Fresh Details In Canada Feet Case

Canadian police are starting to say more about the mystery of the five disembodied human feet that have been found along the coast of British Columbia. On Thursday, police said two of the feet belonged to the same person.

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Now to the latest in a bizarre mystery from the coast of British Columbia. Five human feet have washed ashore there over the past year. The Mounties, the Canadian police, have been reluctant to comment, but they're now talking in hopes of quelling some of the wilder theories. NPR's Martin Kaste brings us that story.

MARTIN KASTE: How many feet does it take to make news? Well, last August feet one and two made just a ripple. Foot number three, in February, generated bigger headlines, but with the appearance of four and five the story has gone around the world.

Mr. KERRY BETSWORTH(ph): Oh, the foot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KASTE: Kerry Betsworth is getting used to reporters here on Westham Island, a quiet speck of land in the mouth of the Fraser River. This is where two friends of his found foot number five in June.

Mr. BETSWORTH: They were working on the boat, getting ready to go up north, and it floated up against the dock, and they went whew.

KASTE: Like the previous four, this foot wore a running shoe, and there's no trace of the rest of the body. Speculation has run wild. One theory: gang activity in the suburbs of Vancouver, just up the river from here.

Anita Larden(ph) says she's heard that one.

Ms. ANITA LARDEN: Yeah, they could be taking their victims and throwing one foot in the water. I - you know, I'm not being funny, but I - honestly, I think that's what people - it's like we're not sitting in our house scared or anything; it's just very weird. And now, what, they found one in Sweden?

KASTE: That's right. Earlier this week, somebody found a foot in Sweden. Faced with fears of a global flotilla of feet, the Mounties have finally broken their silence.

Constable ANNIE LINTEAU (Royal Canadian Mounted Police): Speaking to oceanographers, it is nearly impossible or next to impossible that there could be any link to the latest foot recovered in Sweden.

KASTE: Constable Annie Linteau is spokeswoman for the Mounties. On Thursday, she revealed more of what they know. Two of the feet are a pair; the others are all right feet in different styles of running shoe. So far they've found no DNA matches to missing persons. And perhaps most important, there's this.

Constable LINTEAU: There is no evidence that these feet have been severed. There were no tool markings and no visible sign of trauma.

KASTE: The Mounties seem confident that the feet simply separated from their bodies, a conclusion based in part on the work of forensic entomologist Gail Anderson(ph).

Ms. GAIL ANDERSON (Forensic Entomologist): We've clearly shown that it's not unusual, certainly for ankles, legs, feet, to become detached.

KASTE: But feet come encased in shoes, buoyant shoes in the case of sneakers. Your foot is the one part of your body that travels with its own life raft. So if there's an accident out at sea, Anderson says, it's not surprising that the feet are what make it back to shore, and given all the boats and small planes navigating the often-stormy waters off of Vancouver, she says an accident is the most likely explanation.

Ms. ANDERSON: I don't think it is sinister. I think it's very sad. I think, you know, it's a tragedy, several tragedies that have occurred here, and there's a lot of family members out there waiting to hear.

KASTE: But why so many feet? Richard Thompson(ph) studies the currents in the Strait of Georgia off Vancouver Island. He says there's a lot of debris swirling around these channel islands, and he wonders whether people are now finding feet because they've started looking more closely at shoes that would normally have been dismissed as junk.

Mr. RICHARD THOMPSON: Once you find one, people start looking, and they don't ignore shoes anymore.

KASTE: This case involves five feet from four different people, Anderson says. It seems like a newsworthy number, but maybe it isn't.

Mr. THOMPSON: When you consider all the missing people in the Strait of Georgia system, including the U.S. and Canada, it's not a very big number.

KASTE: And British Columbians, of all people, shouldn't be so surprised to find feet on their shores. After all, right in the middle of Vancouver there's a neighborhood called Leg and Boot Square, named, the story goes, for a leg in a boot that once washed up there.

Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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