The Headless Gringa and The Severed Feet Mystery

Our first stop is in the Galapagos Islands, and for the women, this is simply a story, but for the men, it is a warning. If you ever find yourself in the Galapagos, specifically the Baltra Island, be careful. The Headless Gringa only comes after men.

She moves with the shadows. A man sleeps deeply in his military cot. Unheard, she climbs on top of him, slowly pressing all of her weight onto his chest. His dreams darken as his lungs crush under the weight that continues to increase. He struggles to breathe but then wakes with a start.  But there is nobody there. The mysterious woman and he knows it was a woman, is nowhere to be found. In the morning, he mentions this to his fellow naval servicemen. They reply with, “That’s the ghost of the headless gringa! You’re lucky to be alive!”

The sun-drenched island of Baltra seems like a very unlikely place for a ghost, so you might be surprised to find out that it’s the most haunted place in the Galapagos. Baltra was home to a US airbase during the 1940s. The American military worried that the vitality strategic Panama Canal would be captured or attacked by the Japanese. They wanted a place where they could put an air force base that could protect the canal and give warning of an invasion. The Galapagos Islands was the perfect place, and the US made a quick deal with the Republic of Ecuador. Americans built a runway and several hastily-built barracks and administration buildings. Some remain today and are even used by the Ecuadorian air force and navy.

The US base could house thousands of men, had two runways, a dock loaded with water and fuel reserves, some munitions bunkers, and even a bowling alley, movie theater, and casino. The presence of the US on Baltra Island wasn’t without reason. And this is where the story of the headless gringa begins.

Legend has it that during the brief time of the US military presence in the Galapagos, there was an incident that occurred on the base. A soldier with an unusually short fuse exploded when he discovered that his girlfriend cheated on him. The angry boyfriend pushed his girlfriend off of the steep cliffs that lined the island. In the process of the fall, she lost her head. The soldier covered up the murder by telling everybody that she had gone swimming and didn’t come back, possibly having run away with her lover.

Years passed, and the US packed up and left after the war ended. Protecting the Panama Canal was no longer of importance, and they stripped the base of as much as they could and handed the rest over to the Ecuadorian army. That’s when things took a turn for the weird.

At first, she began to appear to lonely men in the form of a beautiful apparition, luring them in with her charm and good looks and took them to a place far away from anything else before she would unleash her bitter wrath and hate in her true form of a screaming, headless ghost.

One of the most well-known victims of the headless gringa was a smooth-talking stud that was stationed at the Ecuadorian Air Force base. Some believe that it was his cockiness that made him easy prey for the ghost; others say he simply had bad luck. Nevertheless, he was missing for a few days until somebody found him at the far eastern side of the island, tied up and foaming at the mouth. After he was saved, he hysterically begged for the gringa to leave him alone.

His experience with the headless gringa of the Galapagos is what brought to light the eccentric smell she exuded. He described it as a Palo Santo-type perfume. This is, in fact, a tree that is ubiquitous and endemic to the Northern region of Santa Cruz, North Seymour, and Baltra Islands. The aroma would then turn into a nauseating odor of rotting flesh when he got closer to her. The higher-ups believed that his trauma from the experience would pass, but it never did, and they had to send him back to the mainland.

Another victim was a drunken Ecuadorian soldier. He stole a small pickup truck and drove it straight into a communications pole. This knocked out the radio to and from the airport for a while. He sustained some bad injuries but survived. He said that he had been drinking when he saw the ghost. She appeared as a beautiful woman and bewitched him. He stole the truck so that he could find more alcohol because she had told him to. Just so you know, there are no stores on the base, and the closest one was on the next island, so this man was either extremely drunk, very stupid, or being controlled by a ghost. Either way, according to the men who showed up to the crash first, the ruined trucks smelled like palo santo and rotting flesh.

The Ecuadorian servicemen take the headless gringa seriously. “The Stone House” used to be the officer’s club and bar when the US inhabited the island. It was an impressive building, made from thick stone walls, large windows, and a red roof. A mix of Air Force, Marine, and Army soldiers lived here, around 10 to 12 of them. The one thing that they all did religiously was sleep together in a single room, even though they didn’t have to. They also never went outside alone after dark. They would also have the loyal dog set outside the door to protect them from whatever evils lingered outside.

