Mystery of the Floating Feet Solved: No Mafia, No Murderers - Not Even Much of a Mystery

In recent years, investigators around Vancouver and Northwest Washington were counting suspected crime by the foot. Nine of them - human feet belonging to seven individuals - came bobbing ashore inside their late owners' sneakers from 2007 through 2011, generating dramatic headlines. In one short stretch, a half dozen washed up along British Columbia shorelines while another rode the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Pysht, west of Port Angeles. What kind of mayhem was this? the public asked. Mass murder? Mafia whackings? A bizarre foot fetish?

Well, ditch your conspiracy theories. The B.C. Coroners Service has now ruined a perfectly good overblown story, having positively identified seven of the feet as belonging to five individuals and concluding that their deaths were the result of suicides or accidents.

Almost all of them willingly jumped to their deaths from bridges over the Fraser River, their bodies then flowing to the Strait of Georgia. The carcasses eventually sank, were attacked by marine life, and decomposed; limbs separated away, and the protected parts - feet inside buoyant sports sneakers - floated off.

"It's very explainable," B.C.coroner Stephen Fonseca told The New York Post this week. "The unusual nature of this is that the feet were [collectively] found in a very short period of time."

Fonseca and his team worked backward to laboriously match shoes with owners, using a missing-persons database, then investigating the circumstances of their lives and determining the deaths to be suicidal or accidental.

That jibes with what we were told in 2008 by former University of Washington oceanographer Curt Ebbesmeyer, Ph.D., known as Dr. Duck to the schoolkids he lectures on flotsam, jetsam, and floating body parts.

As he said for Seattle Weekly's cover story on the beached feet, "It's not much of a mystery."

He noted that the B.C. serial wash-ups were "baffling at the start" when four right feet were initially discovered. That seemed to defy the odds, feeding suspicions of a serial killer leaving a calling card.

"But then we started getting lefts and matches," Ebbesmeyer said. "And it began to look more commonplace." With the seventh foot, he became convinced there was no widespread foul play.

"We're dealing with only a few people here, in an arbitrary period of time, and it's routine for some to have fallen in the water and been there long enough for the feet to disarticulate and float away."

Actually, considering that thousands of people have been reported missing in B.C. and Washington, "I'm surprised we haven't found more body parts," Ebbesmeyer said.

The B.C. coroner echoed that suspicion this week. "I think there are a lot more cases" destined to be discovered, Fonseca said. "I don't think there's a soul out there that doesn't check every shoe they find on a beach."

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