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Latest floating 'foot' turns out to be a hoax

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  • NEW: Sixth severed "foot" actually was animal paw, authorities say
  • Hoax uncovered as DNA, other forensic tests begin
  • At least five other feet since August have surfaced off Canadian shore
  • Mystery has garnered attention around the world
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(CNN) -- What was believed to be the sixth human foot to wash up on the shores of British Columbia in recent months proved to be a fake, authorities said Thursday.

RV park manager Sandra Malone shows the area where the size 10 men's shoe was found on a beach.

RCMP officers use a container to carry a shoe found on a Canadian beach on Wednesday.

A "skeletonized animal paw" had been placed in a sock and athletic shoe that was packed with dried seaweed, the British Columbia Coroners Service announced.

The hoax was uncovered as the coroner's office began DNA and other forensic tests on the supposed foot in an attempt to identify the person to whom it belonged.

The coroners service, a forensic pathologist and an anthropologist all examined the shoe and remains before declaring it a fake.

"It is the position of BCCS that this type of hoax is reprehensible and very disrespectful to the families of missing persons," authorities said in a written statement. "It fuels inappropriate speculation and creates undue anxiety for families and communities while wasting valuable investigative time and resources that could be spent on the main investigations."

Police initially believed that a right human foot had been found in a man's size 10 black Adidas athletic shoe. The grisly discovery was made Wednesday. Video Watch woman talk about the mystery »

The find came amid conjecture over the source of five other severed human feet that have been found along the Canadian province's Pacific coast in the past 11 months. Authorities are continuing to investigate multiple possibilities on the origin of the feet, from foul play to the possibility that they belonged to victims of a plane crash.

"We are exploring the possibility that it could be people who may have drowned," said Annie Linteau, a spokeswoman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. "It could be missing fishermen. It could be the remains of people who may have died in a plane crash."

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When asked about the suspicion of foul play, Linteau noted that the first four feet contained no tool marks and were therefore deemed not to have been severed.

A woman walking on the beach reported the sixth find, said Sgt. Mike Tresoor of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the town of Campbell River on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Sandra Malone, manager of the Thunderbird RV Park and Campground on the Tyee Spit, said a woman came in about 10:30 a.m. and asked her to call police, saying she had found the shoe with the foot inside it.

While waiting for police, Malone said, she walked to the beach with the woman and saw it for herself.

"The leg bones were coming out of the running shoe about 3 to 4 inches," she said. "There were no tissues or anything attached."

She said seaweed was wrapped around the top of the running shoe, making it hard to tell whether any tissue was inside the shoe. But she said the foot appeared to have been deliberately severed, as the bones "had been cut clean across."

Another foot -- a left foot still in a shoe -- was found Monday on the shore of Westham Island, south of Vancouver. Police said it was taken to a coroner for DNA testing.

The Vancouver Sun newspaper said the first four feet found were all right feet, making the foot found Monday the only left foot.

Experts told The Sun there could be explanations that did not suggest foul play.

Ian Buckingham, a retired coroner, told the newspaper the ankle joint can come apart easily if a body is decomposing at sea.

Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an expert on ocean currents, told The Sun a foot wearing a buoyant athletic shoe could float as far as 1,000 miles.

Although the gruesome finds have drawn international attention, police said it may take some time to unravel the mystery.

"We suffer from the 'CSI' effect: People think this can happen very quickly," Brooks said. "It could take weeks or months. And even if we get a DNA sample, we need a sample to match it with."

The mystery has caused a stir and led to many rumors, locals say. One newspaper has begun investigating a rash of young men who have gone missing in the area.

Some have wondered whether the feet could belong to five men who were in a plane that crashed three years ago in the waterway where the feet were found.

Some of those men's relatives were at the Campbell River site on Wednesday.

"It's a constant reminder every time, from the time the first foot washed up," said Kirsten Stevens, whose husband, Dave, died in the crash. Although her husband's body was located, Stevens said, the other men's relatives never recovered their loved ones' remains.

"It reopens the wound every single time," she said.

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