Spontaneous Human Combustion

Marcus Lowth
Published Date
April 14, 2019
Last Updated
September 28, 2021
Estimated Reading Time
21 min read
Posted in
Conspiracy Theory Analysis, Unsolved & Unexplained

We are all perhaps familiar with it, despite there being no officially recognized condition, but spontaneous human combustion is something that has taken many lives over the years, as well as being responsible for perplexing many minds as to just what is happening.

It isn’t simply that people are seemingly bursting into flames for no reason, but these fires are so intensely hot the victim becomes nothing more than ash. Further deepening the mystery is that in almost all such cases, the fire burns solely on the person and never spreads to any surrounding areas. Science tells us that this should not happen – certainly not in the circumstances these tragic incidents often occur in.

A depiction of a head bursting into flames with a laid out wicker body superimposed on top

Spontaneous human combustion

It is indeed a truly scary and unnerving thought that one could quite literally burst into flames at any given moment. And what’s more, there are some truly remarkable statistics. For example, around 60% of all known cases involved women. Even more bizarre, over 50% of cases of spontaneous human combustion took place between midnight and 6 am.

As we will examine, cases of this bizarre and most often fatal phenomenon can be found right through history. And what’s more, they are still very much happening today.


Claims And Basic Theories

Perhaps due to it still being an unexplained, and in some cases, an unrecognized phenomenon, what we collectively know about Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) is certainly is not as strong as it could be.

There are, however, some basics that multiple researchers over the decades have highlighted as being common to such cases.

For example, as we mentioned above, and certainly as we will examine as we move forward, quite often in cases of spontaneous human combustion, the victims appear to have burned at such a high temperature they are often reduced to ash. At least most of them are. Quite often a single leg, foot, or hand may be left, seemingly unscathed.

Perhaps one of the most bizarre mysteries of this strange phenomena is the fact that despite these obviously fatally high temperatures, most often there is little to no damage to the areas surrounding the victim. This, despite flammable materials surrounding the pile of ash, and in some cases, the victim seemingly sat on a chair, all of which should have been engulfed. Some even liken to body to a candle – the “wick effect” – claiming that once the body has burnt the fire dies out.

A depiction of intense flames

Spontaneous Combustion

There have even been, particularly in the nineteenth century and early 1900s, substantial exploration between alcoholism and such cases of SHC. As we will discover, even today at least some of the victims of this unknown killer were indeed known to drink quite heavily. And while it would appear that said links are largely unfounded and misunderstood thinking of the times, there is undoubtedly a tentative connection between the two.

Perhaps the best place to start our look at this morbidly fascinating phenomenon would be to look at some of the earliest written examples.

Early Examples From History

Given that examples are on record at least as far back as the 1600s [1] of what we would very likely call spontaneous human combustion, it is very likely that the phenomena go back as far as our collective origins do.

In fact, such cases must have steadily increased in the years and decades that would follow this initial account of the mid-1600s. So much so that by 1800, a “checklist” of likely details to look for in victims of spontaneous human combustion by researcher, Pierre Aimi Lair. [2]

He would also highlight that victims were likely to be drinkers of large amounts of alcohol, or make “immoderate use” of such spirits, most likely in perfumes. He would further note that many of the victims were elderly, or certainly in their “advanced” years of their lives.

A pattern of flames on a black background

Just what causes spontaneous human combustion?

As we will see when we examine just a handful of some of the accounts on record, Lair would note that “extremities” such as hands or feet were often left unburned and that the fires were limited to the victims only, causing no damage at all to the surrounding areas. Perhaps most intriguing of these findings of the very early nineteenth century, was that the use of water in such circumstances would “fan the flames” as opposed to putting them out, and even stranger, at least according to Lair’s research, most of the victims were women.

As we know today, some of Lair’s research was incorrect. However, certain aspects – perhaps most notably, the presence of alcohol – remained central to his work. The following are just a handful of some of the initial reports of spontaneous human combustion.

