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Spontaneous Human Combustion is a phenomenon in which a human body purportedly catches fire as a result of heat generated internally by some type of chemical reaction. This phenomena has been reported for hundreds of years. Indeed, belief in the past was that if a person possessed too much anger or drank too much brandy, or alcoholic spirits of any kind, he or she might burn to death internally - literally combusting into ash within a matter of minutes!
In 1996, several of the world's top fire experts came together to investigate some of the most renowned spontaneous human combustion cases. The most amazing factor in these cases was the fact that though of the bodies of the victims were burned almost completely including their bones (give or take a few intact limbs), the items surrounding them were left untouched and undamaged.  
In a crematoria, where temperatures reach from 700 to 1,000 degrees, human bones are not destroyed - making cases of spontaneous combustion an even more mind-boggling phenomena. In the 1980's Dr. John de Haan reported that this phenomena is likely caused by the melting of body fat. This is known as the "wick effect," which makes human body fat literally burn like a candle.  Because pigs have similar fat content to humans, Dr. Haan experimented by using a dead pig, wrapping it in a blanket with a small amount of petrol poured onto it, and placing it in a controlled indoor environment. He then set fire to it to simulate a human body being burned. Within 5 hours, take note FIVE HOURS the charred remains were identical to those in the spontaneous human combustion cases, with items placed in the same room untouched, other than a nearby television, which was warped from the heat - but not from the fire itself.  [BUT THE FIRE OF THE PIG WAS STARTED BY PETROL AND IGNITED BY HIM]
Dr. Haan's experiment revealed that a small flame can indeed consume a body through the help of burning fat. This study purportedly demonstrated how a person who has been knocked unconscious, unable to extinguish a flame, could be burned almost entirely through natural processes without attracting any attention to passers by or igniting anything else in the vicinity.  The remaining limbs that may be left were reported to be due to the fat content in them not being as rich as the rest of the body, thereby making them less likely to burn.
The problem with this experiment - though it was quite innovative - was the fact that it completely disregarded the cases in which people have actually witnessed these types of events. There are records of people who experienced them first-hand and lived to tell their stories!  These stories completely contradict the scientific explanation of the wick effect, in essence leaving this bizarre phenomenon an unsolved mystery!

The first mention of spontaneous human combustion in history belongs to an Italian knight, Polonus Vorstius, who lived during the 15th century reign of Queen Bona Sforza in Milan, Italy. The knight was reputed to have consumed "two ladles of strong wine." He felt nauseous and began vomiting fire which ultimately consumed his entire body. No one else whom he was with, including his parents, was affected.

The first reliable historic evidence of Spontaneous Human Combustion appears to be from the year 1773, when Frenchman Jonas Dupont published a collection of Spontaneous Human Combustion cases and studies entitled De Incendiis Corporis Humani Spontaneis. Dupont was inspired to write this book after encountering records of the Nicole Millet case, in which the man who was an inn keeper was acquitted of the murder of his wife when the court was convinced that she had been killed by spontaneous combustion.

Madame Millet, a hard-drinking Parisian was found reduced to ashes in her straw bed, leaving just her skull and finger bones. The straw matting was only lightly damaged. Dupont's book on this strange subject brought it out of the realm of folkloric rumour and into the popular public imagination.


Rheims (ancient city of) 1725.

The landlord, Jean Millet, of the Le Lion d Or inn went to bed in the early hours of Whit Tuesday leaving a house full of revellers as it was the start of the Whit Tuesday fair in the morning and he had to get up early, there were several servants left attending the drinkers. At about 2.30 am a smell of burning woke him and he ran down the stairs shouting fire, fire, he checked the inn but could not find any part burning but found Madame Nicole Millet burning and dead. the police were called and they found a smouldering corpse in an un-burnt chair. Luckily there was a well respected young trainee surgeon Claude-Nicholas Le Cat, in the inn who disarmed the situation by logic. In the police station it was said by Le Cat that in his opinion the unfortunate lady was killed by a visitation of God. after a debate by the officers and opposition from Coroner and the President of the assizes Jean Millet was released. It was said in this period that it was the heavy drinkers that succumbed to the fire from heaven.

Ipswich, England. April 9, 1744.

Grace Pett, 60, an alcoholic residing in Ipswich England, was found on the floor by her daughter like "a log of wood consumed by a fire, without apparent flame." Nearby clothing was undamaged.


