Other than putting bad guys in jail, there’s nothing cops like more than a good mystery. Wait…let me amend that: there’s nothing cops like more than solving a good mystery. Well, DailyMail.co.uk tells us about a good mystery investigators have been working on for more than ten years up in the Great Pacific Northwest, mostly in British Columbia, Canada, and to a lesser degree in Washington State. The mystery began in 2007 when dismembered human feet began washing up on the driftwood-cluttered shores.
According to Boston.com, a Canadian man named Mike Johns was walking his Rottweiler, Taz, along a beach some 70 miles southwest of Vancouver in December 2017. Among the bones of orcas, sea lions, and gray whales, tangled in kelp and tucked between the weathered gray dead falls and logs, Taz, who seemed to find one specific item particularly interesting, discovered a human foot and lower leg bone still within its owner’s boot. This was the 13th foot found.
On May 13, 2018, another human foot washed up on the northwest coast. The Seattle Times reports that a beachcomber found the 14th foot while walking along a beach on Gabriola Island just off the east coast of Vancouver Island near Nanaimo, B.C. The man contacted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and told them about his discovery.
While the foot found by Taz was attached to a boot, all the other finds, except one, were contained within Nike and New Balance type running shoes. These gruesome discoveries have led to speculation, including the possibility that an unknown serial killer is preying on northwest victims. Corporal Garry Cox with the Oceanside RCMP said, “Two [feet] being found in such a short amount of time is quite suspicious.” It’s easy to imagine some deranged but calculating killer leaving his morbid calling cards, human feet, to terrorize Canadians and Americans.
However, good police work and forensic science, in the form of DNA testing, has shed light on a less nefarious resolution to this more than decade-long mystery. DNA has provided the identities of eight of the appendages belonging to six people.
The answer to the mystery was found in the materials manufacturers used in the deceased person’s footwear. All of the shoes containing human remains have had rubber-soles, mostly running shoes. And what do rubber soles do for shoes that other soles don’t? They make them float! A diligent investigation found that the remains are from people who’ve committed suicide over the past decade.
The RCMP, British Columbia coroner Stephen Fonesca, and his team of five investigators determined the probable causes of death. “Mr. Fonesca told the New York Post that most of the victims jumped from a bridge over the Fraser River, which flows into the Pacific Ocean at Vancouver.”
A few circumstances created irregularities that made the unraveling of the mystery more difficult. One oceanographer speculated the feet could have floated in from 1,000 miles away. This led to speculation such as the idea that the feet were coming from tsunami victims in Asia. Also, in 2012, investigators finally identified a foot found 25 years earlier, which could have broadened the investigation. And, in 2008, someone perpetrated a hoax, planting a “foot” in a shoe and leaving it on a beach on Vancouver Island. The “foot” was actually an animal paw wrapped in seaweed and stuffed into a sock.
This story shows the importance of critical thinking when it comes to solving mysteries that seem to point in one direction, such as serial killer theories, but that actually have sad but more mundane explanations. Serial killer notions are fascinating and not at all unheard of in the Pacific Northwest. American Ted Bundy needs no introduction, and Robert Pickton, the “Pig Farmer Killer,” represents Canada’s contribution to the dubious list. We can’t evade human nature, which sometimes would rather find a “truth” it wants rather than the truth that exists.
In this case, modern science combined with old-fashioned police work to solve a long-enduring mystery. However, unlike other cases where solving a mystery marks an ending, sadly, beach roamers throughout the Pacific Northwest coast will continue to find these macabre reminders of human fragility, both mental and physical.