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World Record Tiger Shark Caught Off Sydney Heads

Zane Grey with tiger shark
This world record Tiger Shark was caught off Sydney Heads in 1936 by Zane Grey - the Western writer and pioneering big-game fisherman.

"Emil screeched at the top of his lungs. The water opened to show the back of an enormous shark. Pearl gray in color, with dark tiger stripes, a huge rounded head and wide flat back, this fish looked incredibly beautiful. I had expected a hideous beast.

"Now!" I yelled.

Love lunged with the gaff. I stepped back, suddenly deluged with flying water and blindly aware of a roar and a banging on the boat. I could not see anything for moments. The men were shouting hoarsely in unison. I distinguished Peter's voice. "Rope tail!"

"Let him run!" I shouted.

Between the up-splashing sheets of water I saw the three men holding that shark. It was a spectacle. Peter stood up, but bent, with his brawny shoulders sagging. Love and Emil were trying to rope that flying tail. For I had no idea how long, but probably a brief time, this strenuous action prevailed before my eyes. It beat any battle I recalled with a fish at the gaff. The huge tiger rolled over, all white underneath, and he opened a mouth that would have taken a barrel. I saw the rows of white fangs and heard such a snap of jaws that had never before struck my ears. I shuddered at their significance. No wonder men shot and harpooned such vicious brutes!

"It's over his tail," cried Love, hoarsely, and straightened up with the rope. Emil lent a hand. And then the three men held that ferocious tiger shark until he ceased his struggles. They put another rope over his tail and made fast to the ring-bolt.

When Peter turned to me his broad breast heaved--his breath whistled--the corded muscles stood out on his arms - he could not speak.

"Pete! Good work. I guess that's about, the hardest tussle we've ever had at the gaff."

We towed our prize into the harbor and around to the dock at Watson's Bay, where a large crowd awaited us. They cheered us lustily. They dragged the vast bulk of my shark up on the sand. It required twenty-odd men to move him. He looked marble color in the twilight. But the tiger stripes showed up distinctly. He knocked men right and left with his lashing tail, and he snapped with those terrible jaws. The crowd, however, gave that business end of him a wide berth. I had one good long look at this tiger shark while the men were erecting the tripod; and I accorded him more appalling beauty and horrible significance than all the great fish I had ever caught.

"Well, Mr. Man-eater, you will never kill any boy or girl!" I flung at him.

That was the deep and powerful emotion I felt - the justification of my act - the worthiness of it, and the pride in what it took. There, I am sure, will be the explanation of my passion and primal exultance. Dr. Stead, scientist and official of the Sydney Museum, and Mr. Bullen of the Rod Fishers' Society, weighed and measured my record tiger shark. Length, thirteen feet ten inches. Weight, one thousand and thirty-six pounds!"

Zane Grey had an almost pathological hatred of sharks and admitted to having killed thousands. Many were shot.

The Shark Arm Murder Case The year before, 1935, Anzac Day. A shark on display at Coogee Aquarium disgorged a human arm which set off a series of events straight out of a pulp fiction novel.

Tiger Shark
"Sharks were big in the news that year. In three weeks of February and March 1935, three young men were taken by sharks from NSW beaches. The shark was Public Enemy Number One and bounty hunters were employed to help rid beaches of the menace.

In April 1935, a 3.5 metre tiger shark was caught off the coast of Coogee. It was brought back alive and put on public display at the Coogee Aquarium Baths. Crowds flocked to see the monster with the man-eating capabilities. On Anzac Day, it didn't disappoint.

After the shark had seemed to be ailing for most of the afternoon there was a great commotion in the pool. The shark moved rapidly up and down, and then suddenly disgorged a human arm!

The discovery of the arm caused a media sensation. A vital clue to its identity was a tattoo of two boxers shaping up to fight. After reading one report in a Sydney newspaper, Edwin Smith contacted police claiming the arm belonged to his brother who had been missing for several weeks.

Because of the well-preserved state of the arm police managed to obtain some fingerprints. These provided a match confirming the arm had in fact belonged to Jim Smith, former boxer and small-time criminal. But there was another gruesome aspect to the discovery of the arm. Medical examinations revealed it had not been bitten off by the shark but had been removed from the body by a knife, and not in a surgical procedure. Now it was a murder investigation.

Jim Smith was a battler, and like many of the period, he tried to be upwardly mobile. And one of the few ways you could do it at the time was to become a boxer. And Jim tried to become a leading boxer in Sydney. He battled hard, he trained hard. And he had some quite good fights from time to time. But in the end he just didn't quite have it to make the big time.

Smith drifted onto the edges of the underworld and became involved in illegal gambling and SP bookmaking that was rife throughout Sydney at that time.

The starting price lives like a cancer. Over the wires, millions of pounds pass in illegal turnover. Bookmakers make a great thing out of it.

