The Mystery of Burning from the Inside Out


“Spontaneous Human Combustion—do you think it is real?”  Gene Crenshaw asked his buddies at their Friday night poker game.

“Nah.  It’s a bunch of gibberish,” Hank replied

“It is too far out for me,” Larry agreed.

“Spontaneous Human Combustion?  You’re kidding!  What the hell is that?  You aren’t going to do that now, because you are losing, are you Gene?  Spontaneously combust?”  Duke asked.

“No, I am going to do that now, because I am winning!”  Gene exclaimed as he played a straight and claimed the pot.

When the groans subsided, Gene asked, “Ever read much Dickens?  Dickens described this enigma to a tee, and quite sickeningly in Bleak House.  Mr. Krook was the victim.”

“Yeah.  I read that, “Charles agreed.  “I have always been fascinated by it myself.  Some of the photos they have are pretty convincing.  I am sort of a believer.  Especially since there have been three or more candidates for this phenomena in fairly recent times.”

“Photos?”  Duke asked.  “Really?”

“Just a second.”  Charles got out his cell phone and pulled up Google images.  “Look at these!”

“Whoa!  That is pretty gruesome.  And I have to drive home all by myself tonight.  On top of everything else, I am broke, thanks to Gene, here.”  Despite his name, Duke was the drama queen of the group.

Spontaneous Human Combustion was first seriously reported in the August Journal of Philosophical Transaction of the Royal Society in 1745.  A sixty-two-year-old Italian countess went to bed feeling a little poorly and the next morning all that was found in her bedroom was a clump of ashes and her legs.

In 1806 Pierre Lair, a scientist, wrote:  Essay On the Combustion of Humans.

One of the most famous and well-documented cases was that of Mary Reeser of St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1951.  The plump, sixty-seven-year-old decided to rest in her armchair, next to an open window.  When visitors the next day got no response, and the doorknob was hot to the touch, they went in and found a greasy pile of ashes on some coiled springs along with a foot in a slipper.  Little else was burned.

On December 5, 1966, Dr. John Bentley was reduced to ashes.  A slippered foot and part of a leg remained next to his walker.

Over two hundred similar cases have been reported from all over the world.  Some victims have started to spontaneously combust and have been saved by quick intervention.

In an episode of The Science Channel’s Unexplained Files, a highly decorated U.S. Army veteran from the Vietnam War was saved by a friend.  He was suddenly engulfed in flames as he was sitting on a sofa one Vermont June in 1985.  The doctor reported that he had started burning from the inside out.

A sheriff said in 2013, of a death in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that Spontaneous Human Combustion cannot be ruled out.  He was reflecting on the strange case of sixty-five-year old Danny Vanzant.  All other causes of death had been eliminated.

More recently a baby in India has burst into flames four times.  It always starts on his belly and right knee.  The family has had to move because the villagers are superstitious and wary.  Doctors on the case are baffled.

In 2010, a coroner in Galway, Ireland recorded Spontaneous Human Combustion as an actual cause of death for seventy-six-year-old Michael Faherty.

In many of the incidents the victims are overweight, elderly and heavy consumers of alcohol.  Some are diabetics.  Other words that come up in a vague way besides alcohol are acetone and cortisol.  Many are near heat sources.   In the India case, phosphorus in the building materials of their hut was suspected for awhile, but the baby had some of the incidents after they moved away from the suspect’s domicile.

When witnessed, pale blue flames are seen on the surface of the body.

One theory is that clothes and body fat forms an inside-out candle.  Alcohol coming from the body’s pores ignites from the nearby heat source, or even a cigarette.  The heat of the fire melts the body fat, the body fat fuels the fire further.  This fire depletes the oxygen in the room so the fire does not spread elsewhere.  Just the body burns until the fuel is used up.

If SHC exists at all, it is very hard to comprehend.  The human body is mostly water and not very burnable to the point of ashes.  Therefore, it is provides a field day for skeptics.  There are some believers in the science community, in spite of this, and no real explanation of how else a human body can burn to ashes and not burn any of the surroundings.

After the poker game at Gene’s house, Duke decided he would go on a diet, and oh, he lay off the booze for awhile, too.


Please click the book cover image to read more about Sara Marie Hogg and her novels.

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