A case of murder, but don’t blame the shark.

From the shark came muscular arm of a man with a short length of rope attached to the wrist.

As I was thumbing through one of my many volumes of eerie events, a photographic face jumped out at me from the pages.  What was it that got my attention?  The man resembled some of my maternal family members.  Closer examination revealed that the mouth was all wrong.  I covered it.  Yes, it was uncanny.  Without the mouth, it could be an uncle or a cousin.  I did not know if I wanted to know the creepy story about this character—one who was no relation to me but looked like it.  Naturally, I could not control myself and read on.

     Australia, 1935:  The event occurred in The Land Down Under in the 1930s.  Here is the story… 

     “Look, Mama!”  A young boy called to his mother as he peered through the thick glass.  He inched closer.

     “It’s a Tiger Shark,” his father explained as he inched closer, himself.

     A young daughter stayed behind her mother, clinging to her skirt.  The mother’s mouth was still hanging open as they all gawked at the dark, malevolent-looking creature gliding by in the water.

     Other people came in closer, inside the seaside Sydney aquarium.  On this day, the aquarium was getting a record number of guests because of the national holiday honoring veterans.  Then, suddenly, without warning, all the gawkers were rewarded with something semi-entertaining.  The fourteen foot long Tiger Shark turned around in the water to face them head-on, and vomited!

     It vomited?  Yes, it vomited—a very rare occurrence to begin with, but it was what it vomited that was the kicker.  It appeared to be the muscular arm of a man with a short length of rope attached to the wrist.  Would the small audience ever recover from witnessing this spectacle?  When the arm was recovered from the tank, the distinctive, but crude, tattoo of two boxers—in red trunks—was plainly visible.

     Now there was a definite clue for identifying the person who had been attached to the arm.  Would the fingers on the arm be able to provide good prints?

     Help was on the way.  Not only was Sydney filled with those honoring veterans, there was also a group of forensics experts in town for a conference.  Three of them were noted for being the very best in the world.  They would be glad to offer their input.

     The fingerprinting process worked and divulged that the arm belonged to James Smith.  He was on the Sydney police books as a construction worker that dabbled in a little bookmaking on the side.

     The forensics experts had ruled out a shark-swimmer attack due to the rope on the wrist.  They also noted that the arm had been severed cleanly, with a sharp blade, and not chomped off.  They announced that Smith had been dead for a few hours’ time when the arm was removed from the body.  Possibly the most interesting tidbit of all was this:  the shark was a brand new addition to the aquarium.  The experts said that the shock of being captured had slowed down the shark’s digestive processes.  This meant that the arm and especially the fingertips were in excellent condition.  When they got all of this figured out, they brought Smith’s distraught wife down to identify the arm from the tattoo.  She had already reported his disappearance on April 8th.

     Further digging into James Smith’s history indicated that he had also been running drugs—some of Sydney Harbor’s opium and heroin shipments passing through on the way from China to the USA.  Small powerboats were used to transfer from ship to ship and Smith was the pilot of a launch called The Pathfinder. 

     Authorities traced the ownership of The Pathfinder and started their investigation there.  They narrowed their focus to the owner, Reginald Holmes, and two other men with harbor boat connections.  The three men immediately began working to implicate each other.  Police tried to determine if anything was amiss by employing some sneaky questioning.  They learned that two things were missing from their property—a mattress and a metal trunk were gone.

     Investigators then theorized that the trunk had held most of Smith’s body—all but the arm.  The arm had been tied to the trunk and tossed into the sea along with the bloody and incriminating mattress.  The scavenging shark had simply seized an opportunity.

     Although the Sydney police had excellent results in determining what happened to Smith, they failed terribly in determining the killer of the man.  The three suspects they were grilling all turned on each other and one got shot in the head by an unknown.  Police found him covered in blood but did nothing to protect him further.  When he was released by medical personnel, someone crept in and finished him off in the night.  No sufficient evidence could be gathered to arrest either of the two remaining suspects.  The person who killed James Smith is still an eerie mystery.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of the award-winning It Rises from the Pee Dee. Please click HERE to find the novel on Amazon.

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