Mr Peter Jones, survived this experience of "Spontaneous Human Combustion" and reported that there was no sensation of heat nor sighting of flames. He just saw smoke. He stated that he felt no pain.

West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. May 18, 1957.

Anna Martin, 68, of West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was found incinerated, leaving only her shoes and a portion of her torso. The medical examiner estimated that temperatures must have reached 1,700 to 2,000 degrees, yet newspapers two feet away were found intact.

49 Auckland Street, Lambeth, London. 13 September, 1967

Robert Francis Bailey was a homeless person who allegedly died by spontaneous human combustion.

At 5:21am on 13 September 1967, an unnamed member of a group of female office workers phoned the London Fire Brigade.

While waiting for their bus to work, they had noticed flickering blue flames visible through an upper window of 49 Auckland Street, Lambeth, London. They presumed it was burning gas.

49 Auckland Street was a derelict council house owned by Lambeth Borough Council, and was disconnected from gas and electricity supplies.

At 5:26am, Station Officer Jack Stacey and his crew arrived. Stacey was first up the ladder and through the window.

An excerpt from his own account follows:

When I got in through the window I found the body of a tramp named Bailey laying at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the second floor. He was lying partly on his left side. There was a four-inch slit in his abdomen from which was issuing, at force, a blue flame. The flame was beginning to burn the wooden stairs. We extinguished the flames by playing a hose into the abdominal cavity. Bailey was alive when he started burning. He must have been in terrible pain. His teeth were sunk into the mahogany newel post of the staircase. I had to prise his jaws apart to release the body. The fire was coming from within the abdomen of his body.

In 1986, Stacey was interviewed on BBC television's Newsnight programme, and went into detail:

The flame itself was coming from the abdomen. There was a slit of about four inches in the abdomen and the flame was coming through there at force, like a blowlamp - a bluish flame, which would indicate that there was some kind of spirit involved in it. There's no doubt whatsoever, that fire began inside the body. That's the only place it could have begun, inside that body.

The flames had scorched an area of floor measuring approximately six square feet and totally incinerated Bailey's right hand.

Stacey does not believe in 'the paranormal', in which category he includes SHC. Stacey's own explanation is as follows:

Bailey was an alcoholic, addicted to meths [metholated spirits] drinking, and had drunk too much of it. The meths had erupted through his abdomen and somehow exploded into flame.

However, Heymer has written that Stacey's account contains a number of problems.

If Bailey was indeed conscious enough to respond to pain by sinking his teeth deep into a mahogany post, why did he not cry out, or indeed move at all?
Can a person really drink enough meths to ignite and burn to death?
Can enough gas at sufficient pressure to provide a blowlamp-like flame really be sustained from the contents of a stomach with a four-inch slit in it? (This pressure had been sustained for at least five minutes, because the time of the call and the time of the fire brigade's arrival are both known).
If one supposes that Bailey did not move due to alcoholic stupor, the idea that he clamped his teeth into a solid wooden post in agony becomes hard to support.
However, Bailey's head was fire-damaged and a less contradictory explanation could be that his jaw tendons contracted in the heat, clamping his jaws shut where his open mouth was already in contact with the post.

At inquest, it was found that the cause of Bailey's death was 'asphyxia due to inhalation of fire fumes'. Bailey had suffocated on the fumes of his own combustion. A search of his body revealed no portable sources of ignition (lighters, etc) or inflammable substances. He was a non-smoker.

Ebbw Vale, South Wales,UK. 1980.

Henry Thomas was a 73 year-old man who was found burned to death in the living room of his council house on the Rassau council estate in Ebbw Vale, South Wales in 1980.

Thomas's entire body was incinerated, leaving only his skull and a portion of each leg below the knee. The feet and legs were clothed in socks and trouser legs. The fire had also destroyed half of the chair in which he had been sitting and melted the control knobs on a TV set some metres away (the TV set was still 'on' but had become so heat damaged that it no longer displayed a picture).

The victim's spectacles were sitting neatly folded in the grate of his open fire, within arm's reach of the position of the chair. The victim's slippers were on the carpet just beyond his unburned feet, suggesting that Thomas had eased his slippers off and settled back to watch television before being burned. (Thomas was farsighted).

