The Feet, An Extremity

On August 20, 2007, a 12-year old girl from Washington was vacationing with her family at Jedediah Island Park in British Columbia.  As she walked along the water, the young girl made a startling discovery.  It was the right foot of a human.  The male body part was still dressed in its size 12 Adidas shoe and a sock.

Six days later, a couple visiting Gabriola Island in British Columbia made a similar discovery.  They also found the severed right foot of a man, wearing a size 12 sneaker.

Because feet go through a process called adipocere, where ocean waters turn the fat into a soap-like substance over a period of weeks and months, it is extremely difficult for forensic analysts to gather clues.

So the feet remained a mystery, and months went by before on February 8, 2008, a third foot was found washed up on Valdes Island in B.C.  Again, it was a man’s right foot wearing a sneaker and sock.

Forensic entomologist Gail Anderson studied the cases.  “A body in the ocean will first sink, and then, depending on the depth, float back to the surface as it becomes bloated with gas,” she noted.  “It is common for hands, feet and the head to detach as a body decomposes, but generally those limbs do not float.”

However, tennis shoes do float.

The fourth right foot was found on May 22, 2008 on Kirkland Island in B.C., but this time it belonged to a woman.  The foot donned a sock and a New Balance sneaker.

Less then a month later, two hikers exploring Westham Island, B.C., came across a man’s left foot floating in the water.  They called the police, and further investigation concluded that the foot came from the same victim as the February 8th finding.

But there were still more feet to be found.

On August 1, 2008, a camper on a beach near Pysht, Washington, found a size 11 athletic shoe covered in seaweed.  Inside of the shoe contained bones and flesh, and testing confirmed it was that of a human.  Canadian police and the Sheriff’s Department in Washington agreed that the foot could have been carried from Canadian waters.

Then, on November 11, 2008, a married couple walking their dog spotted a shoe floating in the Fraser River off Richmond, B.C.  The man fished it out.  It was from a pair of New Balance, and inside was a woman’s left foot.  A forensic DNA profiling analysis indicated that it was a genetic match to the foot discovered on May 22 on Kirkland Island.

The final foot was discovered on October 8, 2009 by two men walking along the Pacific Ocean in Richmond, B.C.  It was a man’s right foot in a white size 8.5 Nike running shoe.

No other body parts connected to these feet have been found.  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.  Foul play has also been suggested, although none of the first four feet contained evidence of tool marks.  Yet this does not rule out foul play.  It is possible that the bodies could have been weighted down and disposed of, and the feet may have separated due to natural decay.

Under optimal conditions, a human body may survive in water for as long as three decades, meaning that the feet may have been floating around for years.

Finding human remains on a beach is not uncommon, however, finding feet and not the rest of the bodies has been deemed unusual.  “Finding one foot is like a million-to-one odds,” said Garry Cox from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, “but to find two is crazy.”

In related news, I once got a fortune cookie that said “If the shoes fits, it’s probably your size.”

Also, the weather is getting warmer in New York.  I painted my toenails the other day.

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