The men that slept here said that they could hear the cries of the Headless Gringa right outside, trying to lure them out. Their dog would howl and whine, begging to be let in as the ghost’s cries grew louder. There were some men who even said that they felt something crawl into bed with them during the night, climb on top of them and sit down on their chest, as if they were trying to suffocate them. When they awoke, the feeling would go away. Sometimes, they would see a shadowy, slinky figure linger around the back of the house.

They also reported that they would sometimes see the lights of the small truck, the one that was stolen, flash and the horn would beep, as the ghost tried to trick the soldiers into coming outside.

Thousands of tourists flock to the Galapagos each year, drawn by the beautiful islands, world-class snorkeling and diving, and the chance to follow the footsteps of Charles Darwin and see the famous finches. However, they won’t get the chance to see the Headless Gringa. The base is closed to the public. While most visitors land on Baltra, they quickly take the ferry to nearby Santa Cruz.

To this day, it is still unclear if the presence of the Headless Gringa is a figment of the imagination of men or if there is something going on. No need to worry about the Headless Gringa leaving the island. She is endemic to Baltra and has not shown any interest in moving to Puerto Ayora or on a cruise ship. The only people who really have anything to worry about are the airmen and sailors of the Ecuadorian armed forces.

Next up, we are going to talk about some famous feet in Canada.

Think about the last time you were on the beach. What did you do? Did you dig through the sand looking for shells? Maybe you have a metal detector and were looking for buried treasures. Some people like to star out into the water and watched sea life swimming around. But if you were walking along the beach along the Salish Sea Coast, you may have to keep an eye out for something a little more sinister. In the past few years, around 20 severed feet have washed up on the shores there.

The first foot was found on August 20, 2007, by a young girl who was visiting British Columbia from Washington State.  That first foot was found on Jedediah Island and was matched to a deceased man whose family declined to provide any more information. Bizarre, but not necessarily alarming, at least that was until another one showed up on Gabriola Island less than a month later. More feet were to come, and though some have been matched to missing persons, most of them have remained anonymous. Feet don’t hold a lot of identifying information. Instead, the police would focus on the fact that each foot was encased in a running shoe, thought brands, sizes, and genders differed. There was a pile of empty shoes, but one was not so empty.

Over the next 12 years, a total of 21 feet were discovered along the Pacific Northwest, creating a debate over the theories of where the feet came from. The ideas have ranged from human trafficking, plane crashes, suicides, to coincidence. Most of the feet were single feet and found in Canada. The Canadian authorities have stated that most of these feet are not caused by foul play. The only consistency between the feet is that experts agree the remains were not forcibly removed. But the rate at which they were found sent shockwaves up and down the coast of British Columbia and Washington State. The last foot to be found was on January 1, 2019.

The locations of the first five feet found in the first year all seem to indicate that they were from similar sources and when they were found, Oceanographists determined that there was no known current that could have contributed to the spread. The detectives at that time had theorized that the feet were from the five-person fatality of the Quadra Island plane crash that happened about 60 to 90 miles northwest in 2005. While there is a good chance that some of the feet came from the plane crash, there is no proof to date that this is the case. Four of the five bodies still remain unrecovered. At first, the idea of the plan crash does make sense regarding the origin of the feet, but later, DNA tests found that one of the feet was female, but the victims in the plane crash were all men.

Besides the plane crash, the other feet could have come from drowning or suicide victims. It is common for a decomposing body to come apart at the joint, making it natural for the foot to separate from the leg. But if that is the reason for all of these feet, wouldn’t hands be similarly susceptible to washing up on the beaches? Nope, that’s the role the shoes play.