The police officer in attendance was John E Heymer, and what follows is taken from his own notes on the incident- "The living room was bathed in an orange glow, coming from windows and a light bulb. This orange light was the result of daylight and electric light being filtered by evaporated human fat which had condensed on their surfaces. The remainder of the house was completely undamaged".

Heymer describes the entire room as 'comfortably warm' despite the fact that the house was halfway up a mountain, in the middle of a Welsh winter (the temperature outside was 'well below freezing'), and had no double glazing or central heating. This is attributed to heat absorbed by the walls during the fire, being slowly re-released back into the room. The temperature during the fire had evidently been high enough to melt knobs on the TV set, which was some metres away from Thomas's remains, and to soften a plastic light shade sufficiently for it to slide off its fittings and fall to the floor.

A coal fire in the grate had gone out. There was no sign of disturbance to the fire place, and no evidence (blood, etc) of any injury occurring there. A stack of chopped sticks, suitable for laying a fire, had been prepared by Thomas and were sitting ready by the fire-tools. Thomas's ashes lay on a rug and a foam-backed carpet, both of which were only burned where they were in contact with the ashes. Thermoplastic tiles under the carpet, which should have been permanently marked by the proximity of a heat source, were unblemished.

Questioning Mr Thomas's neighbour, Heymer found that the night before the ashes were discovered, the neighbour had gone out into his garden and seen foul-smelling smoke pouring from Thomas's chimney. He had assumed Thomas was burning rubbish on his open fire. Pathologists found that Thomas had been alive when he began to burn, as his blood (taken from the remains of his legs) contained a high level of carbon monoxide.

Heymer reached the following conclusions;

The body had begun to burn properly while seated in the chair.
The chair had caught fire while in contact with the body.
When one side of the chair had burned sufficiently, it collapsed, depositing the body on the floor.
Now out of contact with the body, the unburned portion of the chair ceased to burn.
The body continued to burn until only the skull and lower legs were left.
Police forensic officers arrived and announced that the incineration of Thomas was due to the wick effect.

They reconstructed the scene as follows;

Thomas had fallen in the fireplace for some reason, while tending the fire, and had accidentally set alight to his hair. This accounted for his spectacles being in the hearth. He had then sat down in his chair and burned to death via the wick effect.
A scrap of fibrous matter on the fireplace was seized upon and it was declared that this would prove to be forehead skin, proving Thomas fell and injured himself. In fact, analysis proved the scrap was of bovine origin, probably from some leather item that Thomas had burned on the fire.
Heymer, a trained crime scene officer, argued that everything about the remains showed that the victim had been sitting comfortably in his chair when he burned to death. He argued that even a victim who had fallen and injured themselves would not get up and sit down in a chair while alight. Moreover, he argued that the lack of fire damage to the rest of the room indicated a rapid blaze which went out before anything not in contact with the victim had caught light.

He also pointed out that the victim had draught-proofed his living room very effectively (to such an extent that no smoke particles were found on the outside of the living room doorframe) and that the oxygen supply in the room would not support the long slow burning of the wick effect. He also pointed out that the remains of the victim's trouser legs were undamaged, except for a very narrow burned 'fringe' where the remains terminated. Heymer described this 'fringe': 'as though the clothes had been burned through with a laser beam'. This, he said, also indicated something different from the wick effect.

Thomas's death was ruled 'death by burning', as he had plainly inhaled the contents of his own combustion.


London, England. September 15, 1982.

At approximately 4 p.m. on Wednesday, September 15, 1982, Ms. Saffin aged 61, burst into flames while sitting on a wooden Windsor chair in the kitchen of her home in Edmonton, London, England. Her father, eighty-two-year-old Jack Saffin, was seated at a nearby table and said he saw a flash of light out of the corner of his eye and turned to Jeannie to ask if she had seen it. He was astonished to find that she was enveloped in flames, mainly around her face and hands. Mr. Saffin said Jeannie did not cry out or move, but merely sat there with her hands in her lap.

Her father pulled her over to the sink, badly burning his own hands, and started trying to douse the flames with water, at the same time calling to his son-in-law, Donald Carroll: "Quick! Jeannie's burning!" The younger man ran into the kitchen to see Jeannie standing with flames 'roaring' from her face and abdomen. The two men managed to douse the flames with pans of water and called the emergency services.

After the flames were extinguished, Jeannie "whimpered," according to her father's evidence at the subsequent inquest. Jeannie's mental condition, her body's production of endorphins, the subsequent shock, and her eventual semi-conscious state may all have played a part in minimizing her response to pain.

