Tag Archives: Vancouver


A5The term “serial killer” makes us think of hi-profile monsters like Ted Bundy, who beat and strangled his victims, or the Zodiac Killer, who shot most with a gun. There’s Clifford Olson who used a hammer. Jack The Ripper who liked his knife. And Willie Pickton who drugged his ladies, cut them apart with an electric Sawzall, then fed their pieces to his pigs.

By nature, serial killers follow a specific Modus Operandi—an M.O. peculiar to their wares. Some strangle, some shoot, some smash, and some slash. But the most unique and unsuspecting method of serial killing I’ve heard of came from Gilbert Paul Jordan, aka the “Boozing Barber”, who got his victims comatose drunk then finished them off by pouring straight vodka down their throats. He intentionally alcohol-poisoned at least nine women—possibly dozens more.


Gilbert Jordan was a monster from the 1980’s operating in the Down Town East Side of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Today, the skid row DTES of Vancouver is still one of the most dangerous, crime and drug-ridden inner cities of the world. In the DTES, the most popular drug of choice is still alcohol—ethanol as it’s known in the coroner and toxicologist world.

A6Jordan was born in 1931 and started a crime career in his twenties by kidnapping and raping a five-year-old aboriginal girl. He beat the charges and went on to commit more sexual assaults including abducting a woman from a mental institute and raping her, too. Jordan bounced in and out of jail. He continued to prey on the helpless and downtrodden, especially alcoholic women from the First Nations culture. Gilbert Jordan, himself, became a raging alcoholic and consumed over fifty ounces of vodka per day.

Jordan learned barbering skills while in prison. Between jail sentences, he set up a barber shop on East Hastings Street in the heart of Vancouver’s DTES, being a regular fixture in the seedy bar scene. He blended easily and was not at all intimidating—short, stocky, balding, with thick glasses.

Jordan was a well-known mark for buying vulnerable aboriginal women drinks and he’d take them from the bars to his barber shop or a room which he kept in a derelict hotel. Here they’d party till they passed out. It’s estimated that hundreds of women binge drank with Jordan during his spree from 1980 to 1987.

Overdose deaths in the DTES were common.

A7The majority were intravenous drug users, many having a lethal toxin level amplified with mixed use of ethanol. It’s still that way today. But overdose deaths from ethanol consumption alone are rare. Usually, heavy drinkers reach a blood-ethanol limit where they pass out—long before ethanol effects shut down their central nervous system. The few deaths from ethanol alone are almost always caused by an unconscious victim aspirating on vomit—not from reaching a lethal blood-ethanol-content. A BEC of 0.35% (35mg of ethanol per 100 milliliters of blood) is considered the start of the lethal range. Note that 0.08% is the standard for drunk driving.

During Jordan’s run, there were increasingly suspicious amounts of aboriginal women deaths from shockingly high BEC. They included:

  1. Ivy Rose — 0.51
  2. Mary Johnson — 0.44
  3. Barbara Paul — 0.47
  4. Mary Johns — 0.76
  5. Patricia Thomas — 0.51
  6. Patricia Andrew — 0.79
  7. Vera Harry — 0.49
  8. Vanessa Buckner — 0.50
  9. Edna Slade — 0.55

A8When Edna Slade was found dead in Gilbert Jordan’s hotel room, and it became apparent Jordan was the common denominator in many similar deaths, Vancouver Police put Jordan under surveillance. From October 12th to November 26th, 1987, VPD observed Jordan “search out native Indian women in the skid row area of Vancouver and take them back to his hotel room for binge-drinking”.

VPD officers listened from outside Jordan’s door and recorded him saying phrases like “Have a drink. Down the hatch, baby. Twenty bucks if you drink it right down. See if you’re a real woman. Finish that drink. Down the hatch, hurry, right down. You need another drink. I’ll give you fifty bucks if you can take it right down. I’ll give you ten, twenty, fifty dollars. Whatever you want. Come on, I want to see you get it all down. Get it right down.

On four occasions during the surveillance, police intervened and remove the comatose victims to the hospital.

A9Gilbert Jordan was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Vanessa Buckner. The prosecution used similar fact evidence from the other eight identified deaths. He was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment. This was reduced to nine years on appeal and he served only six. When Jordan was paroled in 1994, he went right back to the business of stalking alcoholic aboriginal women. He was being watched by VPD and immediately sent back to prison for parole violation and an additional sexual assault. He served out his sentenced but was released in 2000, again returning to a life of chronic alcoholism and serial predation.

Gilbert Jordan, the Boozing Barber, died of the disease called alcoholism in 2006.

*   *   *

Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, has been used by humans for thousands of years for its relaxation effect of euphoria and lowering social inhibitions. Drinking ethanol is widely accepted around the western world and is an enormous economic force.

A12Ethanol abuse is a contributing factor in untold tragedies.

