[Open Post] Why do disarticulated feet in sneakers frequently wash ashore?

This post is updated as more disarticulated feet are discovered.

When a dead body ends up in water (whether by murder, accident, or suicide) the hands and feet easily detach from the arms and legs as the body decomposes, because, compared to the rest of the body, the muscle attachments to the limbs are relatively weak.

If that body is fully clothed and dumped wearing sneakers, from time to time the feet will wash ashore completely articulated in shores.  The most famous case of this happened between 2007  and 2011, when a dozen human feet washed ashore in the Pacific Northwest.  At the time, there were a number of theories about the origin of the decomposed feet: they belonged to murder victims, they belonged to plane crash fatalities, or they were victims of the 2004 tsunami.  But investigators from British Columbia and Washington State were able to confirm that most of these feet found on beaches from Washington Vancouver belonged to people who either committed suicide, died of natural causes, or were the victims of an accident.

Forensic investigators believe that the reason why decayed feet entombed in sneakers or hiking boots can survive intact in lakes or oceans is that the thick shoes protect them from the ocean environment and prevent fish from feeding on them.  Some investigators argue that the shoes are also the reason the feet wash ashore because of the buoyancy of the shoe, which is lightweight and rubber-soled.

Dr. Michael Baden, who served as New York City’s Chief Medical Examiner, told the MailOnline that while clothed bodies don’t last long in the sea, feet inside shoes can last for years in the ocean.  The bones start separating naturally as the soft tissue deteriorates.

Baden said, ‘And when it comes to the feet, the shoes can really keep those 26 bones [that make up each foot] together.  Shoes and sneakers tend to be sturdy enough that they can persist for years and decades and they will protect whatever is inside them.’

Below is a list of decomposed feet that have been discovered from 2007 to present.  This is an open post so that is updated as more discoveries are made.

Date Discovered Location Location ID
8/20/07 Right foot in a Campus running shoe Jedediah Island, BC Identified as a missing man, who had history of depression, who likely jumped from the bridge over the Fraser River
8/26/07 A man’s right foot; size 12 white sneaker. Gabriola Island, BC
2/8/08 A right foot in a size 11 Nike sneaker (same person as 6/16/08) Valdes Island,BC The remains were identified as a 21-year-old man who died of natural causes; reported missing in 2004.
5/22/08 A known woman’s right foot; blue-and-white sneaker (same person as 11/11/08 finding). Kirkland Island, BC Canadian woman who committed suicide in 2004 by jumping into the Fraser River
6/16/08  Man’s left foot in a size 11 Nike running shoe (same person as 2/8/08 finding). Westham Island, BC The remains were identified as a 21-year-old man who died of natural causes
8/1/08 A right foot inside a man’s black size 11 shoe. Near Pysht, WA
11/11/08 A known woman’s left foot (same person as 5/22/08) Kirkland Island, BC Canadian woman who committed suicide in 2004 by jumping into the Fraser River
10/27/09 A right foot in a size 8 1/2 sneaker Richmond, BC The remains were identified as a 25 year old Vancouver-area man who was reported missing in January 2008 and died of natural causes.
8/27/10 A juvenile or female’s right foot Whidbey Island, WA
12/5/10 A juvenile’s (or small adult) right foot inside a boy’s size 6 Ozark Trail hiking boot Tacoma, WA
8/30/11 The foot with leg bone was found in a man’s white and blue size 9 sneaker Vancouver, BC
11/4/11 A man’s right foot inside a size 12 hiking boot. Sasamat Lake, BC Identified as a local fisherman who went missing after his boat overturned in 1987.
9/6/13 A skeletonized right foot in a black sneaker, size 5 1/2 Inlet State Park in Ocean City, NJ DNA testing matched the remains to 22-year-old missing Philadelphia woman, Franchesca Alvarado
9/11/13 A skeletonized left foot in a size 11 sneaker Presqu’ile Provincial Park in Brighton, ON
9/16/13 The black and green Puma size 11 1/2 sneaker contains the human tissue and bones San Francisco’s Ocean Beach
01/01/14 Tube sock and midsize white New Balance athletic shoe Orlando, FL Missing boater who authorities think was lost at sea; matched with DNA
05/08/14 New Balance athletic sneaker, men’s size 10 1/2, white with blue trim Seattle, WA
02/07/16 Left (?) foot in a running shoe Fort Renfrew, Vancouver Island, BC

References

The Daily Beast: Canada’s Severed-Feet Mystery

Wikipedia: Salish Sea human foot discoveries



Categories: Forensic Science, News

Tags: , , ,

6 replies

  1. Thanks! Always wondered why feet always turn up in the Fraser River in the news stories!

  2. I’m not sure I would call a 50% identification rate “most”! I wish they could come up with answers for the other 7 feet that have not been identified…

    • It looks like they identified 7 of the 12 feet that washed ashore in BC and WA from 2008 to 2011-technically most but not by much 🙂 I checked to see if there were any updates on the remaining 5 feet, but I couldn’t find anything. The last two were recovered this year (one in San Francisco, and one in New Jersey) and not related to ones that floated ashore in Vancouver and WA. I updated the post to clarify.

  3. Over a century ago (July 30, 1914; page 9) the Vancouver Sun newspaper reported the discovery of part of a leg in a boot near the mouth of the Salmon River (now known as Dean River) near Kimsquit, near the headwater of Dean Channel, one of the many coastal inlets along BC’s coastline north of Vancouver.

    There is another story that a place name in Vancouver (Leg-in-Boot Square), was named after the Vancouver police in 1887 had stuck on a pole a knee-high boot with a severed leg inside that had washed ashore at False Creek [http://www.abcbookworld.com/view_author.php?id=1856].

    As noted in your story, recent stories report that forensic authorities think modern running shoes have added to the recovery of feet because the shoes are more buoyant. I wonder what would make boots (presumably made from leather) containing remains of legs would remain buoyant. Is it because they have a long shaft, so as the remains decompose, gases could remain trapped in the well of the boot? Could the boots have had hollow heels? How long can leather last in the ocean as compared with rubber soles in modern running shoes?

Trackbacks

  1. To all those who lead monotonous lives, in the hope that they may experience at second hand the delights and dangers of adventure. | Quoth the Girl
  2. The dream of Ben Elton in a gas mask and the reality of severed feet in boots | SO IT GOES - John Fleming's blog

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