While the remainder of the body will decompose in the water, the feet are surprisingly well protected in the fabric and rubber of the shoes. The soles tend to be buoyant, and air pockets can become trapped in the shoe, which makes it float to the surface. The majority of the “severed” feet have been inside jogging shoes like Pumas and Nikes, but one case has involved a hiking boot. In that case, the boot and foot were matched to a man who had gone missing while on a fishing trip over 25 years ago. One of the more recent cases also involved a hiking boot.

So this begs the question, why British Columbia? Richard Thompson, an oceanographer, says it has to do with the ocean current. He said, “There’s a lot of recirculation in the region. We’re working here with a semi-enclosed basin. Fraser River, False Creek, Burrard Inlet, all those regions around there are somewhat semi-enclosed. The tidal currents and the winds can keep things that are floating recirculating in the system.” Some of the feet have also found their way a little further south, in Washington state, which shares a network of coastal waterways with British Columbia.

But over the years, as more feet showed up all over British Columbia and Washington State, it deepened the mystery of the feet because now there were no possible correlations. Once the sixth foot was found on  August 1, 2008, in Pysht Washington, all correlation between the first five feet was shot to hell.

The discovery of all of these feet over the course of about a decade is astounding, and it is probably that many of them were victims of a Tsunami or other such event. There are some people who believe that the last eight years of feet could be connected to the 2011 Tsunami in Japan, and the debris drift patterns correlate with this idea. However, a lot of the victims have been identified and are unrelated. And the feet have been showing up in a more concentrated area and not stretched out across the coast in a drift patter.

Let’s back up a moment to the first year where they found five feet. As I said earlier, a girl found the first foot on Jedediah Island in British Columbia on August 20, 2007. The second foot was found inside of a Reebok on Gabriola Island on August 26, 2007. Both of the shoes involved in the first two feet were in limited production and dated between 2004 and 2005. They found the third food on February 22, 2008, close to the mouth of the Fraser River. The fourth foot was found in May, and the fifth foot in June.

The issue with researching these feet was quickly discovered in the varying discrepancies between sources. In fact, the first three articles I read, all dated around the same time, had different numbers for how many feet have been found. One said 15, one said 14, and another said 20. While Wikipedia may not be that trustworthy, I was able to find the actual number of feet there, along with a timeline of when and where the feet were found.

But all of this data continued to get muddled by the Canadian and US differences in the active cases and their journalistic style. Each group would often list a different order of discovery, or they would withhold or publish certain information about a crime, including names of the identified victims. The US tends to take a need-to-know approach, where Canadian authorities were only ones actually broadcasting the foot discoveries that happened on US soil.

While it is pretty hard to learn the facts given the different reporting styles, as well as law enforcement tactics, but, here is a list of the feet that have been found. Some have been identified, while others have not. And in a million to one odds, the left and right foot of the same person have been found on a couple of occasions.

Foot 1 was found on August 20, 2007, on Jedediah Island, British Columbia. The shoe was a size 12 Adidas. It was the right foot. This show was produced in 2003 and mainly distributed in India. The remains were identified as those of a missing man who had been suffering from depression.

Foot 2 was found on August 26, 2007, on Gabriola Island, British Columbia. It was a size 12 white Reebok that had been produced in 2004 and sold worldwide, but mainly in North America. Its type has been discontinued. It was a right foot and appeared to have been taken ashore by an animal. It was linked to a man missing since 2006.

Foot 3 was found on February 8, 2008, on Valdes Island, British Columbia. It was a size 11 Nike and the right foot. It was identified as a 21-year-old Surrey man that had been reported missing four years prior. His death had been ruled as “not suspicious.” They confirmed the left foot was found on June 16 on Westham Island.

Foot 4 was found on May 22, 2008, on Kirkland Island, British Columbia. It was a woman’s right foot in a blue/white New Balance. The shoe was manufactured in 1999. The foot was identified as being of a woman who had jumped from the Pattullo Bridge in New Westminster in April 2004. The other foot was found in 2008.

Foot 5 was found on June 16, 2008, on Westham Island, British Columbia. This foot was confirmed to be the mate to the foot found on February 8.

Foot 6 was found on August 1, 2008, near Pysht, Washington. It was a man’s right foot inside of a black size 11 shoe. This was the first foot found on US land.

