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[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 Description 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 in 2007
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; reported missing in 2004.
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 Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island, BC
12/7/2017 “human fibula, tibia and complete left foot were intact inside a black Velcro shoe” estimated to be a size 5. Jordan River on southern Vancouver Island


The Daily Beast: Canada’s Severed-Feet Mystery

Wikipedia: Salish Sea human foot discoveries

Human foot found in shoe on Vancouver Island beach

Human foot in shoe found on Vancouver Island beach

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