When the foot turned up at the Spotsylvania County, Va., landfill, the first thought was that someone had committed a brutal crime. Deputies began sorting through mounds of trash in a somber search for body parts.
Now, the foot is a phenomenon.
The hairless 8-inch appendage with five longish toes isn't human after all. But no one knows yet what species - known or undiscovered - it is. And that has led to some wild conjecture.
Spotsylvania sheriff's officials have said the foot might have come from an "ape-like species," leaving Bigfoot-believers across the country wondering if there might finally be proof of the creatures' existence.
"Discoveries like the foot in the landfill quickens the heartbeat of every Bigfoot researcher, but all of us realize it probably won't be that easy," read a message on the Virginia Bigfoot Research Organization blog. "Stay tuned!"
Bob Hagan, a former county supervisor and president of the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, doesn't wish harm on any animal. But he said speculation about the owner of this left foot has become a bit of a parlor game around town.
"We did see a suggestion that it might be a Yeti or a Sasquatch, and that might be why they call it Bigfoot instead of Bigfeet," Hagan joked. "People are trying not to talk about it over lunch, the idea of a severed foot isn't really lunch conversation. We talk about it the rest of the time."
Workers at the Livingston Landfill found the cleanly sawed-off foot Feb. 10, and authorities spent the next day painstakingly sifting through 127 tons of trash.
Arkuie Williams, an administrator at the medical examiner's office in Richmond, said there hasn't been a determination that it's an ape's foot and an examination is under way. "It's not human," he said, "and we're still trying to determine where it came from."
Some think the appendage might not be from any primate. They say it resembles a bear's skinned hind paw.
Tom Biscardi, who runs Searching for Bigfoot Inc. in Menlo Park, Calif., posted an image of the foot on his Web site, www.searchingforbigfoot.com.
Biscardi doesn't know if this foot is a Bigfoot's foot, but he is certain the creatures are real and he says he is not bothered by skeptics and their jokes.
"I have no doubts in my mind," Biscardi said. "I've had six encounters over the past 34 years. Not in my dreams. Up close and personal."