The waters around Canada have recently washed up two more disembodied feet wearing running shoes. What lies behind this strange phenomenon?

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Sea shores of Canada

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On 11 February this year, Charlotte Stevens of British Columbia was taking a walk with her family on Vancouver Island when her husband spotted something on the beach. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a running shoe containing a dismembered foot.

But this gruesome discovery wasn’t as unusual as it sounds. Since 2007, 16 of these detached human feet have been found in British Columbia and four in the state of Washington in the USA. The one found by Charlotte Stevens matched another, discovered just five days earlier, on 7 February this year.

Most of them have been right feet and all were wearing running shoes or hiking boots. So where have they come from and what’s causing this to happen?

The first foot was found back in 2007 by a 12-year-old girl. Wearing a white Adidas trainer, it was a man’s right, size 12, and had washed ashore on Jedediah Island, a rocky isle in the Strait of Georgia’s Gulf Islands in British Columbia, from the Salish Sea.

Person on beach

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Locals, the media, all were intrigued. Out there, somewhere, there must be a body – missing its right foot. But after initial interest, the story faded away.

Until six days later when another foot washed up on a beach 40 miles away on Gabriola Island, British Columbia. That foot, also male, size-12, was discovered by a shocked couple. It was waterlogged, and appeared to have been taken ashore by an animal. But it was in a Reebok trainer, and was also a right foot.

Canadian Mounties called for calm. ‘They’re from missing persons,’ one claimed, meaning those who had fallen from ferries or fishing vessels – plus there’d been a tugboat sinking within the last year.

More gruesome discoveries

Then, six months later, in February 2008, just as people were forgetting about the two mystery feet, a third turned up. The decaying foot washed ashore on Valdes Island, British Columbia. A man’s size-11, in a Nike trainer.

Fascinated, the public started combing beaches, searching for dismembered feet – and finding them, including several hoax feet.

trainer on rocks

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On 22 May 2008, a woman’s right foot, in a blue and white New Balance trainer was found. On 16 June 2008, a man’s left foot, floating near Westham Island, British Columbia. It was later identified as a match to the right foot discovered in the February.

Then, in July, Vancouver police identified one foot as belonging to a man who was depressed and had probably died from suicide. But why had just his foot been found?

On 1 August 2008, a right size-11 black shoe, decaying flesh and bone inside was found in Washington state, USA but experts agreed it could have been carried south from Canadian waters.

Until May 2014, more dismembered feet continued to be found, all washed up on remote beaches within 25 miles of each other. All of them in a trainer.

Foul play?

What was happening? Some people suspected foul play. Was a serial killer on the loose? Could they all be victims of a 2006 aeroplane crash? Or perhaps they belonged to victims from the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami in Asia…

Washing up with the decaying feet came a tide of conspiracy theories. Whispers of criminal gangs in Vancouver, bumping off rivals. Talk that the bodiless feet belonged to illegal immigrants.

The mystery even inspired an episode of American drama Bones, titled The Feet On The Beach.

 

Identification

Of the feet which have been identified, investigations confirmed they were suicide jumpers and missing persons. Two feet were confirmed to be from a woman known to have committed suicide from the Pattullo Bridge in New Westminster.

Barb McLintock, a spokeswoman for the British Columbia Coroners Service, claimed all the feet found in the area were results of ‘non-suspicious deaths’ – accidents or suicides. She suggested that, as the bodies decomposed, the feet detached naturally  from their bodies.

But why did the feet only start turning up after 2007? And where are the other body parts? The answer could be improving shoe technology. More sports-shoe brands are using air pockets or light foam in their designs, which allows them to be light enough to float and to wash up on shore.

Could there really be such a simple explanation or is there more to it, as some people believe?

The mystery drifts on…