Recently airing on one of those “Strange, But True” genera TV shows was the curious case of beachcombers along the shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Vancouver BC encountering individual sneakers having washed up on the shore containing apparently severed human feet. Actually, several of these had been discovered which sparked a very creepy mystery and ensuing investigation. You can read a newspaper story here published in the “Vancouver Sun”.
Speculation quickly arose that some crazed murderer was severing his victim’s feet and throwing them into Strait. Or perhaps a boat had sunk and sharks had eaten the poor victims, all except their feet.
The mystery, as it turned out, proved to be the result of a normal function of human decay called “Disarticulation” – the separation of bones at the joints as a result of normal decomposition. Tracking the location of the washed-up feet and comparing the prevailing currents in the strait, it was determined the victims were most likely suicides who had jumped off a bridge spanning the river which opened into the strait. As their bodies sank then decomposed the foot would disarticulate from the leg as the connective tissue holding the bones together dissolved. The buoyant sneaker would then float to the surface where the prevailing current would deposit the sneaker, foot still inside, on to the shore. Mystery solved.
However the following case of disarticulation had a quite different origin - the true story as was told to me first-hand by my brother-in-law:
George worked for the Oregon Fish and Wildlife service at the Trask River fish hatchery in Tillamook country. The hatchery consisted of several large concrete pools which were stocked with salmon fry, hand fed until they were fingerlings sufficiently robust to be released into the river to make their way to the ocean.
Large quantities of fish food obtained in 50 pound bags are required to feed the thousands of hungry mouths. To keep the food from going bad (it stinks pretty badly even when frozen), the bags of feed are stored in a room size walk-in freezer. This freezer often ends up becoming the repository of all kinds of things requiring cold storage.
On this particular hot day, George decided to have the crew go through the neglected freezer room to clean out much of the frozen junk that had accumulated over the years. There were bags and boxes, cans and barrels; all manner of frozen junk. The guys were all pulling out and peering into containers when suddenly one of the crew screamed “OH MY GOD…” tossing the bag in his hands away and onto the floor.
The men gathered around then George picked the paper bag from the floor – peering inside he could see it contained a frozen HUMAN HAND severed at the wrist.
After some discussion, they decided to contact the State Police. At first no one could come up with an explanation for the rather unsettling discovery. But eventually someone at the local District Attorney’s office solved the mystery: The local Coroner had removed the hand from the body of a murder victim several years previously, pending trial of the perpetrator, so the family could proceed with the funeral and burying of their loved one. The hand had been retained in the event that the victim’s identity might had required verification during the trial.
However the trial had been concluded long since and the severed hand stored in the fish hatchery freezer had long been forgotten.
Besides this had been a common practice for the State Game Wardens who often stored illegally hunted game in the freezer as evidence in game poaching trials. Being located on State property, the hatchery freezer was a perfect cold storage evidence locker.
For about a week at the hatchery there was a lot of joking; “Can I give you a hand with that?” or “Hey lets give George a big hand.” One thing the guys at the hatchery could claim, however, was that they had genuinely solved a “Cold Case”.