Salish Sea human foot discoveries
Since August 20, 2007, several detached human feet have been discovered on the coasts of the Salish Sea in British Columbia, Canada, and Washington, USA. The feet belonged to five men, one woman and three other people of unknown sex. Of the 16 feet found, only two have been left feet; both of those were matched with right feet. As of February 2012, only five feet of four people have been identified; it is not known to whom the rest of the feet belong. In addition, several hoax feet have been planted in the area.
In July 2008 it was announced that one foot had been identified by Vancouver police, using DNA, as belonging to a man who was depressed and probably committed suicide. His identity was withheld on request of his family.
These foot discoveries are not the first ones on British Columbia's coast. On July 30, 1914, the Vancouver Sun reported that recent arrivals from Kimsquit reported a human leg encased in a high boot was found on a beach near the mouth of the Salmon River (a previous name for the Dean River near Kimsquit, near the headwater of Dean Channel). It was thought the remains were from a man who had drowned on the river the previous summer. One was also found in Vancouver in 1887.
|August 20, 2007||Jedediah Island, British Columbia, Canada||A girl visiting from Washington picked up a size 12 Adidas shoe and opened the sock to find a man's right foot. It is thought to have become disarticulated due to submerged decay. This kind of shoe was produced in 2003 and distributed mainly in India. A man's right foot; size 12 white-and-blue-mesh running shoe. The remains were identified as those of a missing man suffering from depression.|
|August 26, 2007||Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada||A man's right foot, discovered by a couple, also disarticulated due to decay. It was waterlogged and appeared to have been taken ashore by an animal. It probably floated ashore from the south. The shoe, a size 12 white Reebok, was produced in 2004 and sold worldwide but primarily in North America, and the type has since been discontinued.|
|February 8, 2008||Valdes Island, British Columbia, Canada||A right foot in a size 11 Nike. The remains were identified as a 21-year-old Surrey man reported missing four years prior, whose death is considered "not suspicious", indicating either misadventure or suicide. This type of shoe was sold in Canada and the United States between February 1, 2003, and June 30, 2003. It has been confirmed that the right foot found February 8 on Valdes Island and left foot found on June 16 on Westham Island belonged to the same man.||
|May 22, 2008||Kirkland Island, British Columbia, Canada||A woman's right foot; blue-and-white New Balance sneaker. The fourth foot was discovered on an island in the Fraser Delta between Richmond and Delta, British Columbia. It was also wearing a sock and sneaker. It is thought to have washed down the Fraser River, having nothing to do with the ones found in the Gulf Islands. The shoe was a New Balance sneaker manufactured in 1999. In 2011, the fourth sneaker found in Kirkland Island was identified as being part of a pair of blue and white New Balance sneakers belonging to a woman who jumped from the Pattullo Bridge in New Westminster in April 2004.||
|June 16, 2008||Westham Island, British Columbia, Canada||A man's left foot was found by two hikers on June 16, floating in water in Delta. It has been confirmed that the left foot found on June 16 on Westham Island and the right foot found February 8 on Valdes Island belonged to the same man.||
|August 1, 2008||Near Pysht, Washington, US||A right foot inside a man's black size 11 shoe was discovered by a camper on a beach. It was covered in seaweed. The site of the discovery was less than 16 kilometers from the international border in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Testing confirmed that the foot was human. Police say the large black-top, size 11 athletic shoe for a right foot contains bones and flesh. This was the first foot of the series to be found outside of British Columbia. The RCMP and Clallam County Sheriff's Department agreed on August 5 that the foot could have been carried south from Canadian waters.||
|November 11, 2008||Richmond, British Columbia, Canada||A known woman's left foot, in a shoe that was found floating in the Fraser River in Richmond. The shoe was described as a small New Balance running shoe, possibly a woman's shoe. A forensic DNA profiling analysis indicated that it was a genetic match to the foot discovered on May 22 on Kirkland Island.||
|October 27, 2009||Richmond, British Columbia, Canada||A right foot in a size 8½ Nike running shoe on a beach in Richmond. The remains were identified as a Vancouver-area man who was reported missing in January 2008  and died of natural causes[not in citation given].||
|August 27, 2010||Whidbey Island, Washington, US||A woman's or child's right foot, without a shoe or sock. This foot was determined to have been in the water for two months. Detective Ed Wallace of the Island County Sheriff's Office released a statement saying the foot would be tested for DNA. However, there was no match found in the national DNA database.||
|December 5, 2010||Tacoma, Washington, US||Found on the tidal flats. "The right foot was still inside a boy's size 6 'Ozark Trail' hiking boot, and likely belonged to a juvenile or small adult," police spokesman Mark Fulghum said Tuesday in Tacoma, about 40 kilometers south of Seattle and 225 kilometers south of Vancouver.||
|August 30, 2011||False Creek, British Columbia, Canada||Sex unknown. The foot was found in a man's white and blue size 9 runner, floating next to the Plaza of Nations marina, attached to the lower leg bones. It had disarticulated naturally at the knee due to the water.||