The underworld was populated by tough, hard men and women who didn't hesitate to use violence to get what they wanted. There was one unwritten rule -- never squeal to the cops.

The last time James Smith was ever seen was here at Cronulla in the company of his long-time friend Patrick Brady. They'd spent most of the afternoon in the Hotel Cecil in the middle of the town and then they came back to a cottage which had been rented by Brady and which was on the shore of Gunnamatta Bay.

The cottage owner was not happy when Brady moved out. A trunk and a mattress had been replaced, and other items were missing. Suspiciously, the walls had seemed to have been scrubbed clean. In Patrick Brady, police had their first suspect.

A key link for the police in their investigations was information they got from a Cronulla cab driver. On the morning after Jim Smith was seen for the last time, Brady turned up at the cab driver's home, and wanted a ride into Sydney. He was dishevelled, he had a hand in a pocket and wouldn't take it out. He got in the cab, and they drove through towards Sydney, and as the cab driver was able to give evidence on later, it was clear that Brady was frightened. He kept looking out the back window, fearful that somebody was following him. And then, finally, he came to North Sydney, and he got the cab driver to pull up outside of the home of Reginald Lloyd Holmes.

Brady's taxi journey linked Jim Smith's murder directly to the respectable middle-class businessman Reginald Holmes. He ran a highly successful boat-building business on the harbour foreshore at Lavender Bay. But Holmes had a much darker side. He controlled a lucrative smuggling ring using speedboats built at his boatshed to pick up cocaine, cigarettes and other contraband thrown overboard from passing ships.

Jim Smith was a sometime employee of Reginald Holmes, and often drove one of the speedboats during smuggling operations. They had fallen out over a failed insurance scam, and Smith had begun to blackmail Holmes using the boatbuilder's position in society as leverage. All the evidence the police had collected so far against Brady and Holmes was purely circumstantial. They needed a confession.

The police arrested Patrick Brady, and brought him to the Central Police Station. And then, over a period of many hours, they subjected him to a fearsome interrogation. Reginald Holmes was also brought in and at first he denied ever knowing Patrick Brady.

The police were frustrated. They had no body, and their two main suspects were refusing to cooperate. They decided to charge Brady with the murder of Jim Smith, to maintain the pressure on him.

This is where one of the most startling events took place. On May 20 in 1935, Reginald Holmes came out from his boatshed, went out to one of the fastest speedboats in the country, pulled out a pistol, fired the pistol at his head, and a nickel-jacketed bullet splayed all around his forehead. It stunned him - he fell into the water, and a rope bound around one of his wrists as he fell. Falling into the water revived him. He crawled back into the vessel. He then started it up and drove the speedboat right past Circular Quay, through the mid-morning ferry traffic, and then, for four hours, he was chased by the police around Sydney Harbour until, finally, he gave up just outside Sydney Heads.

After Reginald Holmes's failed attempt at suicide, he made a statement to police, directly implicating Patrick Brady in Jim Smith's murder.

He told how Brady had arrived at his house and he'd bought with him a little kitbag and he went into Holmes's study - he went into his study, opened the kitbag dramatically and pulled out Jim Smith's arm with the tattoos on it. He threatened Holmes. He told Holmes that if he didn't collaborate with him, then he would be in just the same sort of trouble as his old mate Jim Smith.

Holmes agreed to be the star witness against Patrick Brady. But at 1:20am on June 12, just hours before the start of the inquest into the death of Jim Smith, Reginald Holmes's body was found slumped over the wheel of his car in the deserted docks area of Dawes Point, the victim of a gangland-style killing.

With the death of Reginald Holmes, the Crown case against Patrick Brady virtually collapsed. And the result was that his trial was over in just about a day and a half and he was acquitted and walked from the court as a free man.

The Shark Arm case has left many questions with few answers. Jim Smith and Reginald Holmes both squealed to the cops and wound up dead. But who was responsible for the murders? Who did kill Reginald Holmes?

On the afternoon before his death, Holmes went to his bank, took out £500 and arranged for the £500 to be paid to a hitman who was then told that he had to kill Holmes that night to make sure that Holmes wouldn't have to make an appearance at the Coroner's Court in the morning.

Incredible as it may seem, Holmes actually organised and paid for his own murder. " from abc.net.au

I seem to recall seeing this celebrated shark arm preserved in formaldehyde in a glass jar at the Police Exhibition at the Sydney Royal Easter Show circa 1960. I remember being fascinated by the tattoos. I wonder where it is now? I'd give an arm and a leg to see it again. Well, an arm anyway.

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Reader Comments (1)

Yeh, I have a healthy respect for sharks and the closest i'll ever get to hurtin them is findus fish fingers.
July 26, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermushroom

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