But Holmes never gave his evidence; the night before the hearing he was found slumped over the steering wheel of his car, a bullet through his head. This time the shot had been fatal.
At the next day's inquest, Brady was charged with the murder of Smith, but after 39 witnesses had been examined, Brady's lawyer appealed to a supreme court judge to prohibit the coroner from proceeding. His grounds were that the coroner had no jurisdiction to hold an inquiry on the basis of only an arm, because under a rather recondite British statute of 1276, a single limb could not be considered a body, and the presence of a body was essential to an inquest. In short, the lawyer argued, there was no corpus delicti. (That is a badly misused term. Webster's New World Dictionary states, "The corpus delicti in a murder case is not the body of the victim, but the fact that death has occurred and that it is the result of murder.")
Without an entire body, Brady's attorney said, there was no proof that Smith was even dead. He could be alive and well—except for the lack of an arm—somewhere in the world.
Nevertheless, the Crown bravely set out to prosecute Brady for the murder of Smith. It contended that Brady, under an assumed name, had rented a cottage at Cronulla, a seaside resort near Sydney, in March of 1935. Smith was last seen in toto (fully armed, as it were) on the night of April 8, when he played dominoes in a hotel at Cronulla with Brady and two local residents. The prosecution claimed that the next day Brady took a taxi to Sydney to see Holmes, bought a mattress and a metal trunk at a secondhand shop and returned to the resort. The Crown alleged that the resultant "unpleasantness at the Cronulla Cottage," as the newspapers referred to it, went as follows:
Smith was dismembered on the mattress, his parts were stuffed into the trunk, and the trunk was taken to sea in a boat and dumped. Detectives reasoned that the arm had not fit in the trunk, so a rope and a weight had been affixed to it. Then it also was thrown over the side.
The defense rebutted with a hypothetical alternative. Why, Brady's lawyer asked, had the arm, which the prosecution claimed had been in the shark's stomach for a minimum of eight days and a maximum of 17, not been digested by the fish in the usual 24 hours? Couldn't the limb have been tossed into the aquarium after the shark's capture and never been ingested?
The Crown countered with expert ichthyologists who testified that the shark's digestive system could have been so upset by swallowing the arm that it failed to function normally. As for the possibility of the arm having been thrown into the aquarium after the shark's arrival there, the prosecution produced 14 witnesses who testified that they had witnessed the throwing up.
Brady repeatedly denied that he had killed or dismembered Smith. He did admit that the victim had been in his rented cottage the night of his disappearance, but he swore that Smith had left with Albert Stannard, a Sydney launch proprietor. Without the evidence of the murdered Holmes, the charges could not be sustained, and Brady was acquitted. "Of course, you are innocent, Mr. Brady, but please don't do it again, Mr. Brady," wrote one Sydney newspaper after Brady was acquitted.
So much for the shark arm victim and his assumed murderer, but what of the killing of Holmes, which was an indirect result of the fish's regurgitation? Thousands of dollars in rewards for information about Holmes' murderer were offered by newspapers and the Australian government, and eventually Stannard and J.P. Strong, a longshoreman, were accused of shooting him. A first trial resulted in a hung jury; in a second, Stannard was discharged at an early stage in the proceedings, and Strong was later acquitted of slaying Holmes.
After a dramatic beginning, the case had fizzled out. Australia's most sensational murders have still not been solved, though they had their impact on the legal world by forcing clarification of the meaning of the term corpus delicti. It was said that Holmes' widow knew what had actually taken place and was about to reveal all that her unfortunate husband had not been able to tell when, in another frustrating chapter of the crime, she died in a mysterious fire at her house in Sydney in November 1952.