Spontaneous Human Combustion is a terrifying mysterious event in which human being spontaneously burst into flames with no external sources. This phenomenon has been around for 300 years now and almost 200 cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion or SHC has been reported.
In this article, I will talk about the bizarre cases in history, which were believed to be caused by Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC).
Back in the 14th century, the first victim of SHC was an Italian knight, named Polonus Vorstius. According to the accounts of Danish Physician Thomas Bartholin, Vorstius was enjoying glasses of strong wine when he suddenly burst into flames. This happened around 1470 in his home in Milan. Polonus died burning in front of his parents. Physician Bartholin claimed that he got the story from one of the Vorstius family’s direct descendants. This event was written in Bartholin’s book, entitled Historiarum Anatomicarum Rariorum, a collection of strange medical phenomena.
Another earlier victim of SHC is a noblewoman in the 17th century. Countess Cornelia Di Brandi was seen halfway between a window and her bedroom burning. She was turned into ashes leaving only a trio of fingers on one hand and both lower legs. The room was covered with ash but no extensive fire damage was seen in her room.
The next notable account of SHC that was even brought to court was the case of Nicole Millet. The terrifying event happened in 1725 in Rheims France. Jean Millet, the husband of Nicole found his wife burned to death in the kitchen of their Lion d’Or inn. During the investigation, Jean was arrested and had a court trial. However, he was acquitted of the case of murder when a surgeon named Nicholas Le Cat convinced the court that Nicole died because of SHC. The final verdict in the court was that Nicole died because of a visitation from God.
Throughout the 19th century, there were many reports of Spontaneous Human Combustion. One of the first victim during this time was a 22-year-old woman named Phyllis Newcombe. According to reports, she was leaving a dance at the Shire Hall in England when she suddenly burst into flames. The flame started on her dress and she hurriedly ran back into the dancefloor but she collapsed. She later died in the hospital. Based on the investigations by Coroner L.F. Beccles, no cigarette or lit match was found on the path where Newcombe walked. The incident was reported as a spontaneous human combustion phenomenon.
In 1951, one of the most well-known cases of SHC occurred. The victim was a 62-year-old woman named Mary Reeser. According to a neighbor’s account, on July 2, she found Resser’s doorknob smoldering hot. She immediately asked for help from two workers and they found Reeser sitting on her chair burned. Reeser skull shrunk into a size of a teacup and the only visible parts of her body were her vertebrae and her left foot.
Police officers and a pathological doctor investigated the incident. Based on the examination, the apartment wall was covered with greasy substance but the apartment was intact. The electrical outlet melted only after the fire begun. Mary Reeser temperature reached around 2500 degrees, which can cause a fire in the entire apartment but this didn’t happen. A cigarette igniting her clothing would never produce as high as 2500 degrees. Nevertheless, the investigators concluded the case of Reeser’s fiery death caused by falling asleep with a cigarette on her hand.
In Pennsylvania, a spontaneous human combustion happened to a retired physician named Dr. John Irving Bentley. This incident captured the imagination of newspaper writers and readers in 1960s. His burned image is now one of the symbols of SHC in modern days. He was found in his toilet room scorched with only one leg as the remains.
Jean Lucille Saffin, a mentally handicapped woman burst into flames in her kitchen in 1982. She was with her father at that time, when she suddenly started burning. According to Jack Safin, Jean’s father, she saw her daughter enveloped in flames. He shouted for his son in law’s help and they brought Jean to a hospital. However, after 8 days, Jean died because of burn complications.
During the 20th century, there were still notable cases of SHC. A young Brazilian woman burst into flames as she was strolling on a road. According to reports, bystanders even tried to stop the flames but they couldn’t save the poor girl. The incident happened in a matter of seconds and the girl burned to death.
In 2010, Michael Faherty an Irishman was burned to death in his home. Based on the investigations, Faherty died due to spontaneous human combustion phenomenon. No evidence supported external sources of fire and thus led Officers to conclude it was an SHC incident.
Spontaneous Human Combustion Theories
Spontaneous Human Combustion is still a mystery to many even to scientists. Some theories suggested that SHC is caused by Methane that builds up in the intestines. Enzymes then ignite this methane. However, this theory can’t support the fact that external part of the body of SHC victims was more damaged than the internal organs.
Another theory claimed that a subatomic particle called pyroton interacts with the body cells to produce mini-explosion. Larry Arnold, an SHC expert, suggested this theory but no scientific proof was presented to validate the existence of pyroton.
Another possible explanation of SHC is the theory of “wick effect.” This theory proposes that the body acts like an inside-out candle. This happens when an external source of fire is exposed to the body. However, no external sources of fire were found in some cases of SHC.
With many reported cases throughout the history, spontaneous human combustion remained unsolved and a terrifying incident of the unknown mysteries of the world.