|November 4, 2011||Sasamat Lake, British Columbia, Canada||A man's right foot inside a size 12 hiking boot was discovered by a group of campers in a pool of fresh water at Sasamat Lake near Port Moody. In January 2012, this foot was identified by the B.C. Coroner's Service as that of Stefan Zahorujko, a local fisherman who went missing in 1987. Police believe the foot separated naturally from the body and do not suspect foul play.||
|December 10, 2011||Lake Union, Seattle, Washington, US||Human leg bone and foot in a black plastic bag under the Ship Canal Bridge.||
|January 26, 2012||Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada||On January 26, 2012, the remains of "what appears to be human bones inside a boot" were found in the sand along the water line at the dog park near the Maritime Museum at the foot of Arbutus Street, in Vancouver.||
|May 6, 2014||Seattle, Washington, US||Human foot in white New Balance shoe found along the shoreline of Centennial Park near the Pier 86 grain terminal. The New Balance model 622 athletic shoe was white with blue trim, size men's 10½. This model of shoe was first available for sale in April 2008. From an initial news photo, it appears to be a left foot.|
|Feb 7, 2016||Vancouver Island, BC, Canada||Hikers on Botanical Beach, near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, found a foot in a sock and running shoe.||
|Feb 12, 2016||Vancouver Island, BC, Canada||A foot washed up near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. BC Coroners Service said it matches one found there five days earlier.||(approximate)|
Another "human" foot, discovered on June 18, 2008, on Tyee Spit near Campbell River on Vancouver Island, was a hoax. The hoax was a "skeletonized animal paw" which was put in a sock and shoe and then stuffed with dried seaweed. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have begun an investigation into the hoax, and an arrest could result in charges of public mischief.
After the eleventh foot was found on August 31, 2011, several running shoes containing what police suspected was raw meat were found washed up on Oak Beach, British Columbia.
The series of discoveries has been called "astounding" and "almost beyond explanation", as no other body parts have turned up. The discoveries have caused speculation that the feet may be those of people who died in a boating accident or a plane crash in the ocean. One explanation is that some of the feet are those of four men who died in a plane crash near Quadra Island in 2005 and whose bodies have not been recovered, though one of the feet has been determined to be from a female. Foul play has also been suggested, although none of the first four feet showed tool marks. This does not rule out foul play, however; it is possible that the bodies could have been weighted down and disposed of, and the feet were separated due to natural decay.
Determining the origin of the feet is complicated because ocean currents may carry floating items long distances, and because currents in the Strait of Georgia are unpredictable. A foot may float as far as 1,000 miles (1,600 km). Also, human feet have a tendency to produce adipocere (a soap-like substance formed from body fat), which makes it hard for forensic scientists to find clues. Under optimal conditions, a human body may remain intact in water for as long as three decades, meaning that the feet may have been floating around for years.
Another theory is that the feet belonged to people who died in the Asian Tsunami on December 26, 2004. Richmond-based writer Shane Lambert has advocated this position, pointing to the fact that many of the shoes found were manufactured and sold in 2004 or earlier. Lambert acknowledges that there could be other sources for the shoes or multiple sources. However, besides the dates when the shoes were manufactured, Lambert cites ocean currents and their ultimate northward tendencies up the Pacific Ocean from part of the region that was hit by the 2004 Tsunami.
One foot has been identified as belonging to a man who was depressed and was believed to have committed suicide. Another two feet were identified as belonging to a woman who committed suicide by jumping from the Pattullo Bridge ( ) in New Westminster, B.C., in 2004. This suggests that the feet belong to various persons who have jumped from the bridge.
Level of rarity
Decomposition may separate the foot from the body because the ankle is relatively weak, and the buoyancy caused by air either inside or trapped within a shoe would allow it to float away. According to Simon Fraser University entomologist Gail Anderson, extremities such as the hands, feet, and head often detach as a body decomposes in the water, although they rarely float.
However, finding feet and not the rest of the bodies has been deemed unusual. Finding two feet has been given a "million to one odds" and has thus been described as "an anomaly". The finding of the third foot made it the first time three such discoveries had been made so close to each other. The fourth discovery caused speculation about human interference and, statistically, was called "curious".
After the fifth foot was discovered the story had begun to receive increased international media attention. With major headlines from newspapers such as the Melbourne Herald Sun, The Guardian, and the Cape Times in South Africa, the story elicited much speculation about the cause of the mystery, originating from "morbid fascination" with this type of subject, as stated by one scientist who identifies remains of victims. David Letterman also questioned two of his audience members who were Canadian about the mystery during one of his shows.
Jørn Lier Horst, a Norwegian police officer, wrote a novel inspired by the events, called Dregs (Sandstone Press 2011), in which an experienced investigator gives a new explanation for the findings.
The NPR podcast, "How To Do Everything" featured this phenomenon in their May 14, 2014 Episode 157, "Human Feet and Graham Crackers." This was also later covered on the podcast "Stuff You Should Know" in June 2016.
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- Interactive map of discoveries from CBC News