coughing up an arm but no leg

Until 1986, Sydney’s Coogee Beach had a Palace and Aquarium. Bordered by Arden Street, Beach Street, Bream Street and Dolphin Street, the Palace included an indoor Swimming pool, an aquarium, a Great Hall that could be used as a roller skating rink, a Canadian toboggan run down the hillside for over 70 meters, a herd of 14 donkeys to ride as well as swings, whirligigs, rocking horses, toy boats, aviaries, flower beds, a bandstand and an open air bar.

On Anzac Day in 1935, something extraordinary happened in the aquarium.


A tiger shark which had seemed to be ailing for most of the afternoon caused a great commotion. It moved rapidly around the pool, up and down, and then suddenly it disgorged a human arm.

arm found here

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 a newspaper report, Edwin Smith contacted police claiming the arm belonged to his brother who had been missing for several weeks. Because of its well-preserved state, police managed to obtain some fingerprints. These provided a match confirming that it 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.

image of Jim smith (on left) found here

The last time James Smith was seen he was 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.

image of Gunnamatta Bay found here

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 his hand in his pocket and wouldn’t take it out. He got in the cab, and, as the cab driver gave evidence later, it was clear that Brady was frightened. He kept looking out the back window, fearful that somebody was following him. At North Sydney he got the driver to pull up outside the home of Reginald Lloyd Holmes.

Read about the worst cab driver in Sydney here

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

Lavender Bay by donnnnnny

Then a startling event took place. On May 20, Reginald Holmes got in one of the fastest speedboats in the country, pulled out a pistol and fired it at his head. A nickel-jacketed bullet splayed all around his forehead. It stunned him — he fell into the water, and a rope wound itself around one of his wrists as he fell. Falling into the water revived him. He crawled back into the vessel, started it up and drove the speedboat through the mid-morning ferry traffic, and then, for four hours, he was chased by the police down Sydney Harbour until, finally, he gave up just outside Sydney Heads.

Sydney Heads by Conrad Martens

After Reginald Holmes’s failed attempt at suicide, he made a statement to police, directly implicating Patrick Brady in Jim Smith’s murder. Holmes agreed to be the star witness against 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.

Dawes Point toilet

On the afternoon before his death, Holmes went to his bank, took out £500 and arranged for it 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.

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34 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Grief!
    That sure is a pretty little toilet.

  2. What an amazing story – and it proves one thing: tiger sharks are usually ‘armless….

  3. If a person signed checks with a bionic arm would they be committing forgery? I mean wouldn’t a fake arm produce a fake signature?

  4. Why has no-one written a novel based on these amazing tales? Come on, Nurse, you can do it.

    • Forget a novel…she just needs to put together all her stories in a book.

  5. I can imagine the hitman querying the target. “Are you sure about that, guv? Reginald Holmes, that’s you, guv. Don’t you mean someone else? I mean, I wouldn’t like to kill my own customer, know what I mean?” (etc)

  6. I had the BEST day on Coogee beach once. *nostalgic sigh*

    • Tell us about it Dolce

  7. You are hands down (down where?) the best (and sexiest) storyteller on the entire internet!

  8. Apparently suicide is like a home project: if you screw up doing it yourself, you hire out to get it done.

  9. Sydney Heads looks like a very violent place, water-wise. Cool picture.

    • That was me- didn’t realize I was logged into something else when I hit the comment button. 🙂

      • Nicole, I would never have pictured you as a stinky civet 🙂

  10. would love a taxi ride with Mr. Tohme… the exact opposite of sweet George from Mytilene!

    • Are you still dreaming about Sweet George? 😉

  11. If only the stupid shark had properly digested the human arm. All of these problems could have been avoided.

    • Another interesting aspect to this story is that a smaller shark had swallowed the arm before being eaten by the larger shark……

  12. I always thought suicide was a DIY project.

  13. Nightmares, here we come! That arm must have had a terrible taste…poor shark.

  14. What a great, great story!

  15. Ripping yarn, nurse, though I don’t understand why Holmes just didn’t do it himself, saving the five hundred quid to spend on something later.

  16. What a tale. You really do present us with some of the most amazing tales. I never know what I’m going to see when I come over here.

    I really like your illustrations on this one, especially the “Lavender Bay” one.

  17. Nothing like this goes on in the Brighton aquarium…although some of the fish do look a bit sullen..that’s a great toilet btw

    • I prefer fish that smile, groupers look particularly sullen, goldfish usually look bewildered.

  18. You tell the best crime stories.

    • It helps that Australia is populated by dangerous animals and crazy people who’ve stayed out in the sun too long

  19. True crime story her at the hospital are always fun

    • But not very many are hospital related any more are they. Do you think the blog needs a name change?

  20. Anyone think it’s funny that aquariums are built right on the beach – besides really huge aquariums ie The Ocean?

    For a city wiht one of the lowest crime rates per capita, I think our crimes were pretty creative in the 80s.

    • Perhaps they’re built that close to save on transportation costs 😉

  21. Wow now that story would make a great film script.

  22. Trying to think of something sm-arm-y …

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