The “Polish Knight” Incident – One Of The First Written Examples Of SHC

Although the telling of the story alters across the ages, credit for the first written account would appear to go to Thomas Bartholin, who would write the account in Latin while in Milan in Italy in 1654. However, many who have studied the texts and the history of spontaneous human combustion express their frustration with the “poorly written and translated” nature of the account.

In general, the basics of the story are that the knight in question, who served Queen Bona Sforza, was enjoying an evening of feasting and fine brandy. The tale goes that he would pour a glass of the rich, amber, fluid, drain it, and then pour another before taking a seat at the fine table spread with the evening’s feast.

The unnamed knight (a good example of the frustration of researchers of such lack of detail) would feel the brandy burn its way down his gullet and to his stomach. However, he could then feel the sensation rising back up, as if the brandy was coming straight back up again. When he opened his mouth, however, it wasn’t brandy that came forth, but flames and fire, which in turn would engulf the knight with alacrity.

Nicole Miller – Death “By A Visitation Of God”, France, 1725

Not only did the husband of Nicole Miller have to cope with the bizarre and sudden death of his wife in France in 1725, but he also had to defend himself against accusations of her murder. Nicole’s incinerated body – or what remained of it – was discovered in a chair, which itself was completely undamaged. This would lead to the accusation that her husband had killed Nicole elsewhere. He was promptly arrested and charged.

He most likely would have met his end on the guillotine had it not been for the surgeon, Nicholas Le Cat, who would speak at his trial. The lawyer would offer that Nicole Miller was almost certainly a victim of the phenomena known as spontaneous human combustion. The court would ultimately drop the charges against Nicole’s husband, and the official ruling was that she had died “by a visitation of God”.

Flames reaching upwards against a black background


Interestingly, over a century later in 1853, Charles Dickens would use the case as part of his fictional story, Bleak House. This not only endorses the apparent widespread knowledge and acceptance of such a bizarre and fiery end, but also shows, on occasion, that such fictional works can also provide a small peek into the reality of their times.

In fact, returning to Dickens’ account for a moment, albeit that it is fiction, it provides a remarkable insight into the realities of SHC. We know this is true due to the copious amounts of research that has taken place over the years. Where, then, did Dickens, who like any fiction writer would have researched such topics before incorporating them into his work, get such an accurate description of a spontaneous human combustion incident?

He would have undoubtedly had had connections in many directions throughout society. In fact, we will examine the aforementioned description next.

The “Silent Lightning” Incident Of Countess de Bandi Cesante, Verona, Italy, 1731

According to the written documentation, on the evening of 3rd April 1731 in Verona, Italy, Countess de Bandi Cesante finished her evening meal as normal and would then retire to bed. Nothing out of the ordinary was apparent to the maid, who spoke to the countess for several hours in her room, other than she felt “dull and heavy”.

After she fell asleep, the maid left the room, planning to return in the morning when her mistress called her after waking.

A depiction of molten-type heat

Are the temperatures involved in spontaneous human combustion beyond what we can imagine?

However, the following morning, assuming the countess had overslept or perhaps feeling unwell from the previous evening, the maid entered the bedroom to wake her. What greeted her was a sight she was simply not prepared for. The official report would read:

Four feet distance from the bed there was a heap of ashes, two legs untouched, from the foot to the knee with their stockings on. Between them was the lady’s head – whose brains, half of the back part of the skull. And the whole chin, were burnt to ashes, among which was found three fingers, blackened. All the rest was ashes, which had this peculiar quality, that they left in the hand when taken up, a stinking moisture!

Despite the obvious carnage of the gruesome smoldering display on the floor, there was no further damage to the rest of the room. An oil lamp sat on the side but was empty of oil. Furthermore, the two candles that sat in their holders were unlit. The blankets on the bed were turned down as though someone had been asleep and had left their bed temporarily, fully expecting to return very shortly.

A Combination Of Factors Create A Potent Fuel?

