VANCOUVER – From a man’s Reebok sneaker on Gabriola Island to a black Adidas runner found on a Campbell River shore, shoes with disembodied feet have been washing up on the West Coast for nearly a decade.
Investigators were mystified and even spooked when the remains were repeatedly discovered without immediate explanation starting back in 2007.
But as the BC Coroners Service announces two new, matching feet surfaced earlier this month on a beach near Port Renfrew, they’ve had almost 10 years to solve the mystery.
Coroner Barb McLintock is more than willing to squelch the myth of “the famous feet.”
There are neither “strange serial killers” conducting amputations, nor “funny little aliens” depositing appendages along B.C. shores, she said.
“Which some people do think. Sad but true,” she said on Wednesday. “A lot of this is simply the quelling of the public imagination, to say ‘No, this is unfortunate and they’re all very sad cases.'”
Fourteen feet have turned up along the coastline over the years, and the coroner has identified 10 as belonging to seven people.
None of the cases involved foul play. Experts have determined cause of death to either be suicide or accidental.
“We pretty well think we know what happened in every case,” said McLintock.
The coroner reported the latest feet had the same owner — although the deceased has yet to be identified. The shoes were men’s New Balance runners, size 12 and blue and black in colour.
It’s believed the owner died between March 2013 and December 2015, because that type of shoe wasn’t sold in North America until the earlier date.
McLintock said the coroner has tried to educate the public that the feet separated naturally in the process of decomposition — and nothing nefarious has been going on.
The perplexing origins of the grisly discoveries appear tied to the advances made in running shoe technology, she said.
“It really didn’t come up until we had running shoes that floated so well,” she said, noting the additions of lighter foam and air pockets. “Before, they just stayed down there at the bottom of the ocean.”
Forensic anthropologists working with the coroner have found no signs of trauma.
“There’s none that have any suggestion of homicide,” said McLintock. “In every case there is an alternate, very reasonable explanation.”
But some news articles reviewing such facts over the decade haven’t stopped speculation.
As far back as 2008, rumours abounded in the online world — from the involvement of organized crime to illegal organ harvesting.
Criminologist Rob Gordon, with Simon Fraser University, told the Toronto Star in 2008 it was reasonable to suggest missing men from the Vancouver area might be the victims of a serial killer.
“When I was raising that possibility, that’s all I was doing. There were a number of hypotheses floating around —pardon the pun,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.
He recalled being bombarded with calls from media based around the world when a sequence of five feet washed ashore over the first year.
Investigations take time and involve testing theories, he said, adding he doesn’t believe the speculation was problematic.
“The harm is done if somebody is accused or police are rushed into an investigation,” he said.
“In the case of floating feet, it’s an open debate about the whys and wherefores. … People are titillated. And it became very newsworthy and still is.”