Wakefield Press, 1995. Reprint 2003
Reviewed by Sunnie Gill
On ANZAC Day in 1935, a captured Tiger Shark on display in the disused
Coogee public baths coughed up a tattooed arm. Thus began one of the more
bizarre and sensational murder cases of the first half of the 20th century
in Australia. THE SHARK ARM MURDERS follows the investigation team through
the process of determining the identity of the arm, then trying to find
out if that person was the victim of accident, suicide or foul play, and
finally attempting to bring someone to account for the murder.
Although the investigation is interesting enough in itself, there is more
fascination in being able to see how far crime investigation has come in
the seven decades since this murder, particularly in the area of forensic
and scientific testing methods that are now available to the police.
There are things in police investigations that we take for granted these
days. In the Shark Arm Murders investigation, the fingers on the arm were
not in a fit state for fingerprinting on their own. The skin had to be
removed and placed on something more solid to get useable prints. These
days it not an uncommon process, but back in 1935 it was only the second
time in Australia that this procedure had been attempted. As there was no
DNA testing back in the 1930ís the only way to discover the identity of
the victim was by the tattoos and through medical guess work as to whether
someone could have survived having an arm severed in such a manner.
Many aspects of police investigations took so much longer because of lack
communications and technology. For instance, only some CIB (Criminal
Investigation Bureau) cars had two-way radios. Fingerprint comparisons had
to be done by sorting through a card index and there were no links to
other police forces. It must have made crime investigation a long and
There was also a measure of bureaucratic bungling in this case that made
the task much more difficult. The shark that coughed up the arm died and
was disposed of before the police could do further tests on it. There was
disagreement between scientific experts about the arm and there certainly
werenít the protections in place for suspects that there are these days.
THE SHARK ARM MURDERS stands not only as an interesting look at how police
investigations were conducted in the 1930ís but also as a testimony to the
dogged determination of the detectives to try and bring someone to justice
despite the paucity of clues.
May 2006 review first published on Murder and Mayhem
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