Perhaps the conclusions of the incident are even more remarkable than whatever actually did take place. Satisfied that the countess was “not a drinker”, nor was there any evidence of the oil lamp catching fire and being the source of the flames, the report would state that she had risen from her bed during the evening, possibly to open the window or to take a drink.

However, upon doing so she was, according to the report, struck by “silent lightning”. Furthermore, this electric assailant had “crept in through a crack in the window or down the fireplace” where it ultimately made contact with the countess.

Whether clearer thinking or just a simple evaluation of how bizarre the conclusion sounded, the final analysis was eventually altered. Now the report would look to the high amount of perfume that Cesante would apply as being the reason she would seemingly burst into flames in the middle of the night while her bed was unaffected.

A spark on a black background

what might be the start of spontaneous human combustion?

Just over a decade after her death, however, Paul Rolli would write in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London that:

Such an effect was not produced by the light of the oil-lamp, or of any candles; because common fire, even in a pile, does not consume a body to such a degree and would have besides spread itself to the goods of the chamber, more combustible than a human body!

Rolli would suggest that a combination of factors was likely at work. For example, he would suggest that “flammable gases” mixed with the alcohol from the perfume could unintentionally produce a “potent fuel” that could then “incinerate the body” immediately. By the time the limbs, head and other leftovers of the body were reached, Rolli would suggest, the fuel had burned out.

Matilda Rooney “Bursts Into Flames” On Christmas Eve, Seneca, Illinois, 1885

On Christmas Eve 1885 in Seneca, a small farming community in Illinois, Matilda Rooney was in her kitchen while her husband, Patrick, was in a neighboring room. Although the exact details are unknown, at some stage during the evening Matilda would literally “burst into flames”. Within moments, she was dead and reduced to a pile of ash.

Even more bizarre, Patrick was later discovered dead in another room, apparently suffocated from the fumes. This, even though there was no outward damage to the rest of the property.

A close up of flames


The discovery would leave investigators perplexed. There was no evidence of foul play. And furthermore, one of the farm workers who had spent several hours with the pair on the night in question said everything was normal when he left. The couple were ready to celebrate the holidays and were each enjoying a glass of whiskey.

What confused investigators further was the fact that there was no sign of any external accelerant to suggest what might have caused the first in the first place. It would seem, from all of the evidence available, that the only source of the flames was Matilda herself.

Twentieth Century Cases

As we might imagine, as the twentieth century unfolded, many more accounts of spontaneous human combustion are found on record, which themselves were increasingly accurate and detailed [3] with each passing decade. Below is just a small selection of some of the most intriguing and, at times, disturbing cases.

Young Sik Kim Incinerated In Fifteen Minutes, Hawaii 1956

One afternoon in December 1956, 78-year-old Young Sik Kim sat in his wheelchair reading his newspaper. [4] His paralysis meant he spent most of his time in such a position, but he still lived as full a life as one could in such circumstances.

On this particular afternoon, however, something strange happened. From out of nowhere, flames began to emerge from his torso area. They were strange in nature, as if they had a kind of intelligence, moving in all directions and spreading out over his body within a matter of seconds.

A zombie with red eyes staring out of flames

Does spontaneous combustion happen more than we might think?

When his neighbor, Virginia Cadet, rushed over to see what the shouts and screams were, she was shocked to see the elderly Sik Kim with blue flames covering his entire body. After snapping back to her senses, she ran to get help.

She would return no later than fifteen minutes later. Where her neighbor had been was now only a pile of ash and two, bizarrely unburned feet. Much like many other cases of spontaneous human combustion, before and after, no other part of the room was affected, or even damaged by the apparent intense blaze – despite the flammable nature of much of the room.

In fact, when further analysis of the scene went ahead, investigators simply couldn’t account for why the piles of clothes, books, and other flammable items all around where Sik Kim met his unfortunate end, had simply not gone up in flames as the laws of science suggest they should.

