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