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1930s & Earlier / 1916 New Jersey Shark Attacks
During an 11-day period during a 1916 heatwave, five people were attacked by sharks along the coast of New Jersey. Only one victim survived. These well chronicled events inspired Peter Benchley's famous novel Jaws. The first attack occurred on Saturday, July 1 at Beach Haven, a resort town off New Jersey's southern coast. Charles Epting Vansant, 25, of Philadelphia was vacationing at the Engleside Hotel. Before dinner, Vansant decided to take a quick swim in the Atlantic. Shortly after entering the water, Vansant began shouting. He was rescued by lifeguard Alexander Ott who pulled the bleeding Vansant from the water. Vansant's left thigh had been stripped of its flesh. He bled to death on the hotel manager's desk. The second attack occurred 45 miles north of Beach Haven at the resort town of Spring Lake, New Jersey. The victim was Charles Bruder, 27, a hotel bellhop. Bruder was killed on Thursday, July 6, 1916, while swimming 130 yards from shore. A shark bit him in the abdomen and severed his legs. Lifeguards Chris Anderson and George White pulled Bruder into their canoe but he bled to death before they reached the shore. The next two attacks occurred on Wednesday, July 12. They shockingly took place in fresh water in Matawan Creek near the town of Matawan, 30 miles north of Spring Lake and 16 miles inland! Around 2 p.m. some local boys, including Lester Stillwell, 11, were playing in the creek at an area called the Wyckoff Dock. A dorsal fin appeared and the boys realized it was a shark. Before Stillwell could leave the creek, the shark pulled him underwater. Stillwell's friends ran to town for help. Several men, including local businessman Watson Stanley Fisher, 24, came to investigate. Fisher jumped into the creek to find Stillwell's body, but he too was attacked by the shark in front of several horrified witnesses. Fisher was pulled from the creek without recovering Stillwell's body. His right thigh was severely injured and he bled to death at Monmouth Memorial Hospital in Long Branch. Stillwell's body was recovered 150 feet upstream from the Wyckoff Dock on July 14. The fifth and final victim, Joseph Dunn, 14, of New York City was attacked a half mile from the Wyckoff Dock nearly 30 minutes after the attacks on Stillwell and Fisher. The shark bit his left leg, but Dunn was rescued by his brother and a friend after a vicious tug-of-war with the shark. Dunn was taken to Saint Peter's University Hospital in New Brunswick. Dunn lost his leg, but otherwise recovered. There is some debate whether just one shark was responsible for all five attacks. However, there were no further attacks after a shark, that was found to have human bones in its stomach, was killed. What prompted the rash of attacks in 1916? One grisly theory is that Atlantic sharks had grown accustomed to feeding on humans after German submarine attacks.