Human Head and Leg Found Inside Tiger Shark

25 Jan


Back in November, 2014, fishermen in the Philippines hooked a large tiger shark. Not all that uncommon. But what they found inside was very unusual. A human head and leg. Some believe the victim had been a passenger on the MV Maharlika 2 ferry that sank near Leyte a few weeks earlier on September 13th.

It was a tiger shark that took the arm of surfer Bethany Hamilton several years ago. But the attack didn’t run this brave young woman out of the water though as she continues to be an active, competitive surfer.


This incident reminded me of the famous and fascinating 1935 Shark Arm Case in Australia. One that involved, forgery, blackmail, and murder and one where the shark was another innocent victim. The case was convoluted and confusing and raised many questions—-not the least of which was ”what constitutes a body?” Is an arm enough to say that a person was indeed dead?

I used this case as an example of corpse identification in my book Howdunnit: Forensics

Howdunit 400X533

From Howdunnit: Forensics:


In April 1935, two fishermen caught a large tiger shark off the coast of Sydney, Australia, and donated the creature to a local aquarium. A few days later the shark regurgitated a well-preserved, muscular, Caucasian human arm. The shark was sacrificed and an autopsy was performed, but no more human remains were found.

The arm appeared to have been removed by a knife rather than by the shark’s teeth. Further, the knife wounds appeared to have occurred postmortem. The arm bore a tattoo of two boxers squaring off. Through meticulous work, fingerprints were obtained, and they indicated that the victim was James Smith, an ex-boxer with a criminal past. His wife identified the tattoo.


Further investigation led the police to Patrick Brady, a known forger and drug-trafficker, who had gone on a fishing trip with the victim just before his disappearance. Police theorized that Brady killed Smith, hacked him to pieces, and stuffed his remains into a trunk that was missing from the fishing shack the two men had shared. Smith’s arm must have slipped free in the water and been swallowed by the shark. Under questioning, Brady implicated another man named Reginald Holmes, who was himself shot to death the day before the inquest into Smith’s death was to begin. Brady’s attorneys obtained an injunction from the court, halting the inquest on the grounds that an arm was not sufficient evidence to bring murder charges. The police charged Brady with murder anyway, but a jury, likely influenced by the court ruling, acquitted him.



Posted by on January 25, 2015 in Uncategorized


6 responses to “Human Head and Leg Found Inside Tiger Shark

  1. Sue Bursztynski (@SueBursztynski)

    January 25, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    Yes, a fascinating case, I wrote about it in my children’s history of crime in Australia. Kids love this sort of gruesome, Ooh, yuk! stuff, and there was a warped humour in it.


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      January 25, 2015 at 4:36 pm

      Yes, kids seem to like that gruesome stuff. And it is a case that deals with many issues. Probably why it’s still so famous after all these years.


  2. Susan Shea

    January 25, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    Bethany surfs and teaches at Hanalei Bay, where we’ve seen her at times – always smiling, very good in the water!


  3. Brenda

    January 26, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    All very interesting. Thanks for this!!

    Glad the young surfer has such a great attitude.

    Given that we now know that surfers look like food to sharks you would think that all surfing behaviors would change….


  4. Ted

    October 19, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    Surfers are by far the perfect “target” for sharks.There are many reasons for this-among them surfers continue to surf in California, Hawaii and Australia-infamous for the Great White, Tigers or other aggressive sharks like the Bull.. Surfers look like seals and turtles from below. For the silly “rush” of riding a wave for seconds-most surfers will take the foolish-if low risk, of having sharks biting or killing them-is mind boggling. The first thing every surfer or scuba diver says after being “attacked” is usually, “I can’t wait to get back in the water” (with sharks). You lost already-you just decreased your chances of being attacked again. Wow Dude (sorry I don’t know how to spell “narley.”-or it’s meaning



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: