From Brooklyn and Staten Island and Greenwich Village they came. Thousands clambered aboard the trolleys to 125th Street in Harlem that Sunday. By the time John Treadwell Nichols arrived at the Home News office, a mob of thirty thousand people had gathered in front of it. Americans at the turn of the century were accustomed to behavior in crowds, for parades and public spectacles were commonplace. So that Sunday the mob formed a line, and began to pass before the window in orderly fashion. There were gasps and cries of "Monster!" Adults shuddered and turned away. Mothers pulled children to the side. Many refused to believe what they saw. The shark was monstrous to the point of being scarcely believable.

John Nichols pushed to the front and lingered, staring at the man-eater. His first glance eliminated all doubt. The preternaturally wide, torpedo-shaped body; the crescent caudal fin and long, narrow pectoral fins; the small second dorsal and anal fins; the bifurcated coloring; the large gill slits, broad conical snout, and black eyes; the huge teeth, distinctively triangular and serrated, and, unlike most sharks, the teeth in its top and bottom jaws almost symmetrical. The jaws were large enough to have taken human life--"yawning jaws and vicious teeth," a reporter called them. It was unquestionably Carcharodon carcharias.

Independent experts had determined that the bones taken from the shark's stomach were human. Physicians identified the eleven-inch bone as the shinbone of a boy--presumably Lester Stilwell's--and a section of rib bone as belonging to a young man, perhaps Charles Bruder. Dr. Lucas, however, maintained these judgments were "incorrect." The bones were certainly human, Lucas agreed, but based on the size of the shark and the condition of the bones, he claimed they were parts of the left forearm and left upper rib taken from the body of a robust man who had been "dead some time and not the result of any active attack." This was not proof, in Dr. Lucas's opinion, that a shark could bite clean through human bone, or that sharks attack man. This conclusion supported Dr. Lucas's lifework as well as his theory that the species of the attacker was unknown. In a letter to Bureau of Fisheries Commissioner Hugh Smith, Lucas declared that the great white with human remains inside was not the killer and unfortunately his colleague John Nichols "was not able to get any information other than that published in the newspapers."

Time, however, favored the young Dr. Nichols. Unknown to Lucas, Nichols, and their contemporaries, great whites live not only in the tropics but all over the world, and one of the largest populations is off the New Jersey-New York coast. This population is mostly juveniles, however, who take smaller prey and seldom stray close to shore.


Copyright © 2001 by Michael Capuzzo. All rights reserved.

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