Medical witnesses
According to the ambulance men who took Jeannie to hospital, the kitchen itself was undamaged by smoke or flame.

The hospital notes of Jeannie's treatment begin with her transfer from North Middlesex Hospital to Mount Vernon hospital, at 7 p.m. on the day she burned. The first entry reads:

"Approximately 4pm today thought to have burned herself? How? Found by ambulance men in kitchen, wearing nylon clothes, not on fire. Not in smoke-filled room."

Both Donald Carroll, the son-in-law and Mr. Saffin (a First World War veteran) spoke of the flames coming from Jeannie as making a 'roaring noise'.

Mr Saffin was registered deaf due to his experiences in the First World War, and Joe Nickell suggests that this undermines his testimony. Heymer puts forward the idea that the alleged 'roaring' noise may have been due to the rapid evaporation of water from Jeannie's body, likening it to a 'scaled-up' version of the hissing and screeching noise made when drops of water fall into hot cooking fat.

Jeannie appeared to be conscious and aware in hospital but did not speak. The third degree burns on her body covered only the parts of her that had been unclothed, her face and hands, apart from her abdomen, where she had held her hands clasped while sitting.

Her injuries were listed as follows:

"Mainly full thickness burns of face. Burns to the neck, shoulders, chest, left arm, abdomen, thighs and left buttock - mixed full thickness and deep dermal with superficial patches on abdomen. Hands: mainly full thickness burns, both surfaces. Total: 30 per cent."

A full thickness burn is one in which the flesh is destroyed down to the subcutaneous fat.

This means that Ms Saffin's face was totally destroyed (her family described her burns as 'terrible' and her head 'like a football'). Her hands were essentially burned down to the bone.

She lapsed into a coma and died nearly eight days later, at 8:10 a.m. on September 23, 1982.

The cause of death was listed as "bronchopneumonia due to burns."[citation needed]

An inquest was held into Ms. Saffin's death and police enquiries were ordered by the coroner, Dr. J. Burton, to determine how she caught fire.

A letter to the coroner's office from a locum registrar in plastic surgery stated that Jeannie's injuries had been caused by a flame burn.

Perhaps the most important fact that the eyewitness testimony from the inquest provides is that the burning episode in the kitchen lasted at most a minute or two -- and probably less -- before the flames were doused, rather than hours. Thus, this case can in no way be explained by the wick effect.

Ms. Saffin's brother-in-law Donald Carrol told the coroner that: "I made a point of checking on the gas cooker and saw that it was not on and saw that my father-in-law had his pipe in his hand and I checked it and saw that it was fresh tobacco which had not been lit."

Investigation by Joe Nickell
The skeptical author Joe Nickell interprets this as a confession that Mr Saffin had been recently smoking and that this may indicate that an ember had smouldered on Jeannie's clothes, only bursting into flame some time later when fanned by a sudden draught from the open kitchen door.

Police witness
The police officer who conducted the investigation into possible murder -- PC Leigh Marsden of Edmonton Police Station -- reported to the coroner's court that no cause for Jeannie's combustion could be found.

PC Marsden's report stated the following facts:

That the wooden Windsor chair in which Jeannie had been sitting when she caught fire was situated in a corner of the Saffins kitchen, about two inches from two adjacent walls forming a corner.
That both chair and walls were unmarked and undamaged.
That the nearest source of ignition was a small pilot light on the overhead grill of a gas-cooker some four to five feet away from the chair.
That the pilot light was protected by a grill hood and was unable to set anyone alight even if they were in contact with the cooker.
That the nearest gas point and electrical point were sited next to the cooker, four or five feet away from the chair.
That Jeannie's clothes 'were still burning when I [Marsden] got there. I pulled off the rest of her clothes. She and her clothes were burning. I put it out with a towel'
PC Marsden told Ms. Saffins relatives that he believed her to be a victim of spontaneous human combustion, which they accepted and put to the coroner.

However, Dr. Burton told the family: I sympathise with you but I cannot put down SHC because there is no such thing. I will have to put down misadventure or open verdict.

In fact the verdict was misadventure.

On Monday February 13, 1995, PC Marsden reiterated his faith that the death was due to SHC, during a phone call with John E Heymer. Marsden added that some years after the event, he had been interviewed about the death by a senior fire brigade officer (name unknown to Marsden).


