Feet without their owners attached seem to be turning up all over the place.
On November 16, a person looking for returnable bottles found a foot clad in a gray Nike running shoe in a dumpster at a boat ramp at Rogers Landing Park, located on the Willamette River, about 20 miles southwest of downtown Portland, Oregon, the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office wrote in a Facebook post.
The foot was found in a large, clear plastic trash bag with other flotsam, which has led investigators to think the sneaker was perhaps tossed there by a Good Samaritan who had cleaned up one of the islands in the river, says detective Todd Steele. It’s possible the person picked up the shoe without even knowing a foot was inside, he says.
The shoe and sock visually match those found on the shore of a nearby riverside park last July, he says. DNA work on the foot is now being done at a crime lab.
“It’s fairly clear at this point that we have a body somewhere, and that body is probably in the water,” Steele says. But the Willamette passes through several cities. “We have no idea where these feet went into the river,” he says, so the location the shoe was first picked up could be useful to police. (If you have any leads, contact Steele at 503-434-7349 or email@example.com.)
Once you start looking for them, though, severed feet really do seem to be everywhere. Consider a few headlines from just the last year or so around North America:
- In May 2017, in South Carolina, a shoe containing a human foot was found on a dock at the Charleston City Marina.
- In September 2017, hikers in a Missouri park discovered a foot in a red sneaker along the banks of the Mississippi River. (It was later matched up with a man whose wrecked car was found on the riverbank, about 40 miles from where the shoe was found.)
- In November 2017, a plumber who was closing up a cottage on Georgian Bay, a large bay of Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada, found a human foot in a Reebok sneaker, about a yard from the shore.
Greater Vancouver, British Columbia, though, remains the epicenter of foot-finding. At last count, 14 dismembered feet have been uncovered since 2007, the most recently last May, when a foot in a hiking boot was discovered in a logjam on an island west of the city. That foot, and most of the others, have been identified.
Is there anything nefarious, ahem, afoot?
Not likely. As a forensic pathologist explained to Outside nine years ago in our definitive look at the foot-loose phenomenon, our hands and feet are like kites, attached only by a few tendons. Underwater, they flap around and come off pretty easily when body tissues break down. “It doesn’t mean someone is running around with an ax, chopping feet off,” says Steele.
If there’s a trend, experts say, it’s the way sneakers are now made: light, foamy, buoyant. “It really didn’t come up until we had running shoes that floated so well,” coroner Barb McLintock told Canada’s National Post in 2016. “Before, they just stayed down there at the bottom of the ocean.” Experts working on the Vancouver-area foot cases have found no signs of any foul play. “In every case, there is an alternate, very reasonable explanation,” McLintock says.
But as Outside pointed out years ago, we humans crave patterns. It’s how we make sense of the world. So forget Occam’s razor—the principle that the simple explanation is the most likely one. We’ll choose the unlikely and the macabre if it explains our experience. Even a killer on the loose is somehow more assuring than the fact that sometimes people die. And we find them.