The theories behind the mystery feet have been far-fetched, even silly; also sad and sinister. But one thing is for sure: seven of them, human, each clad in a hiking or running shoe, have washed up on Canada's west coast shore at irregular intervals over the past 15 months. They have all been found by passersby on a stretch of islands along British Columbia's Strait of Georgia near the Fraser River, attracting enough international interest and media coverage to prompt two hoaxes. In one case, someone stuffed the skeleton of an animal paw and some seaweed into a sock and shoe and left it on Vancouver Island.
The findings, said Annie Linteau, a constable in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, are highly unusual. "The Fraser River, many other bodies of water, quite often they find bodies," said Ms Linteau. "But not feet." A 12-year-old girl found the first foot, on Aug 20 2007. The latest turned up Nov 11 in Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver also known as Lulu Island. So far, forensic tests have proved only that the appendage - a woman's left, wearing a blue-and-white New Balance shoe - was human, said Ms Linteau.
The foot would seem to be a match for one found on another island in May; DNA tests are being conducted. Testing already showed feet three and five, size 11s in Nike shoes found on Feb 2 and June 16, were from a missing man, who was reported to have been depressed. Foul play is not suspected in his death. Some of the wilder theories have blamed organised crime, a serial killer or human trafficking operation.
Four victims of a small plane crash in the area three years ago have been ruled out. It was even suggested the feet could belong to some of the victims of the 2004 tsunami, travelling relatively intact via ocean current from Indonesia, across Antarctica, the Pacific Ocean and into the mostly outflowing Fraser. "That is totally impossible," said Dr Richard Thomson, a research scientist at BC's Institute of Ocean Sciences.
Most experts say the feet came from bodies that entered the water locally. None were severed or torn off; instead they "disarticulated" naturally. "Most modern running shoes have comfort gels and air cushions that make them more buoyant than salt water," said Dr Thomson. "If the poor person is lying on the bottom of the ocean, parts that have running shoes will float and detach." Other body parts would be eaten by marine life or pecked at by birds. A foot in a running shoe, and likely also a sock, would float sole up and be protected.
Police have pared down the province's missing-persons list of more than 2,000 people to focus on about 60 "highly probable cases", and are seeking leads from the public, said Ms Linteau. Janice Raven runs Hummingbird Lodge, a bed and breakfast on Gabriola Island where foot No 2, a man's size 12 in a white Reebok shoe, was found on Aug 26 last year. People there are not really worried about the feet anymore, most having been satisfied with forensic explanations she said.
"It's almost becoming, 'Oh well, another one; big deal. It's nobody I know.'" email@example.com