Spontaneous Human Combustion
Spontaneous human combustion is the alleged burning of a person's body without a readily apparent, identifiable external source of ignition. The combustion may result in simple burns and blisters to the skin, smoking, or a complete incineration of the body. The latter is the form most often recognized as SHC.
There is much speculation and controversy over SHC. It is not a proven natural occurrence, but many theories have attempted to explain SHC's existence and how it may occur. The two most common explanations offered to account for apparent SHC are the non-spontaneous "wick effect" fire, and the rare discharge called static flash fires. Although mathematically it can be shown that the human body contains enough energy stored in the form of fat and other tissues to consume it completely, in normal circumstances bodies will not sustain a flame on their own.
History of Spontaneous Human Combustion
Over the past 300 years, there have been more than 200 reports of persons burning to a crisp for no apparent reason.
The first reliable historic evidence of Spontaneous Human Combustion appears to be from the year 1673, 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 a man was acquitted of the murder of his wife when the court was convinced that she had been killed by spontaneous combustion. Millet, a hard-drinking Parisian was found reduced to ashes in his straw bed, leaving just his 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 rumor and into the popular public imagination.
On 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.
In the 1800's is evidenced in the number of writers that called on it for a dramatic death scene. Most of these authors were hacks that worked on the 19th century equivalent of comic books, "penny dreadfuls", so no one got too worked up about it; but two big names in the literary world also used SHC as a dramatic device, and one did cause a stir.
The first of these two authors was Captain Marryat who, in his novel Jacob Faithful, borrowed details from a report in the Times of London of 1832 to describe the death of his lead character's mother, who is reduced to "a sort of unctuous pitchey cinder."
Twenty years later, in 1852, Charles Dickens used Spontaneous Human Combustion to kill off a character named Krook in his novel Bleak House. Krook was a heavy alcoholic, true to the popular belief at the time that SHC was caused by excessive drinking. The novel caused a minor uproar; George Henry Lewes, philosopher and critic, declared that SHC was impossible, and derided Dickens' work as perpetuating a uneducated superstition. Dickens responded to this statement in the preface of the 2nd edition of his work, making it quite clear that he had researched the subject and knew of about thirty cases of SHC. The details of Krook's death in Bleak House were directly modeled on the details of the death of the Countess Cornelia de Bandi Cesenate by this extraordinary means; the only other case that Dickens actually cites details from is the Nicole Millet account that inspired Dupont's book about 100 years earlier. book about 100 years earlier.
In 1951, the Mary Reeser case recaptured the public interest in Spontaneous Human Combustion. Mrs. Reeser, 67, was found in her apartment on the morning of July 2, 1951, reduced to a pile of ashes, a skull, and a completely undamaged left foot. This event has become the foundation for many a book on the subject of SHC since, the most notable being Michael Harrison's Fire From Heaven, printed in 1976. Fire From Heaven has become the standard reference work on Spontaneous Human Combustion.
On 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.
On December 5, 1966, the ashes of Dr. J. Irving Bentley, 92, of Coudersport, Pennsylvania, were discovered by a meter reader. Dr. Bentley's body apparently ignited while he was in the bathroom and burned a 2-1/2-by-3-foot hole through the flooring, with only a portion of one leg remaining intact. Nearby paint was unscorched.
July 1, 1951 -- Perhaps the most famous case occurred in St. Petersburg, Florida. Mary Hardy Reeser, a 67-year-old widow, spontaneously combusted while sitting in her easy chair. The next morning, her next door neighbor tried the doorknob, found it hot to the touch and went for help. She returned to find Mrs. Reeser, or what was left of her, in a blackened circle four feet in diameter. All that remained of the 175-pound woman and her chair was a few blackened seat springs, a section of her backbone, a 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.
In 1944 Peter Jones, survived this experience and reported that there was no sensation of heat nor sighting of flames. He just saw smoke. He stated that he felt no pain.
Theories About Spontaneous Human Combustion
- Alchoholism - many Spontaneous Human Combustion victims have been alcoholics. But experiments in the 19th century demonstrated that flesh impregnated with alcohol will not burn with the intense heat associated with Spontaneous Human Combustion.
- Deposits of flammable body fat - Many victims have been overweight - yet others have been skinny.
- Devine Intervention - Centuries ago people felt that the explosion was a sign from God of punishment.
- Build-up of static electricity - no known form of electrostatic discharge could cause a human to burst into flames.
- An explosive combination of chemicals can form in the digestive system - due to poor diet.
- Electrical fields that exist within the human body might be capable of 'short circuiting' somehow, that some sort of atomic chain reaction could generate tremendous internal heat.
No satisfactory explanation of Spontaneous Human Combustion has ever been given. It is still an unsolved mystery.
