Reconstructing the Crime Scene of the 1916 Shark Attacks

So what was going on in the Atlantic off the Jersey Shore around the time of the 1916 attacks? In order to fully understand the incidents, we need to reconstruct the crime scene. Below are a few observations from the time of the attacks.

Week of June 21- Large Channel Bass was caught at Beach Haven weighing 34 ½ Lbs. Also caught that week was a 42 lb. Striped Bass in Long Branch and a 55 pounder was caught at the Manasquan Inlet. Fishing was also reported to be good from Point Pleasant. There good fishing followed a storm that lasted five days.

June 30, 1916- A boy was swimming off the North Atlantic City inlet beach when he saw a large fin coming towards him. As he swam towards the shore he felt a pinch on his foot. When he arrived on the shore he had a large bite on his heel that removed a large chunk of flesh.

July 1, 1916- Charles Vansant, age 25, was swimming off of Beach Haven. As he turned to swim back to the shore, beachgoers saw a large fin headed in his direction. Lifeguards rushed to his aid, but were too late. He was bitten in the left leg. As lifeguards brought him to the shore the persistent shark followed until they were close to the beach. Most of the flesh from his left thigh and lower leg were missing. Vansant bled to death.

Week of July 1- Large Bluefish were abundant in Raritan Bay. A 300 lb. Horse Mackerel was caught in Belmar. Large sharks were sighted off Port Newark and New York Harbor.

July 4th– A large school of porpoises was seen moving north just off the Belmar fishing pier.

July 6th– Charles Bruder, age 27, was attacked at Spring Lake. He was swimming about 400’ from the shore when attacked. He received bites to the abdomen and lower legs. Both lower legs were amputated by the shark. He died of his wounds.

July 7th– A large (12’) shark was spotted just beyond the lifelines at Asbury Park.

Week of July 12, 1916- 14 sharks, each about 100 lbs. were caught off of Sea Bright. Also caught was 7’ Blue-nosed shark in the surf at Monmouth Beach. A large “man-eater” shark was caught and killed in Belford, not far from Matawan Creek

July 12- Captain Cottrell spotted a large shark swimming under the train bridge at Matawan Creek. He described the shark as being 8’ long and gray in color. He attempted to warn swimmers, but was ignored. Soon after Lester Stillwell, age 11, was attacked and pulled under at Wyckoff Dock.  Arthur Smith was bumped and lacerated by the shark as he searched for Stillwell. Stanley Fisher, aged 24, came to his rescue and was also attacked. He was badly bitten and died from blood loss. Upstream a short time late Joseph Dunn, age 11, was attacked while trying to exit the water. He received a severe non-fatal wound to the leg.

July 13- Two separate shark incidents were reported at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Thomas Richards and a 14-year-old boy were swimming off a boat in Sheepshead Bay. They were attacked by a shark as dozens of people on the shore watched in horror. Fortunately, he made it to the boat and only received a bruise from the shark. Shortly afterwards Gertrude Hoffman was swimming in Sheepshead Bay several hundred feet off West 31st Street in Coney Island. She saw a fin approaching her at a great speed. Remembering a recent newspaper article about the current New Jersey attacks she started to splash furiously in the water. Hoffman was not injured as the shark made no contact with her of any kind.

July 14 taxidermist and former lion tamer for Barnum and Bailey, Michael Schleisser, caught a 7.5’ Great White in Raritan Bay. The shark weighed 325 lbs. When he opened the shark there was fleshy material and bone. It was identified as human remains and confirmed as a juvenile great white by scientists. It was stuffed and put on display in Manhattan and later lost.

Week of July 19, 1916- A 300 lb. pregnant shark with 14 pups inside was caught. A 3’ Dog Shark was caught in the Navesink River. Large sharks were abundant on the coast.

July 26, 1916- Captain Cottrell caught a 7’ long 200 Lb. shark off Latham’s Dock that extends into Matawan Creek near the mouth. Two other sharks were caught in the same area that week. Two more sharks were killed at Belford and another two near Tottenville. The mouth of the shark was 8 inches long and 5 inches high when held open with a stick. Cotrell collected the $100 reward for his shark as being the culprit in the attacks. The shark was identified as a blue nosed shark.

Big sharks were seen in the Navesink River.

Week of August 23- Three big sharks were caught on the coast and a 3’ shark was caught in the Navesink.

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