In 2007 a little girlwas visiting Jedediah Island in British Columbia, Canada, when hervacation took a dark turn. She was on the coast when she found aman’s shoe apparently abandoned on the shore. Innocently, shedecided to take a peek inside. But she discovered a sight worthy of ahorror movie.
Unbeknown to her, theyoungster had stumbled upon the remains of an unfortunate soul. Thisperson’s foot had been left behind in a size 12 sports shoe. Thoughthe incident was undoubtedly enough to scar anyone for life, it wasnot the last of its kind to occur on the Salish Sea’s shores. Andever since, severed feet have washed up on a regular basis.
Between 2007 andFebruary 2019 a reported total of 20 human feet have came to shore onthe coasts of Vancouver in Canada and Washington in the UnitedStates. As a result of the grisly mystery, rumors have started toemerge. And these include whispers of a serial killer,extraterrestrial abductions, aviation accidents and naturaldisasters.
The Salish Sea is madeup of a complex system of coastal waterways that lie between BritishColumbia in Canada and Washington in the United States. The body ofwater stretches from Desolation Sound in the north of the Strait ofGeorgia to the south of the Puget Sound. Meanwhile, the Strait ofJuan de Fuca sits to the west of the sea.
The inland sections ofthe Salish Sea are somewhat separated from the rest of the PacificOcean by the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island. As a result,they are protected a little from ocean storms. And while theso-called sea is actually a series of inlets, sounds and straits,together they create one watery ecosystem.
And the Salish Sea is athriving ecosystem, at that. Its waters are home to at least 253species of fish. Furthermore, the sea plays host to the southernresident orca. However, the species’ population is in decline dueto dwindling salmon numbers. Northern resident orcas also visit thearea. By contrast, the numbers of this seal-eating species are on theup.
On land, more thanseven million people live in the Salish Sea drainage basin, whichextends over approximately 42,000 square miles. Major cities in thisarea include Vancouver, Victoria and Nanaimo in Canada, and Seattle,Olympia and Bellingham in the U.S. But while the Salish Sea is amajor waterway in the Pacific Northwest region, it has gainednotoriety for an altogether different reason.
It all began in August2007 when a little girl was visiting Jedediah Island in BritishColumbia (B.C.) from neighboring Washington. While on the coast, shefound an Adidas sneaker, still containing its sock. But when sheopened it up to look inside, she must have been horrified to find aman’s right foot.
Experts were able todetermine that the shoe in which the foot was found had been producedin 2003. The sneaker was white and blue in color and had beenpredominately sold throughout India. Later, it was revealed that thefoot had belonged to a missing person believed to have beenexperiencing depression.
But the gruesomediscovery would not be the last of its kind on the Salish coast. Justa few days after the first was found, a couple found a second severedfoot. This time the body part was located on Gabriola Island, B.C. Itwas contained inside a white Reebok size 12 shoe, believed to havebeen produced three years earlier in 2004.
In February 2008 yetanother right foot was found inside a Nike sneaker on Valdes Island,B.C. Later that summer, in June 2008, a matching left foot was foundon Westham Island, B.C., and was later confirmed to have belonged tothe same person. That individual was determined to have been a21-year-old male from Surrey, B.C., who had been missing for fouryears.
That same year anotherpair of feet were identified, this time belonging to a woman. Thefirst was found in May 2008 on Kirkland Island, B.C., and had beencontained in a sock and a New Balance sneaker. The second was foundon the Fraser River in Richmond, B.C. later that year in November. Ithad been discovered in a matching shoe. DNA testing later indicatedthat the remains had belonged to the same person.
It was also in 2008that the first foot was found beyond the boundaries of BritishColumbia. In August 2008 a male’s shoe was found washed ashoreclose to Pysht, Washington. The location of the extremity was lessthan 10 miles from the international border with Canada. It wascovered in seaweed, but found to contain human bones and flesh.