What Remains After a Spontaneous Human Combustion Event
- The burns are not distributed evenly over the body; the extremities are usually untouched by fire, whereas the torso usually suffers severe burning.
- In some cases the torso is completely destroyed, the bones being reduced completely to ash.
- Small portions of the body (an arm, a foot, maybe the head) remain unburned.
- Only objects immediately associated with the body have burned; the fire never spread away from the body. SHC victims have burnt up in bed without the sheets catching fire, clothing worn is often barely singed, and flammable materials only inches away remain untouched.
- A greasy soot deposit covers the ceiling and walls, usually stopping three to four feet above the floor.
- Objects above this three to four foot line show signs of heat damage (melted candles, cracked mirrors, etc.)
- Although temperatures of about 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit are normally required to char a body so thoroughly (crematoria, which usually operate in the neighborhood of 2,000 degrees, leave bone fragments which must be ground up by hand), frequently little or nothing around the victim is damaged, except perhaps the exact spot where the deceased ignited.
Types of Spontaneous Human Combustion
All reported cases have occurred indoors.
The victims were always alone for a long period of time.
Witnesses who were nearby (in adjacent rooms) report never hearing any sounds, such as cries of pain or calls for assistance.
In the witnessed combustions - people are actually seen by witnesses to explode into flame; most commonly. Here the witnesses agree that there was no possible source of ignition and/or that the flames were seen to erupt directly from the victim's skin. Unfortunately, most of the known cases of this type are poorly documented and basically unconfirmed. Sometimes there are no flames seen by the witness.
Non-fatal cases - Unfortunately, the victims of these events generally have no better idea of what happened to them than do the investigators; but the advantage to this grouping is that a survivor can confirm if an event had a simple explanation or not. Thus, there are far fewer cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion with survivors that can be explained away by skeptics without a second look.
Sometimes victims develop burns on their bodies that have no known external cause. These strange wounds commonly start as small discomforts that slowly grow into large, painful marks.
Sometimes the victim will exhibit a mysterious smoke from the body. In these odd and rare occurrences smoke is seen to emanate from a person, with no associated fire or source of smoke other than the person's body.
Spontaneous Human Combustion Wikipedia
In the News ...
Danny Vanzandt May Have Died From Spontaneous Human Combustion Huffington Post - February 21, 2013
Did Spontaneous Combustion Kill a Man? Discovery - February 22, 2013
Sheriff Ron Lockhart of Sequoyah County hasn't yet determined that the death of 65-year-old Danny Vanzandt was definitely a case of spontaneous combustion - but he hasn't ruled it out, either. Vanzandt's brother discovered the victim in the kitchen and immediately called 911, according to KFSM. Fire crews found a badly burned body, but no fire damage to nearby furniture or other items. There were no signs of a break-in, a struggle or any other cause of death. Though the term "spontaneous combustion" sounds like a sudden burst of flames, Lockhart told KFSM the body appeared to have burned for up to 10 hours. Vanzandt's remains have been sent to the Oklahoma medical examiner's office in Tulsa, which will determine the cause of death.
Can people spontaneously combust? Daily Mail - September 30, 2011
The Romans (and Dickens) thought so. As it's given as a cause of death by a coroner. So what is the truth? When firemen were called to 76-year-old Irishman Michael Flaherty's home in the middle of the night last December, the sight that greeted them could have leapt from the pages of a Victorian murder mystery. Mr Flaherty's body had been burned away to little more than a pile of ashes. Apart from the floor below him and ceiling above, the room was not damaged. There were no signs of foul play or anything that could have caused the ignition. Mr Flaherty was lying on his back in the living room with his head near an empty fireplace, but firemen found no sign of accelerants such as petrol and there was no evidence of anyone having entered or left the scene.
'First Irish case' of death by spontaneous combustion BBC - February 23, 2011
A man who burned to death in his home died as a result of spontaneous combustion, an Irish coroner has ruled. West Galway coroner Dr Ciaran McLoughlin said it was the first time in 25 years of investigating deaths that he had recorded such a verdict. Michael Faherty, 76, died at his home in Galway on 22 December 2010. Deaths attributed by some to "spontaneous combustion" occur when a living human body is burned without an apparent external source of ignition. Typically police or fire investigators find burned corpses but no burned furniture.
From Crystalinks @ http://www.crystalinks.com/shc.html
10 Cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion
image via Circa71.
Take a look at ten actual cases of spontaneous human combustion, and decide for yourself.
10. The Latest Case
The latest case made headlines in September of this year as the first Irish case of spontaneous human combustion. People found the burned body of an elderly man lying with his head near the furnace of his apartment. Coroners determined, though, that the furnace was not the source of the conflagration, nor was there any accelerant on the body, nor was there any evidence of foul play. This case was typical of spontaneous human combustion in that there were burn marks on the floor and ceiling directly below and above the body, but no other burn marks anywhere in the room.
