The Case of the Floating Feet

On August 20, 2007, a 12-year-old girl spotted a blue-and-white running shoe on a beach of British Columbia’s Jedediah Island. Inside was a sock, and inside the sock was a foot. No other body parts, just one foot.

Over the next 12 years, a total of 15 feet were found ashore in the area around Vancouver Island and the waterways called the Salish Sea. Six more turned up across the U.S. border in Puget Sound. All were in sneakers, except for one wearing a hiking boot. What was going on?

To ruin a perfectly good mystery, there was a rational scientific explanation. Bodies are more likely to sink to the bottom of the ocean than float. There they are dismembered by scavengers. The feet, detached in the process, float to the surface due to the buoyancy of the sneakers. Then the prevailing currents in that area steer those shoes to shore. (It seems the Salish Sea is perfect for ensnaring floating feet.)

And the original owners? Nine of the feet have been linked to seven missing persons using DNA, the oldest going back to 1985. The causes of death are thought to be either accident or suicide, although one is undetermined. As for the five that remain unidentified, if dead men tell no tails, certainly their feet don’t either.

For all the details, see “How Science Solved the Mystery of Feet Washing Ashore in the Pacific Northwest” by Erika Engelhaupt ( For the really gory details, go directly to the source,  Gory Details: Adventures From the Dark Side of Science by Erika Engelhaupt

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