Crown Point, New York. USA. March 1986

A fifty-eight-year-old retired fireman named George Mott, died in the bedroom of his home. His body was largely consumed along with the mattress of the bed on which he had lain. A leg, a shrunken skull (reported to have shrunk to an implausibly small size), and pieces of the rib cage were all that remained, that were recognizably human. An investigator insists that there was no credible source for the ignition.

Fire investigators suggested that the death was either caused by an electrical arc that shot out of an outlet and set fire to Mott, or a gas leak. Some believe his alcoholism and heavy smoking could have contributed to it; he was not wearing his oxygen mask, and matches were found near the scene, unignited.


Sydney, Australia. August 24, 1998.

Agnes Phillips mysteriously caught fire while left unattended inside her daughter's car. Several people witnessed this event, and amazingly, the victim lived for a short time afterwards.  
Agnes, who suffered from Alzheimer's Disease and lived in a nursing home, had been picked up that day by her daughter, Jackie Park, for a routine visitation. Jackie parked the car and left her sleeping mother inside while she quickly went into the store to pick up a few items. Shortly thereafter she noticed smoke billowing from the car, followed by an explosion of flames.  
As the car became engulfed, a passer by managed to drag Agnes out of the car and extinguish the flames. Though she remained remarkably calm throughout the whole ordeal, Agnes did manage to utter the words "It's too hot... It's too hot!"  
Agnes suffered severe burns to her chest, abdomen, arms, and legs, and died in the hospital a week later. Upon further investigation, Fire Inspector Donald Walsh claimed that he could not determine where the fire had originated, since the car had not been running. There was no trace of liquid accelerants, no faulty wiring, and neither Agnes or Jackie smoked. Inspector Walsh ruled out Spontaneous Human Combustion, and believed that this fire was the result of the "wick effect," totally disregarding the fact that this process takes a matter of hours to burn a human body.  
The documentation in this case reveals that Agnes's body was severely burned within a matter of minutes, essentially eliminating any possibility of this event being caused by a "wick effect" type of fire, thereby making this a likely candidate for a true Spontaneous Combustion case in modern times.














Coudersport, Pennsylvania, USA. December 5, 1966.

Bentley was last seen alive on December 4, 1966 when friends visiting him at his home said goodnight to him at about 9:00 P.M. On the following morning, December 5, a Mr. Gosnell, a meter reader, let himself into Bentley's house and went to the basement to check the meter -- since Bentley could only move about with the help of a Zimmer Frame, Mr. Gosnell had permission to enter as necessary.

While in the basement, Gosnell noticed a strange smell and a light blue smoke. Intrigued, he went upstairs to investigate. The bedroom was smoky and in the bathroom he found Bentley's cremated remains.

All that was left intact of the aged doctor was the lower half of his right leg with the slipper still on it. The rest of his body had been reduced to a pile of ashes on the floor in the basement below. His walker lay across the hole in the floor generated by the fire. The rubber tips on it were still intact, and the nearby bathtub was hardly scorched. Gosnell ran from the building to get help.

Theories put forward.
The first theory put forward was that Bentley had set himself on fire with his pipe, but his pipe was still on its stand by the bed in the next room. Perplexed, the coroner could only record a verdict of 'death by asphyxiation and 90 percent burning of the body.'

Joe Nickell, in his book Secrets of the Supernatural, gives an account of this event he got from Larry E. Arnold's article "The Flaming Fate of Dr. John Irving Bentley," printed in the Pursuit of Fall 1976. Nickell mentions that the hole in the bathroom floor measured 2-1/2 feet by 4, and details the remains as being Bentley's lower leg burned off at the knee.

Nickell mentions that Bentley's robe was found smouldering in the bathtub next to the hole, and that the broken remains of "what was apparently a water pitcher" were found in the toilet; he adds that the doctor had dropped hot ashes from his pipe onto his clothing previously (which "were dotted with burn spots from previous incidents"), and that he kept wooden matches in his pockets which could transform a small ember into a blazing flame.