After the spate ofhuman feet findings in 2008, only one was discovered on the Salishcoast in 2009. The body part was found packaged in a Nike sneaker inRichmond, B.C. And it was later determined to have belonged to a manfrom the Vancouver area whose disappearance had been noted in January2008.
The next foot to befound in the area was on Whidbey Island, Washington, in August 2010.It was believed to have been the foot of a woman or a minor. It hadbeen discovered bare, unconfined by any footwear. Experts determinedthat it had been submerged for some two months. However, when tested,scientists were unable to establish a DNA match.
Another small foot wasspotted in December 2010 on the mudflats at Tacoma, Washington.Speaking shortly after the grim discovery, police spokesperson MarkFulghum revealed more details. “The right foot was still inside aboy’s size 6 Ozark Trail hiking boot,” he said. “[It] likelybelonged to a juvenile or small adult.”
And an even more grislyfinding occurred in August 2011. It was then that another foot wasfound in False Creek, B.C., with its leg bones still attached. It hadbeen spotted floating by the Plaza of Nations marina in a white andblue running shoe. And its discovery left one coroner stumped. “Therewas no obvious trauma to the remains,” Stephen Fonseca toldHuffPost in 2011. “So we’re certainly at a loss as to the causeof this.”
Another foot was foundinside a walking boot in a freshwater pool at Sasamat Lake, B.C., inNovember 2011. Worryingly, the body part was discovered by a childwho had been part of a gang of campers. It was later determined tohave belonged to fisherman Stefan Zahorujko, who had disappeared backin 1987.
In December 2011 a volunteer working with the homeless community in Seattle, Washington, found a human foot and leg bone in a plastic bag beneath the Ship Canal Bridge. Shortly after, Heroes for the Homeless founder Tricia Lapitan described the horror that had been stumbled upon. “I guess it was from the knee down, and it was pretty decomposed,” Lapitan told The Seattle Times.
The next discovery camein January 2012. This was when the Vancouver Police Departmentrevealed “what appears to be human bones inside a boot” had beenlocated by the city’s Maritime Museum. After that, there were nomore foot findings on the Salish coast until May 2014. Then, anotherhuman foot washed up in Seattle.
There was then anothergap of around two years between that find and the next footdiscovered. This latter body part was discovered by hikers onVancouver Island in February 2016. Like so many before it, theextremity was contained in a sock and sneaker. Another foot washed upnearby five days later – and coroners confirmed that it belonged tothe same person.
A third consecutivefoot washed up on Vancouver Island in December 2017. A person takinghis dogs out for a walk near the Jordan River came across theshocking find and alerted the authorities. The Sooke Royal CanadianMounted Police and the B.C. Coroners Service consequently arrived tothe spot. And the latter set about attempting to identify theremains.
Another foot was found on Gabriola Island, B.C., in May 2018. A man had been traipsing along the coast when he came across a walking boot that concealed the body part, jammed in a pile of logs. A few months later, another shoe was found in West Vancouver. It too contained a human foot, believed to have belonged to a male younger than 50 years old.
The latest footreported to have washed up in the area was found in January 2019.Beachgoers on Jetty Island in Everett, Washington, came across thebody part concealed within a boot. The Snohomish County Sheriff’sOffice later confirmed the foot was that of Antonio Neill, a22-year-old who disappeared in December 2016.
So between August 2007and January 2019 some 20 feet have been discovered in the area. Assuch, the so-called “Salish Sea human foot discoveries” havebecome quite the phenomenon. So much so that the British ColumbiaCoroners Service has even created a map detailing the locations inwhich severed feet have been found so far.
And given the macabrenature of the phenomenon, the mysterious feet have given rise to anumber of conspiracy theories. Some have suggested that the lone bodyparts are the result of a serial killer. Others believe they maybelong to the victims of an aviation accident or natural disaster.While one disturbing theory claims there could be a stock of deadbodies hidden in the Salish Sea.
