just the aquarium and ocean pools, but a promenade, hotels, and shops. For Hobson, though, business had been steadily declining over the decades but was made worse when the adjacent Coogee Pier was closed and demolished in 1934. After losing an arcade, a 1,400 seat theater, and other welcoming pier attractions, Hobson was desperate for an addition that would get his business noticed.

This shark was armed

As fate would have it, the attention he so craved came to Bert Hobson in April of '35. While fishing off the coast of Coogee Beach, Hobson's son caught a 14-foot tiger shark (via Mental Floss). Weighing in at over 1 ton, Hobson quickly transported the shark to the aquarium and created an attraction around the beast. Everything was going fine until a week into the tiger shark's residency when it suddenly started convulsing — and vomiting. Out from the shark, in turn, came a rat, a bird, and then to everyone's horror, out came an intact human arm (via News.Com.Au).

Hobson called authorities to the scene. It was clear the arm, which had a tattoo of 2 boxers fighting on the inside of the forearm, hadn't been bitten off by the shark. It had somehow been separated from its owner. Australian authorities quickly traced the tattooed arm to former boxer, Jimmy Smith (via News.Com.Au). A 45-year-old manager of the billiard club City Tattersall's Club, Smith also did side work building boats for Reginald Holmes, who, according to Mental Floss, doubled as a local crime lord.

a scam artist caught

Holmes ran a fairly profitable boat-building business that doubled as a front for transporting drugs — but that didn't sate Holmes' appetites. Holmes hired Jimmy Smith on the side and tasked him with sinking his luxury liner, The Pathfinder to scam his insurance company into paying for the over-insured vessel (via News.Com.Au). Per Mental Floss, Smith later told police that the sinking of the ship was "suspicious," causing Holmes to lose out on all that insurance money. This led to a rift between Holmes and Smith that went on to see Jimmy Smith blackmail Reginald Holmes.

One evening, Smith was out drinking with a friend and fellow Holmes' associate, Patrick Brady, an ex-servicemen whom Holmes used in his check-forgery schemes. Smith and Brady had spent most of that evening playing cards at a bar but soon, the pair ditched the club and headed back to Brady's place. That was the last time Jimmy Smith was seen alive (via News.Com.Au).

no arm, no justice

Just a mere three weeks later, a captured tiger shark minding its own business at the Coogee Aquarium and Swimming Baths, threw up Jimmy Smith's severed arm.  Reginald Holmes would later tell police that Patrick Brady turned up at his place, brandishing Smith's severed arm. Extorting Holmes for money, Brady admitted to dismembering Jimmy Smith, putting him in a trunk and tossing it into nearby Gunnamatta Bay. Brady literally took the money and ran, leaving the arm behind (via News.Com.Au). Holmes, in a fit of panic, dumped the dismembered arm into the ocean — for a 1-ton tiger shark to later graze on.

The day the court proceedings for Jimmy Smith's murder were to begin, Reginald Holmes was found shot to death in his car. While no one knows for sure who murdered Holmes, all signs point to Patrick Brady, who walked totally free of the entire situation. Jimmy Smith's body was never recovered.