The death, or more to the point the reasons it occurred, remain a mystery.

The Remains Of Dr. John Irving Bentley – A Symbol Of PHC, Couldersport, Pennsylvania, 1966

Perhaps one of the most famous cases of spontaneous human combustion – if only because the picture of his remains is generally the first image that comes to mind for most of us – is that of 92-year-old retired physician, Dr. John Irving Bentley.

Sometime shortly after 9 pm on the 4th December 1966, it would appear that Bentley would seemingly burst into flames in the bathroom of his home.

On the following morning on the 5th December, Don Gosnell would let himself into the property, as was prearranged, so that he could read the meters at the property. However, as soon as he did so, and made his way to the basement of the property, he noticed a strange burnt smell. There was also a blue-type smoke hanging in the air.

The foot and lower leg of Dr. Bentley in a pile of ash

The remains of Dr. Bentley

In fact, at his feet on the floor of the basement was a small pile of ash. Satisfied, whatever it was, this was the source of the smell and the smoke, he went upstairs to the room directly above where he was – the bathroom.

When he entered, however, on the floor was the lower leg and foot, wearing an undamaged slipper of Dr. Bentley. Next to the foot was a huge pile of ash, as well as his walking frame. Furthermore, on the ground a hole had burned through the wooden floorboards, allowing the ash to escape to the basement below.

Robert Bailey “Burning From The Inside Out” In A Derelict Building, London, 1967

On the morning of 13th September 1967, at a little after 5 am in Lambeth in South London, early morning commuters to work would stumble across one of the most surreal and bizarre sights any of them likely ever witnessed.

Inside the property, although unbeknown at that moment to the onlookers, was a local man and known alcoholic, Robert Bailey, who was burning to death due to a strange, blue flame emanating from the stomach area of his torso.

Responding to a call received from concerned members of the public at 5:19 am, five minutes later John Stacey arrived courtesy of Lambeth Fire Brigade. He would later recall:

When we entered the building, he (Bailey) was lying on the bottom of the stairs half-turned onto his left side and his knees were drawn up as though he was trying to bend the pain from his stomach. There was about a four-inch slit in his stomach and the flame was emanating from that … like a blow-torch. It was a blue flame!

Stacey would order the use of several fire extinguishers in the hope that Bailey was still alive. However, such efforts would prove futile. Stacey would further state, though, the flame was “coming from inside the body itself” and that:

…he was literally burning from the inside out!

Perhaps making the grizzly account even more so is the final detail of the positioning of Bailey’s corpse following the extinguishing of the flames. His mouth was biting down on one of the mahogany stairs near to his body such was the obvious agony he was in. His jaw had to be forced open in order to remove the body.

No Explanation For The “Blow Torch-Like” Blue Flames

The following investigation into the intriguing but gruesome death of Robert Bailey was indeed perplexed by some of the details that would present themselves.

For example, despite the obvious pain and heat of the flames, except around the stomach area, Bailey’s clothes were virtually undamaged. As was the surrounding area, most of which was wooden and subject to the grip of the flames.

Even more bizarre was that both gas and electricity had long been cut-off from the house as it was unoccupied. No other accelerant, matches, or a lighter was discovered anywhere on or near the property.

An inner nucleus of a release of energy

Spontaneous combustion spark

Despite these truly bizarre circumstances, including why the flames began in the first place, the initial official cause of death would go on the record as “asphyxia” due to fume inhalation. However, a second investigation was soon launched due to the absolutely surreal nature of the incident. On this occasion, the official ruling was “unknown causes”.

Incidentally, the “wick effect” would not adequately explain this particular case, not least due to the “blowtorch-like” flame emerging from the inside of the body itself. And given that people began noticing the light from the flames a little after 5 am, it would seemingly take a considerable amount of time for the flames to consume Bailey. And why, like in other cases, was there an apparent calmness as opposed to the frantic running around one might imagine would accompany a person engulfed in flames.