Foot 7 was found on November 11, 2008, in Richmond, British Columbia. A woman’s left foot was found in a small New Balance running shoe. It was a genetic match to the foot found on May 22

Foot 8 was found on October 27, 2009, in Richmond, British Columbia. It was a size 8 ½ Nike. The foot was matched to a Vancouver man who had been missing since January 2008.

Foot 9 was found on August 27, 2010, on Whidbey Island, Washington. It was a right foot, either a woman’s or a child’s, and it did not have a shoe or sock. They figured out that the foot had been in the water for two months. No DNA matches have been found.

Foot 10 was found on December 5, 2010, in Tacoma, Washington. It was the right foot in a boy’s size 6 Ozark Trail hiking boot.

Foot 11 was found on August 30, 2011, in False Creek, British Columbia. The foot was in a man’s white and blue size nine runners, and the lower leg was still attached.

Foot 12 was found on November 4, 2011, on Sasamat Lake, British Columba. It was a man’s right foot in a size 12 hiking book. In January 2012, they identified the foot as that of Stefan Zahorujko, who was a local fisherman who had been missing since 1987. No foul play is suspected.

Foot 13 was found on December 10, 2011, on Lake Union, Settle, Washington. It was a foot and leg bone in a black plastic bag.

Foot 14 was found on January 26, 2012, in Vancouver, British Columbia. The remains of “what appears to be human bones inside a boot” were discovered in the water line at a dog park.

Foot 15 was found on May 6, 2014, in Seattle, Washington. It was found in a white New Balance shoe. The shoe was a 622 model athletic shoe and was a man’s size 10 ½. The model was first available in April 2008.

Foot 16 was found on February 7, 2016, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. A foot in a sock and running shoes was found on Botanical Beach by hikers.

Foot 17 was found on February 12, 2016, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The foot that washed up matched the one that had washed up their five days prior.

Foot 18 was found on December 8, 2017, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. A leg and shoe washed up near the settlement of Jordan River.

Foot 19 was found on May 6, 2018, on Gabriola Island, British Columbia. A foot inside of a hiking boot was found.

Foot 20 was found in September 2018 in West Vancouver, British Columbia. A foot in a light grey Nike Free Runner shoe was found. It was a size 9.5 and manufactured between February and April 2017. They believe the victim was male and under 50.

Foot 21 was found on January 1, 2019, on Jetty Island, Everett, Washington. The foot was found in a boot, and DNA tied it to an Antonio Neill who had been missing since December 12, 2016.

There have been similar phenomenon regarding feet washing up on shore has happened throughout history, and the cause was noted as a shipwreck. In 1894, Majella sunk off the coast of Rhode Island, and the foot of one of the five crew members was found about 12 miles away. In 1913, there was a woman’s foot that washed ashore on Lake Michigan in Chicago, and she was believed to be a murder or drowning victim. There was a foot that washed ashore in Gary, Indiana, in 1930 and was believed to have been deposited in the water by a medical student. In 1934, a man had an accident off the shore of Ventura, California, where his leg was amputated and then thrown overboard, and it was later found ashore. In 1969, there was a human foot that washed ashore on a Florida beach, as well as other organs on nearby beaches. In 1996, a human foot was found after being improperly confiscated and disposed of by a rogue doctor.

There is a chance that the remaining feet that have yet to be identified are possible from a larger range of time than the police have assumed initially. To draw a conclusion as to where the feet came from would be near impossible with the information available to the public. All of the feet that were identified have all been ruled as accidents or suicides, and no foul play was involved. However, there are a few people who believe that there is a serial killer on the loose. I think, even if we don’t want to admit, like the idea of it being a serial killer because it makes it more interesting. It gives us something to wonder about. We all love a good mystery, and nothing is mysterious about suicide. Still, the British Columbia Coroners Service has stated that foul play is not suspected.

The one thing that law enforcement agrees on is that the frequency in which these feet are appearing is unprecedented and astonishing, factor in the fact that there is a commonality in the footwear. Due to the number of coincidences, there has to be something deeper and darker at play.

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