We Finally Know The Truth About Those Mysterious Feet

For over a decade, a mystery bedeviled authorities in and around the Salish Sea, a body of water surrounding the islands, coasts, and inlets around Vancouver, British Columbia. At least 20 human feet have washed up on the region's beaches, detached from their bodies and still in their shoes.

In fact, however, the gruesome discoveries go back even further. As Vice reported in 2019, feet started washing up in earnest in 1997, and at least one incident of a single piece of footwear washing up on a beach, human foot still inside, dates back to 1914, according to Atlas Obscura.

So is an ancient demon who resurrects every century or so killing people and relieving their corpses of their feet, only to toss them in the sea? Is a copycat killer taking a page from a murderer from a century ago and haphazardly disposing of the feet of his victims?

Come to find out, there's not much of a mystery at all, and the reason detached human feet, still in their shoes, keep washing up in the region is surprisingly mundane, if a bit gruesome.

There is neither serial killer, nor demon, nor extra-terrestrial chicanery afoot

The first thing to be ruled out in this strange case is the work of a serial killer (or a demon that resurrects every century or so). Of the 20 or so detached feet that have washed up in the region since 2007, exactly none were known to be victims of foul play, according to former British Columbia coroner Barb McClintock.

"There's none that have any suggestion of homicide. In every case there is an alternate, very reasonable explanation," she said, via Vice. Those reasonable explanations usually point to accidents or suicide, and not, as McClintock jokingly said, "strange serial killers" or "funny little aliens."

Considering that seafaring and recreational boating are big activities in the region, it's not unlikely that many of the victims were simply swept into the sea in storms, or jumped into the water in a suicide attempt. Through modern forensics, many of the detached feet have been identified as belonging to people who had been reported missing years or even decades ago.

Shoe technology and the anatomy of the human foot

Okay — so there's no foul play. So why are the feet detaching from the bodies of their owners and washing up on the beach, still in their shoes?

The explanation for that is at once mundane and rather gruesome. In short, the human ankle is one of the weaker joints in the human body. Exposed to the conditions of the ocean — salt water, currents — the ligaments and such that hold the foot to the body simply fail. The foot detaches, and the foot and shoe float to the surface. Currents then carry the gruesome bit of flotsam to the shore.

Why did the region go decades without having any feet wash up on shore, only to start seeing them in the late 1990s? McClintock said, via Vice, that a change in shoe technology is to blame. That was when manufacturers started creating lighter shoes with foam and air pockets — shoes more likely to float. Prior to that, their weight would hold them, and the feet within, down at the bottom of the ocean.