Despite ethanol’s popularity as a social interactor, the medical pathophysiology considers any amount of BEC to be clinically poisonous. Ethanol is metabolized by the liver at a rate of about 50 ml (1.7 fluid ounce) per 90 minutes. That’s like two beers or one 9-ounce glass of wine every hour and a half. Drink more than you can absorb and you’ll get drunk. Wake up still drunk and you’re hung-over.

A13The acute effects of an ethanol overdose vary according to many factors. The body mass and tolerance to the drug are primary as is the rate of consumption. Ultimately, acute ethanol poisoning depresses the body’s central nervous system, causing the respiratory system to shut down and the victim asphyxiates.

These are the average symptomatic presentations of ethanol poisoning in relation to BEC:

  • 02 – 0.07% — Intoxication and euphoria
  • 08 – 0.19% — Ataxia (loss of body control ), poor judgment, labile mood
  • 20 – 0.29% — Advanced ataxia, extremely poor judgment, nausea
  • 30 – 0.35% — Stage 1 anesthesia, memory collapse
  • 35 – 0.39% — Comatose
  • 40 +             — Respiratory failure, sudden death

A14In my time as a police officerthen as a coronerI attended lots of deaths where ethanol was a contributing factor. Very few were acute ethanol poisoning deaths, though. Many were mixed drug overdoses, especially mixing booze with prescription pills. Then there were suffocating on puke cases, suicides while pissed, fatal motor vehicle crashes driven by drunks, and violent homicides done during ethanol-fueled anger and inebriation.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not slamming the social use of ethanol. I’ve been around the booze scene my whole life and still enjoy decent wine and good scotch, although I’ve never had a taste for beer.

A15I grew up in a socio-economic environment where rampant alcoholism was common. It was accepted. Grant RobertsonI worked with Grant in my teensGrant was proud of his breathalyzer certificate proving he was caught behind the wheel at a 0.44% BEC. True story. I saw the paper. Grant was a die-hard—a chronic alcoholic with forty years of practice. I don’t think Grant ever went below two-five.

As a young cop, I brought an old guy in for a blow. I couldn’t tell if he was drunk but he’d caused a minor car accident and slightly smelled of liquor. Legally, I had to demand a breathalyzer test. He pushed the needle to a 0.36% and I’ll never forget the breathalyzer operator’s remark “You’re no stranger to alcohol, are you?

People have different tolerances to ethanol. And different physiological responses.

A16I’ve worked with cops who were drunk on duty, seen judges half-cut on the bench, had my pilot pass out before time to depart, and I’ve woken in places unknown. I’ve had countless laughs, spent way too much money on time pissed away, and have stories from nights in the bars.

But I still can’t get clipped in my buddy Dave’s chair without thinking of Gilbert Paul Jordan, the “Boozing Barber” Serial Killer of the Down Town East Side of Vancouver.


F17Since 2007, sixteen shoes containing severed human feet have washed up on the shores near the mouth of British Columbia’s Fraser River which supplies freshwater to the tidal Pacific Ocean at the Canadian Strait of Georgia and Washington State’s Puget Sound. Curiously, the majority of the found flotsam-footwear are large, men’s runners holding a disarticulated right foot.

The story quickly gained international attention and refuses to go away. Just last month (February 2016) two more New Balance sneakers with their feet ran aground at Botanical Beach on Vancouver Island. Public speculation has stepped-up—not surprisingly given that, historically, the Pacific Northwest has the largest number of prolific serial killers per capita in the world.

F19The Northwest Noir is home to Ted Bundy—the College Dorm Slayer, Gary Ridgway—the Green River Killer, Robert Pickton—the notorious Pig Farmer, Clifford Olson—the Beast of BC, Harvey Carignan—the Want-Ad Murderer, Robert Silveria—the Box-Car Killer, Gilbert Jordan—the Boozing Barber, and at least one currently active serial killer who’s terrorizing the Highway of Tears.

Could it be there’s another homicidal maniac on the loose—one with a fiendish foot-fetish? Someone who’s cutting off his victim’s feet and chucking them in the ocean? Possibly the Reebok Ripper at work?

Or is it more likely just as the authorities say—all the feet belong to suicide victims—jumpers from any one of more than thirty-two bridges in the Vancouver area?

F18Looking at the case facts that are readily available from the police and coroner websites, ten of the feet have been identified through DNA to individuals who were suspected of taking their own life. Six of the shoes belonged to three different people and eleven of the sixteen feet detached themselves from the right leg at the ankle.

The police and coroner departments are clear there are no striation marks on the bones to suggest any mechanical manipulation by way of severing the feet with a knife, ax, or saw. The forensic specialists assure the appendages appear entirely consistent with disarticulating, or pulling away, from a body that’s been submerged in water and undergoing a natural decomposition process that’s slowed due to the cold waters of the Fraser and the Pacific.