Jack Angel Survives SHC Episode But Has Arm Amputated, Georgia, 1974

During 1974, Jack Angel would spend a great deal of his time on the road as a traveling salesman around various places around the United States. One particular evening, he would park outside a hotel and then move into the back of his motorhome and settle down for the night.

In perhaps an important case of spontaneous human combustion, not least because the victim survived, Angel would awaken in the middle of the not in great pain and with severe burns to his arms and torso. In fact, one of his arms was so badly damaged that it would later have to be amputated.

Bizarrely, however, there was no damage to any part of the motorhome. Given the extent of his injuries, the entire vehicle should have been a shell. In fact, he himself should be nothing more than charred remains.

For reasons he doesn’t understand, however, the flames went out. Was he really asleep during this incident? Or, as is the case in many other accounts of SHC, was he in some kind of trance that prevented him from acting?

What makes the case even stranger is that no electrical faults were found in the motorhome, nor was there any evidence of an accelerant or source of the fire. While the case remains unsolved and very much still a mystery, with nowhere to go with it and no leads, police would close it.

Jean Saffin Had “Flames Coming Out Of Her Mouth Like A Dragon!”, London, 1982

What is perhaps interesting about the spontaneous human combustion case of 61-year-old, Jean Saffin in September 1982 was that it took place right under the nose of her father. Saffin, who was mentally disabled, lived with her family in London in the United Kingdom.

On this particular afternoon, while her father sat at a table near to where his daughter sat, he would suddenly notice a “flash of light” in the limit of his peripheral vision. When he turned to look ask his daughter what the flash was, to his horror she sat there calmly completely engulfed in flames.

Her father would literally drag her to the sink and began throwing water over her from the running tap. He called out to his son to come and assist. They would eventually succeed in smothering and killing the flames.

An explosion of flames

Engulfed in flames

They would call emergency services who would take Jean to hospital. However, despite all efforts to aid in her recovery, she would fall into a coma and die eight days later. Despite an investigation into the cause of the flames, the police could not state what their origin was.

It remained Jean’s father’s opinion that his daughter was a victim of spontaneous human combustion. And he wasn’t the only family member to think so. Jean’s brother-in-law, Donald Carrol, would state in court that:

The flames were coming out of her mouth like a dragon. And they (the flames) were making a roaring noise!

However, the coroner would state that he could not record the death as a result of spontaneous human combustion as there was “no such thing”.

Frank Black Bursts Into Flames Twice, 1985

Perhaps one of the most well-known cases of spontaneous human combustion, thanks in part due to it featuring in the television series The Unexplained Files, features Vietnam veteran, Frank Black.  Fortunately for Black, his experiences would prove not to be fatal. [5] However, they are no less intriguing.

In June 1985 Baker and his friend, Pete Wiley were planning on going a fishing trip. As the pair sat in Baker’s living room with Baker on the sofa, he would suddenly notice his arm burst into flames out of nowhere. Between his own efforts and those of his friend they put out the flames. He would, though, seek medical advice before embarking on their planned trip.

Bizarrely, and a little unnerving for Black, the doctor who examined the burn marks from the mysterious incident would remark that the injury appeared as though it “burned from the inside out”.

A second incident would take place shortly after during the aforementioned fishing trip. The pair would manage to smother the flames once again, but the encounter unnerved Black to say the least. The short video below features The Unexplained Files episode looking at Black’s encounter.

Agnes Philips Burns To Death In A Parked Car, Australia 1998

On the afternoon of the 24th August 1998, Agnes Philips would leave the nursing home where she stayed in Sydney, Australia, with her daughter, Jackie Park. As Agnes suffered with Alzheimer’s, Jackie would often simply drive around and allow her mother to enjoy the countryside.

On this particular afternoon, with her mother asleep in the passenger seat, Jackie would pull up outside a local store where she could pick up some groceries before taking her mother back to the nursing home.

