Shark Arm: A Shark, a Tattooed Arm, and Two Unsolved Murders

Allen & Unwin. Oct. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9781760875985. pap. $17.95. CRIME
Former high school teachers Roope and Meagher expand on Australia’s sensational “shark arm” cold case in this thoroughly researched, fascinating book. In 1935, a shark at Sydney’s Coogee Aquarium threw up a tattooed arm in front of onlookers. The victim, James Smith, a former boxer and suspected police informant identified by his fingerprints, was presumed dead. This strange discovery led investigators to a local boat builder and a world of fraud, smuggling, and escalating violence. The authors explore the case from every angle, rewinding from the aquarium to examine 1930s Sydney and the background of central figures before moving into a compelling courtroom drama. Roope and Meagher reconstruct case files with incredible detail, and revelations throughout the trial keep the reader engaged. The authors offer thoughts on the resulting media frenzy and implications for future homicide investigations, but their focus remains on the case. This volume will entertain readers interested in Australian history and seaside crimes; those wanting to dive further into Australian true crime may enjoy Tanya Bretherton’s The Killing Streets: Uncovering Australia’s First Serial Murderer.
VERDICT A comprehensive, absorbing account of one of Sydney’s most infamous crimes.
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