Nickell believes that Bentley woke up to find his clothes on fire, walked to the bathroom, and passed out before he could extinguish the flames. Then, he suggests that the burning clothes ignited the flammable linoleum floor, and cool air drawn from the basement in what is known as "the chimney effect" kept the fire.

spontateous human combustion of Dr Bentley only leg left

78-year-old Young Sik Kim, who was a paraplegic most of his life, was confined to a wheelchair. A neighbour came by to pay the elderly man a visit and discovered Kim enveloped in a blue flame which was bursting from his abdomen. The neighbour called for help, but by the time she returned with it Kim and the wheelchair he was in were just a pile of ashes. Only his feet were left intact. Strangely, the nearby curtains and clothing were completely untouched by fire, despite the heat that would have been necessary to turn Kim into ash.

Flames Bursting from a Paraplegic's stumach

Italian Countess is Reduced to Ash and Coated with a "Greasy and Stinking Moisture

In 1731, a sluggish Countess Cornelia Di Bandi retired for a night's rest. When she failed to get up the next morning, her maid went to her room and found her reduced to ash, with just three fingers and her lower legs left intact. A little of her head and skin also remained, and she was coated with a "greasy and stinking moisture." The candles on a nearby table had lost all of their wax and only the naked wicks remained. The grease had also settled on the windowpanes and the furniture was covered in a moist soot. As in most cases of spontaneous human combustion, the fire was localized to only her body, and the bed she had been sleeping in was untouched.


ROUNDTABLE: A Fire in the Belly

Lest one think that the fear of spontaneous human combustion as a result of drink was a fringe phenomenon, one only has to consider the work of the literary greats of the day. Thomas de Quincey confessed to fearing that his addictions might lead to such “anomalous symptoms,” including spontaneous combustion. “Might I not myself take leave of the literary world in that fashion?” he wondered. A drunk explodes in Melville’s Redburn, and Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland also features spontaneous human combustion (though, in a rarity, the victim there is not an alcoholic). And then there is Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, a novel notable not just for being one of the towering masterpieces of Victorian fiction, but because of its thirtieth chapter, in which the minor character, the alcoholic landlord Mr. Krook, spontaneously bursts into flames.”

Colin Dickey on the curious cases of human spontaneous combustion induced by liquor.

Image: Krook spontaneously combusting, from Bleak House. 1853.

A number of people have reported serious burns that injured their bodies with no apparent cause. If this is not the alleged phenomenon known as SHC, it would appear to be a very closely-related occurrence. This list is not intended to be taken as comprehensive.

Jack Angel
Professor H (University of Tennessee professor whose clothing caught fire in 1835)
Wilfred Gowthorpe
Marie Pierce

Survivors of static flash fires/events
Two examples of people surviving potentially-catastrophic static flash events are given in John E Heymer's book The Entrancing Flame. Each case is backed up by eyewitnesses

The accounts are in the form of written and signed statements from named individuals, shorn of some details to protect the privacy of correspondents. Summaries follow.

In September 1985, a young woman named Debbie Clark was walking home when she noticed an occasional flash of blue light:
" It was me. I was lighting up the driveway every couple of steps".
As we got into the garden I thought it was funny at that point. I was walking around in circles saying: 'look at this, mum, look!' She started screaming and my brother came to the door and started screaming and shouting 'Have you never heard of spontaneous human combustion?"

Debbie's mother, Dianne Clark:

"I screamed at her to get her shoes off and it [the flashes] kept going so I hassled her through and got her into the bath. I thought that the bath is wired to earth. It was a blue light you know what they call electric blue. She thought it was fun, she was laughing."

In winter 1980, Cheshire, England resident Susan Motteshead was standing in her kitchen, wearing flame-resistant pyjamas, when she was suddenly engulfed in a short-lived fire that seemed to have ignited the fluff on her clothing but burned out before it could set anything properly alight.
"I was stood in the kitchen and my daughter just screamed out that my back was on fire. As I looked down it sort of whooshed all over me. It was like yellow and blue flames all over me. I was not burned at all. Not even my hair was burned. ”

The daughter, Joanne Motteshead, confirms this account and adds that the fire brigade arrived and tried (unsuccessfully) to set fire to Susan's pyjamas.
The three subjects (Debbie Clark, Daniel C. Boone, and Susan Motteshead), speaking independently and with no knowledge of each other, give similar histories.

Debbie Clark:.
"I was not wearing any nylon clothing [at the time of the flashes]. I used to suffer a lot with static electricity so I tended not to wear anything nylon. I used to crackle with static when taking off my clothes and if I touched any metal thing it used to hurt me. I used to have a lot of trouble with electrical things. They would break down or blow up."