In 2008 the person who discovered the fifth foot told The Guardian, “There’s someone doing this all right. Think about it, if they tied a chain around someone’s ankle and threw them overboard, the foot would just pop off. That could explain it. Maybe they got a lot of bodies stored up in a container and they got washed out. We don’t know. There’s a lot of stuff goes on over there.”
Given the attentionafforded to the feet, some pranksters couldn’t resist stirring thepot and getting in on the act. “We’ve had people put dog footskeletons in runners and leave them on the beach,” coroner workerBarb McLintock informed The Guardian in 2016. “And somebodyeven used old chicken bones.”
Despite all theconspiracy theories surrounding the detached feet, the BritishColumbia Coroners Service is convinced that there’s a simpleexplanation for the glut of washed-up body parts. “[We have] beenable to identify eight of the previous 12 feet, belonging to sixindividuals,” the agency told Vox in February 2019. “In none ofthe cases was any foul play involved.”
McLintock, for one, issure that the severed feet aren’t the outcome of a serial killer’sdoings. Nor, indeed, does she believe they are the result of anythingelse out of the ordinary or sinister in nature. Instead, the coronersoffice has ruled that all the individuals to which the feet belongedlikely died as a result of an accident or suicide.
One of the reasons feetpop up so regularly around the Salish Sea is supposedly because ofthe sheer amount of corpses in the depths. Sadly, it’s common forpeople to drown within any significant water-bodies. And these kindsof incidents become even more regular when shoreline populations arehigh, like on the Salish Sea.
McLintock believes thatthe feet become separated from the rest of the body as part ofnatural decomposition. She revealed that none of the remains had anysigns of trauma. “None of them have had anything like that,”McLintock told The Guardian. “All the evidence is pointed tojust this natural articulation process.”
What’s more,submersion in water can speed up the decomposition process. As aresult, the feet probably broke off at the ankle. And due to the factmost of the washed up extremities were still wearing shoes, they hadenough protection from the water and the appetites of sea creaturesto enable them to stay in tact.
However, while that mayexplain how the feet could come loose and wash up on shore, peoplestill wondered why the body parts only started to wash up after 2007.And it seems that the answer may lie in developments in shoe design.That’s because more and more sneakers now incorporate elementswhich serve to improve their buoyancy, allowing them to float to thecoastline.
In a statement to Vox,Gail Anderson from British Columbia’s Center for Forensic Researchat Simon Fraser University seemed to support this theory. “Feeteasily disarticulate and when they are attached to a flotation devicesuch as a running shoe, they are easily washed ashore,” she said.“Notice there are no feet washing ashore in stiletto heels orflip-flops. Also, today’s running shoes are much more buoyant thanin the past.”
What’s more, the tideand current patterns in the Salish Sea seem to favor the phenomenon.Body parts have certainly washed up in other locations over theyears, including in places like Brazil and Fiji. But nowhere hasapparently seen as many incidents of severed feet as the PacificNorthwest region.
Oceanography professorParker MacCready from University of Washington has explained how thegeography of the Salish Sea has influenced the feet into coming toshore. “Things that float at the ocean surface move with thecurrents, but also are pushed a bit by the wind,” he told Vox. “Andthis can be significant in getting them to shore.”
MacCreadywent on to reveal what this meant for the SalishSea. “The prevailing winds here [around the Salish Sea] are west toeast,” he said. “And so floating stuff in this part of thePacific gets blown to the coast effectively.” As a result, it’seasy for decomposing body parts to wash up on shore in the area.
But while shoes havehelped to keep feet relatively intact, they often make it difficultto trace to their wearers. “The ones I have seen are not freshfeet,” forensic anthropologist Kathy Taylor from King CountyMedical Examiner’s Office revealed to Vox. “They’ve been in thewater for a long time, with significant decomposition.”
With that in mind, theDNA found on the washed up feet has been so severely damaged by saltwater that it often cannot be tested. Furthermore, any identifyingbodily marks including tattoos are likely to have been worn away bysea water. As a result, Taylor is campaigning to have shoe sizeincluded as a category in missing person reports so that a foot mightbe more easily identified next time one washes up on shore.