More than a dozen feet in shoes have washed up on B.C. beaches — and 1 case remains unsolved
Investigators still don't know whose feet were found in a pair of New Balance sneakers on a beach in 2016
Five years ago, a grisly discovery was made on Botanical Beach on Vancouver Island, B.C.: two blue and black New Balance sneakers with size 12 feet inside of them.
It was the latest in a string of cases in which disarticulated feet in shoes were found washed up on beaches around the province, but it remains the only unsolved case.
Since 2007, the BC Coroners Service has solved 13 mysteries involving feet found in shoes.
Laura Yazedjian, a coroner with the service who specializes in identifying remains, is hopeful clues will emerge that will solve the last case.
"You really just never know what it is that's going to jog someone's memory and help solve these cases," she said.
The mystery of feet in shoes appearing up on B.C. beaches grabbed the public's attention beginning in 2007, when a right foot in a sneaker washed up on a beach on Jedediah Island in the Strait of Georgia, north of Parksville.
Over the next 11 years, more feet were discovered in a steady progression as theories abounded: that the remnants were the result of plane or boat crashes, or macabre foul play.
But none of the cases solved by the BC Coroners' Service have involved any nefarious activity, Yazedjian said.
"We have had no cases so far where the feet have been severed by mechanical of non-natural means," she said.
Most likely, the feet become separated from the rest of the remains as they decomposed.
Instead of sinking, the shoe-encased foot floats and is carried along by ocean currents until it is broken apart or washed up onto a beach.
As reports of the shoes and feet grabbed headlines, Yazedjian said more people likely began having second thoughts about shoes they may have otherwise dismissed as garbage on a beach.
"I'm pretty sure there's no unchecked shoe on the beaches of B.C. now," she said about the influx of cases.
Complicating matters and concerning investigators are the multiple hoaxes in which someone has stuffed animal bones into a shoe and set it adrift.
Cracking the case with DNA matching
The latest solved case involving a human foot was completed in 2019, for a foot discovered in 2018. There have been no new cases of disarticulated feet in shoes discovered on beaches since then.
In September of that year, a left foot was found inside a blue sock and light grey Nike running shoe.
Yazedjian and her colleagues are able to determine the manufacture date of the shoes, which gives them an idea of when they were bought and worn.
But the biggest determinant in solving these cases is if investigators can match DNA from the foot to that of a missing person.
That shoe and foot matched information police had in a missing person report from 2018.
The family of that missing person was contacted and provided samples for DNA testing, which matched the DNA samples from the foot.
"It's incredibly satisfying, partly to solve the puzzle because it really is a mystery," Yazedjian said.
"Also just to know that we're able to give a family and relatives an answer that they've been waiting for months or years or even decades sometimes."
Big shoes lacking clues
The two shoes with feet inside that washed up on Botanical Beach at different times in February 2016 were later identified as coming from the same person: a man.
"They're big shoes," Yazedjian said.
Still, it hasn't been enough to move the case forward. It's possible the person was never reported missing in B.C.
Investigators have sent DNA samples from the feet to officials in Washington State, in the event the person went into the water around the Port Angeles area and then drifted to the west coast of Vancouver Island.
In the meantime, Yazedjian hopes more people will regularly visit a portal launched by the province nearly two years ago to aid in identifying human remains.
Can you help? You may have a piece of missing info to bring closure to families searching for a loved one.<br>200 unsolved Unidentified Human Remains cases in BC. BC Coroners Service has an interactive viewer about these cases. See interactive viewer here... <a href="https://t.co/f5IqoIdxcS">https://t.co/f5IqoIdxcS</a> <a href="https://t.co/4w8TVJ4brR">pic.twitter.com/4w8TVJ4brR</a>—@FightCrimeBC