Susan Motteshead.
"I had just washed and dried my hair [at the time of the incident]. I used to have a lot of static electricity when I was younger. I used to get shocks from touching fridges, things like that." 


Door to door salesman Jack Angel is rumored to be a survivor of spontaneous human combustion. In 1974, Jack fell asleep in his camper in Savannah, Georgia U.S.A. He slept for several days, and when he awoke his arm and back were covered in burns. There was even a burn hole on his chest. He looked around and saw no other evidence of fire inside the camper and the clothes he was wearing were untouched. Terrified, he left the camper and headed for a nearby hotel where he collapsed. When he woke up in the hospital, baffled doctors could only tell him that the burns appeared to originate from his left arm.

Angel later shifted his story, and told his lawyers that he had been sprayed by scalding hot water while trying to fix the camper's water pressure, but changed his story yet again when he appeared on That's Incredible, a TV show which featured reenactments of allegedly paranormal events.

Spontaneous human combustion: Man's body burst into flames on the sofa - but he lived to tell the tale

from the Daily Mirror Newspaper UK


Lucky man: Frank Baker survived spontaneous human combustion

A war veteran has recalled the horrifying moment his body suddenly burst into flames while he was sitting on the sofa.

Frank Baker, who served in the US Army in Vietnam, is the only known survivor of the unexplained phenomenon known as spontaneous human combustion.

The highly-decorated former soldier had been preparing to go on a fishing trip with his friend Pete Willey when fire suddenly engulfed his body.

The pair recalled the terrifying incident, which took place in June 1985, in a new episode of the Science Channel's Unexplained Files.

The episode features a reconstruction of the event, which can be seen below.

"I had no idea what was taking place on my body, none," Mr Baker said.

"We were getting ready for fishing and sitting on the couch.

"Everything was great.

"Pete was sitting next to me, we were having a helluva time."

The pair leapt to their feet and were able to put out the flames.

There have been around 200 reported cases of spontaneous human combustion.

Boffins who studied the phenomenon in 1984 concluded most victims had been near fire sources when they burst into flames, and continued to burn because of flammable clothing and excess body fat.

However, Mr Baker, who lives in Vermont, US, does not believe this was the case for him.

"The doctor called (me), and said, 'Frank, this burned from the inside out,'" he said.


1932: Mrs. Charles Williamson suddenly burst into flames on a Janurary morning in 1932. She lived in Bladenboro, North Carolina, U.S.A. She had not been beside any kind of fire, and her dress had not been in contact with any cleaning fluid or other flammable substances. Her husband and daughter ripped the dress off her with their bare hands, but not any of them were burned by the flames. Not to soon after a pair of her husbands pants caught fire while hanging in the closet. The same thing happened to a bed, and curtains in an unoccupied room. Although the house was inspected by special investigators from gas and electric companies, arson experts, and police, there could be found no logical explanation for the sudden fires. The family described the flames as 'bluish, jetlike', and other adjacent objects were not affected. There was no smell, and no smoke and until the object was consumed the fire would not stop. - sent by jsoverei@schreiber.Lakeheadu.Ca

Jan. 13, 1943: 52 year old Allen M. Small was found burned to death in his Deer Isle, Maine home, U.S.A. The carpet beneath his body was scorched, but there was no other sign of fire in the house. Small's pipe was unlit and on a shelf, and his stove lids were all still in place. - sent by jsoverei@schreiber.Lakeheadu.Ca

March 1, 1953: Waymon Wood's body was discovered in the front seat of his closed car in Greenville, South Carolina, U.S.A. His car was stationed on the site of Bypass Route 291. Little remained of Wood, but his car was basically untouched, even though it contained half a tank of petrol. The windshield was the only damaged area; it had bubbled and sagged inward, an affect from the intense heat. - sent by bmuhwj@hotmail.com

 October, 1964: Mrs. Olga Worth Stephens, 75 years and a former actress suddenly burst into flames while waiting in her parked car. The burns were fatal, and she was killed before anyone could come to her aid. Firemen later concluded that nothing in the car could have started the blaze, and her car was undamaged. - sent by bmuhwj@hotmail.com

St. Petersburg, Florida. USA. July 1, 1951.

