And a Child Shall Lead Them
When you're dealing with a tale of intrigue and suspicion in which nothing wants to be what it seems, the best place to start is at the beginning, before everything about the Mystery of the Feet got complicated. Before the dogged reporter and her theory of the Smiley Face Killers. Before the funeral feast of the submerged pig and the ravenous lobsters. And way before my afternoon with a knife-wielding man named Mountain Mike. Before all this, there is only the bucolic image of a little girl on a beach, looking for shells.
It's August 20, 2007. The girl and her family are on a sailing trip in British Columbia. They toss anchor at uninhabited Jedediah Island, 50 miles northwest of Vancouver. It's high summer, but the day is moody with drizzle, the cedars dark and foreboding above the pretty curl of cove.
The girl finds four sneakers on the sand. She lines them up, chooses one. It's a Campus-brand shoe, a righty, white with blue mesh, size 12. She unties the laces, tugging at a sandy sock within.
And, right then, out plops the Start of Everything. Because inside the sock is a human foot. Over the next 15 months, six more feet, also clad in socks and sneakers, will wash ashore at six different places on the puzzle of islands in the Georgia Strait, between Vancouver and Vancouver Island, and in the nearby Fraser River delta.
At first the feet are all men's feet, all right feet. Then a woman's foot appears. Then a left foot. Four of the feet match: one pair of women's feet, one pair of men's. That's seven feet, bow-tied in seaweed, that were once attached to a total of five bodies bodies that don't turn up.
The media arrive by helicopter and boat and do what the media do best: go apeshit. Reporters deliver fevered sound bites and write punny headlines ("Investigators Seek Leg-Up in Mystery Feet Case"), and for a few news cycles in early 2008, the whole world widens its eyes and scratches its head. Even the United News of Bangladesh clucks at the odd and tragic goings-on up there in British Columbia.
In Vancouver, at the HQ of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the authorities know little and say less, and they do it in that grumpy, pinch-lipped way that makes people wonder what they aren't being told. In November 2008, Corporal Annie Linteau, a Mountie spokeswoman, tells me over the phone that they aren't even close to coming up with an explanation. But that, she says, is mainly because there's no reason to think anything fishy is going on.
Seriously? Yes, Linteau says, pointing out that there were no saw marks on the bones, no evidence of foul play. Without that, what do seven feet amount to, really, other than ghoulish serendipity?