No island archipelago worth its salt would be without its mists, and the San Juan Islands, tucked into a remote corner of the Pacific Northwest, are no exception. Location names like Smuggler’s Bay and Dead Man’s Bay give away the nefarious activity, spawned by isolation, once hidden under nature’s concealing cloak.
Following the Pig War, an altercation between Americans and the British that settled ownership of the islands, smuggling became an excepted occupation in the San Juan Islands. The channels between the islands proved most convenient for the smuggling of wool, opium, silk, bootleg, illegal drugs, and even people.
When the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prevented Chinese laborers from coming into the United States legally, the smuggling of Chinese workers began. Heavy taxation contributed to products being smuggled into the United States. During the Prohibition, the smuggling of alcohol became lucrative. In more modern times, the San Juan Islands saw an increase in drug trafficking.
Smuggling introduced an element of danger to the San Juan Islands. One of the most infamous characters was Lawrence “Pirate” Kelly, who along with a partner, based his smuggling operations around Ben Ure Island. Kelly is said to have tied the Chinese workers he was bringing into the United States into burlap bags, and if customs agents came around, he would throw the burlap bags overboard. The tide often deposited these bags with their grisley contents in Dead Man’s Cove.
A modern mystery that has yet to be solved is the number of detached feet that have washed up on Pacific Northwest beaches, including several in the San Juan Islands. So far, thirteen feet, belonging to seven people, have been found. Coroners have identified the owners of ten of the feet.
Decomposition can cause feet to separate from a body, however, that doesn’t rule out foul play. The appearance of so many feet without other body parts being found is considered an anomaly.
The San Juan Islands are a location guaranteed to infuse novels like The Unrelenting Tide by Lynnette Bonner and Tide Will Tell by Lesley Ann McDaniels, with mystery. I’m currently writing Deceptive Tide, the final contribution to the Islands of Intrigue, San Juans romantic suspense series.