Mary Hardy Reeser, a 67-year-old widow, spontaneously combusted while sitting in her easy chair. The alarm was raised at about 8 a.m. July 2 when Reeser's landlady, Pansy Carpenter, arrived at her door with a telegram.
All that remained of the 175-pound woman and her chair was a few blackened seat springs, a section of her backbone, a small, shrunken skull, the size of a baseball, and one foot encased in a black stain slipper just beyond the four-foot circle. Plus about 10 pounds of ashes.

The police report declared that Mrs. Reeser went up in smoke when her highly flammable rayon-acetate nightgown caught fire, perhaps because of a dropped cigarette.

But one medical examiner stated that the 3,000-degree heat required to destroy the body should have destroyed the apartment as well. In fact, damage was minimal - the ceiling and upper walls were covered with soot. No chemical accelerants, incidentally, were found.

spontaneous human combustion of Mary Hardy Reeser

Police and FBI evidence.

Reeser's remains, which were largely ashes, were found among the remains of a chair in which she had been sitting. Only part of her left foot (which was wearing a slipper) remained. Plastic household objects at a distance from the seat of the fire were softened and had lost their shapes.

Reeser's skull had survived and was found among the ashes, but was 'shrunken' (sometimes with the added descriptive flourish of 'to the size of a teacup'). The extent of this shrinkage was enough to be remarked on by official investigators and was not an illusion caused by the removal of all facial features (ears, nose, lips, etc). The shrinking of the skull is not a regular feature of alleged cases of SHC, although the 'shrunken skull' claim has become a regular feature of anecdotal accounts of other SHC cases and numerous apocryphal stories.

On 7 July 1951, St. Petersburg police chief J.R. Reichert sent a box of evidence from the scene to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. He included glass fragments found in the ashes, six "small objects thought to be teeth," a section of the carpet, and the surviving shoe.

Even though the body was almost totally cremated, requiring very high temperatures, the room in which it occurred showed little evidence of the fire.

Reichert included a note saying: "We request any information or theories that could explain how a human body could be so destroyed and the fire confined to such a small area and so little damage done to the structure of the building and the furniture in the room not even scorched or damaged by smoke."

The FBI eventually declared that Reeser had been incinerated by the wick effect. A known user of sleeping pills, she had (said the FBI) fallen unconscious while smoking and set fire to her nightclothes. "Once the body starts to burn," the FBI wrote in its report, "there is enough fat and other inflammable substances to permit varying amounts of destruction to take place. Sometimes this destruction by burning will proceed to a degree which results in almost complete combustion of the body."

At the request of the Chief of Police, St. Petersburg, Florida, the scene was also investigated by physical anthropologist Wilton M Krogman. Professor Krogman, of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine[citation needed], had spent some time in the 1930s experimenting and examining the remains of such incidents, in order to aid in the detection of crimes.

Krogman was frequently consulted by the FBI for this reason but after examining the scene and reading the FBI's report, he strongly disputed the FBI's conclusions concerning Reeser. However, the full circumstances of the death - and Krogman's objections to the FBI's version of events - would not become known publicly for a decade.

In a 1961 article for The General Magazine and History Chronicle of the University of Pennsylvania, Krogman wrote extensively about the Reeser case. His remarks included:

"I find it hard to believe that a human body, once ignited, will literally consume itself -- burn itself out, as does a candle wick, guttering in the last residual pool of melted wax. Just what did happen on the night of July 1, 1951, in St. Petersburg, Florida? We may never know, though this case still haunts me."
With regard to Reeser's shrunken skull, Krogman wrote:

"The head is not left complete in ordinary burning cases. Certainly it does not shrivel or symmetrically reduce to a smaller size. In presence of heat sufficient to destroy soft tissues, the skull would literally explode in many pieces. I have never known any exception to this rule."
Krogman concluded:

"I cannot conceive of such complete cremation without more burning of the apartment itself. In fact the apartment and everything in it should have been consumed. I regard it as the most amazing thing I have ever seen. As I review it, the short hairs on my neck bristle with vague fear. Were I living in the Middle Ages, I'd mutter something about black magic."
Later, having put this statement on the record, Krogman moved away from this position. He instead put forward the theory that Reeser had been murdered at another location. Her murderer had access to crematorium-type equipment and had incinerated her body. The hypothetical murderer had then transported the results of the partial cremation back to the apartment and used portable heat-generating equipment to add the finishing touches, such as the heat-buckled plastic objects and the warm doorknob.



human combustion





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