Nothing to see here, folks, they say.

Well, hang on a minute. I’m a curious old cop and coroner. This flotsam-foot thing is something you don’t see every day. Why is this foot phenomenon unique to the region? Why did it recently start to occur? And why are so many feet from the right? I decided to tread into this with an open mind—and the help of acquaintances from my forensic days.

Feet Map

 Foot Distribution Map

Dr. Gail Anderson is the Professor of Entomology at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University. She pioneered a project to study decomposing pig carcasses 300 feet under the nearby Pacific and monitors the process via remote cameras to her laptop. She’s found that an entire adult hog can be left skeletonized within three weeks—being devoured by crabs, shrimp, and sea worms—as well as breaking down through a microbial process.

F20But, Gail says, getting at meat wrapped up in a rubber running shoe is a whole different challenge. And floating upside down on the ocean’s surface would prevent seabirds like gulls from attacking the foot from above.

Bill Inkster is a former dentist who now manages the identification unit for the B.C. Coroners Service. He takes the disarticulation and floatation process a step further.

They’re not severed, they’re disarticulated,” Bill explains. “As the body decomposes, the feet are separated from the rest of the body. Time was, the feet would have stayed underwater with the rest of the body. But Nike Air, and all the other high-buoyancy sneakers that followed, changed that with designs that featured little air pockets. These floating feet are enclosed in their own PFD’s (personal floatation devices) and just bob to the surface once freed.”

F7A little internet research into running shoe technology confirms that by 2005 the footwear industry profoundly changed materials in their products. Where the lightweight designs were first developed for the high-priced athletic market, the chemical advancement of switching from polyurethane (PU) mid-soles to ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) closed-cell blowing agents not only reduced the weight but drastically reduced manufacturing and shipping costs.

This allowed third-world makers of Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Reebok, Brooks, and other major sporting-shoe players to supply discount retailers like Walmart with cheap, yet decent runners.

F21Richard Thompson is a physical oceanographer with Vancouver Island’s Institute of Ocean Sciences. He shed light on why this was happening in the Fraser River region. Thompson explained the Fraser is a heavily-mudded waterway that carries silt from the province’s interior and deposits it in a vast delta extending miles out into the Pacific. The ever expanding bridge construction along the lower Fraser has created a series of dams due to their pilings that require continual dredging to maintain the shipping lanes.

It follows that victims who jump from one bridge may be carried along the bottom—pushed down by the weight of the silt—and become lodged in another piling dam. Dredging then shakes the body which has now decomposed to the point where the feet easily detach at the ankle and the high-buoyancy shoes sneak themselves to the surface where they drift on out to sea.

StraitofGeorgia_30_07_13Once the shoe-encased foot meets the tidal water, it enters what Thompson describes as a giant, endless spin cycle created by the freshwater outflow, the incoming currents, twice-daily tide action and, of course, the wind. The combination of these recirculation actions results in the wide—seemingly random—distribution of where the floating feet eventually beach themselves.

Once I objectively listened to the experts explaining the science behind decomposition, dredging, disarticulation and distribution of the sixteen severed feet, it made sense to me—except for one troubling fact.

Why are nearly three-quarters of the recovered runner-wraps from the right?

F16I got the answer from Professor Curtis Ebbesmeyer. He’s known as the rubber-duck man and the co-author of the fascinating book Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man’s Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science. Ebbesmeyer spent his lifetime studying ocean currents, including the aftermath of a shipping accident involving thousands of Nike runners being discharged into the Pacific during a storm. The resulting locations where the shoes hit land was a landmark breakthrough in a better understanding of ocean drift.

So if anyone knows how a sneaker sneaks about in the water, it’s Professor Ebbesmeyer.

He says that left and right shoes behave differently due to their curvature—lefts tend to drift in a clockwise pattern and rights will turn counter-clockwise. This contributes to a distribution pattern where the rights went to the closest land and the lefts possibly headed for the open ocean or perhaps to more deserted beaches.

F23Ebbesmeyer also pointed out an interesting and apparently verified fact—whether or not it bears weight on the floating feet. With ninety percent of the population being right-handed, most people tend to tie their right shoe tighter than the left and most people’s right foot is slightly larger than their left.

With maybe more slack in a left shoe, it’s possible more of the disarticulated left flesh and bone matter would fall out of its runner, then its shoe would go to a beach empty-handed and be ignored.

There’s one last factor in these recently-found, sixteen feet and that’s the Vicious Cycle effect. The floating-foot story is so widely known throughout the Pacific Northwest that by now nobody walks by a shoe on the shoreline without picking it up and checking inside.

Stefan Fonseca, my ex-colleague with the British Columbia Coroners Service, puts it well. “People will actually wade out to go look at a shoe. It’s creepy, but I guess that’s the fascination.”