9. The First Case
The first mention of spontaneous human combustion in the history books is Polonus Vorstius. Polonus was just a regular Italian knight in the late 1400s who liked wine, women, and song. He consumed 'two ladles' of very strong wine one night, and it disagreed with him. People say that he immediately vomited flame, and then burst into flames entirely. No one else seemed to have any problem with the wine, and people were baffled as to how this happened. They're still baffled now.
8. The Gruesome Details
Spontaneous human combustion has claimed the life at least one member of the nobility; Countess Cornelia Di Bandi. The Countess, who lived in the 1700s, was found half way between her bed and her window one morning, with everything except her lower legs and three fingers burned. She had apparently calmly risen from her bed to open the window in the middle of the night, but combusted before she could reach the window. In the room, two candles had been burned - or at least the tallow had been burned. The wicks were left, completely unburned. Soot covered the room, including some bread on a plate that she had left on a table. Just as a indication of how strange the 1700s were; the bread was taken from the plate and offered to a dog. The dog refused to eat it, making it the most sensible player in that incident.
7. Two Disappearances
Ginette Kazmierczak lived with her husband and son in France in the 1970s. When her husband disappeared mysteriously, Ginette contacted the authorities to try to find them. They couldn't find anything. A few days later, while her son was out with some friends, a neighbor found Ginette's body, except for her legs, reduced to ash in an otherwise undisturbed apartment.
6. The Fire Inside
In 1967, a passenger on a bus in England noticed blue flames in the window of an apartment building hallway. She thought it was a gas jet and called the fire brigade. When they got to the place, they supposedly found the body of Robert Francis Bailey, a homeless man. A fireman reported seeing a slit in the man's abdomen from which blue flames were issuing.
5. When spontaneous combustion won a court case
Nicole Millet, the wife of a Parisian innkeeper in 1725, was found after her husband roused the entire inn when he smelled smoke. What was left of her was in the kitchen, almost completely reduced to ash, with the wooden utensils around her unburned. Other accounts have her burned on her straw pallet, with the straw only a little damaged. That looked suspicious, and so her husband was tried and found guilty of murder. On appeal, though, he used the 'spontaneous human combustion' defense, and was exonerated. Nicole's death was found to be due to 'a visitation of God.'
4. A flaming, shrinking skull takes America by storm
In St. Petersburg, Florida, a landlady was making the rounds in her apartment building when she noticed one doorknob was incredibly hot. The tenant, Mary Reeser, did not respond to her calls, and so she called for people to open the door. Inside, she found Reeser's remains, in the middle of a six-foot scorched area of carpet. A chair and an end table in the middle of the scorch mark were upright, indicating that there was no activity. Nearby on the floor, a pile of newspapers were untouched by the flames. The body, on the other hand, was reduced to ash except for a skull and a completely undamaged foot. Some reports, which just may be exaggerated, say that the skull was shrunk down to the size of a teacup.
3. When spontaneous combustion lost a court case
Jack Angel, who had been hospitalized with severe burns, brought a court case against the manufacturer of his hot water heater for three million dollars. He said that he went to check the malfunctioning heater and it blew and scalded him. However, a doctor noted that his body had burned from the inside out, not the outside in. Shortly afterward, he changed his story and said he fell asleep only to wake up with terrible burns all over his body, and sold his story as a survivor of spontaneous human combustion. Was he one of the only people to survive spontaneously combusting?
2. The Twilight Zone could be in an episode of The Twilight Zone
A gentleman in Crown Point, New York actually seemed to spontaneously combust when he was watching an episode of The Twilight Zone television show. There is no report on which episode of The Twilight Zone it was.
1. The witnessed case
There is only one case of human combustion for which there is a witness. A mentally disabled woman lived with her father, who cared for her. One day he saw a flash out of the corner of his eye, and turned to find her on fire. Despite the flames, she continued to quietly sit in a chair, not reacting and not giving any indication she was in pain. The man's attempts to put the fire out left him with burned hands. The woman lived through the combustion, but slipped into a coma and died shortly afterwards. This indicates one of the strangest parts of human combustion. It takes a very hot flame to reduce a human body to ash. Crematoriums have special chambers designed for it. However, in almost all combustions, there's no burns in the room around the body, indicating that the person simply stayed in one place. Whatever the cause of this combustion, it seems to knock people out first.
First Image: Matthias Kabel
Gavel Image: MGalloLaw
Via The BBC, Anomaly Info twice, Crytal Links, Mental Floss, and Kentucky Cryptids @ http://io9.gizmodo.com/5855700/10-cases-of-spontaneous-human-combustion
For more information about spontaneous human combustion see http://nexusilluminati.blogspot.com/search/label/spontaneous%20human%20combustion
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