Only several minutes later, while still inside the shop, Jackie could see smoke rising up from the car. Then, even more harrowing and bizarre in equal measure, an “explosion of flames” then emerged from the vehicle.

An object burning intensely on the ground

What makes spontaneous human combustion start?

As Jackie ran from the store, she witnessed a passer-by drag her mother from the car and smother the flames taking hold around her body. All the while, the elderly lady was calm and seemingly unconcerned with the flames suddenly all around her. She would state, instead, that it was “too hot” several times.

She would suffer burns to most of her body, however, and would ultimately pass away a week after the incident.

In the inquest that would follow, there was no apparent source of the flames. Nor was the car engine running at the time, meaning an electrical fault was also unlikely. Furthermore, no external accelerants were found anywhere near the vehicle, and neither Agnes or Jackie smoked. Although the incident wasn’t ruled as spontaneous human combustion, the official conclusion was an “open verdict”.

Incidents In The Contemporary Age

In the age of the Internet in the 2000s, accounts from all over the world are circulated far and wide. And what’s more, they happen almost in real time. This is interesting in that it leads us to ask, are cases of spontaneous human combustion increasing? Or is it a case of an increasing number of people with the means to document such cases before they are lost in the sands of time? Might such cases of SHC have always happened at such a rate, although previously only a smaller percentage of them found their way to the wider public record?

The following are just a handful of such incidents from the 2000s.

Unnamed Lady “Bursts Into Flames” On Street In Brazil, 2007

Perhaps one of the strangest of the more recent cases of spontaneous human combustion occurred in Brazil on the 16th December 2007. An unnamed woman, in full view of several witnesses, would become “incinerated within seconds” after they suddenly burst into flames [6] without warning.

Such was the damage – in only a matter of seconds – that the young woman was “beyond recognition” as an individual. In fact, the mystery woman’s entire upper torso, arms, and left leg were similarly wiped out from the intense heat. Bizarrely, the lower right leg remained undamaged.

As did her clothes. One investigator would note how it appeared as though her body had burned “from the inside out”.

There were plenty of theories as to what happened to cause such a bizarre and deadly incident. Some would state that “ball lightning” was to blame. Other theories, altogether grimmer, would suggest that the mystery lady was the victim of a local “gang initiation”. However, these theories were largely dismissed, largely due to there being no sign of any type of accelerant being found on the remains.

The case remains unexplained. The pictures below, while graphic, show the extent of the injuries.

The burnt-out remains of an unknown lady in Brazil

The remains of the unknown lady in Brazil


Close-up of the burnt-out remains of an unknown lady in Brazil

The unknown lady in Brazil simply burst into flames

Michael Faherty’s Death Officially Ruled As Spontaneous Human Combustion, Ireland 2010

What made the death of 76-year-old, Michael Faherty stand out even more than the strange circumstances around it, was the fact that it was the first time, in over a quarter of a century in his position, that the coroner, Dr. Ciaran McLoughlin, would rule the death was officially due to spontaneous human combustion.

The evidence at the scene, at least to those familiar to it, clearly screamed such a scenario. [7] Investigators from the West Galway region of Ireland could not understand how such a blaze had seemingly reduced Faherty as it did, without the use of an accelerant. What’s more, the flames had not spread, despite all known science suggesting they should have.

In fact, there was only any damage noticed directly underneath and above where his remains were discovered.

Despite his findings, McLoughlin would state it remains his belief that “some source of ignition” must have been responsible for the fire. However, at the time of his ruling, there was “no adequate explanation” he could offer.

The remains of human legs in an otherwise pile of ash

The remains of human legs in an otherwise pile of ash

The Death Of Danny Vanzandt – Clearly A Case Of SHC? Oklahoma, 2013

In early-2013 in Muldrow, Oklahoma, investigators would investigate the death of 65-year-old Danny Vanzandtr after his charred body was discovered in his otherwise undamaged home. [8]

Perhaps interestingly, Vanzandt was another apparent victim of spontaneous human combustion who had long problems with alcoholism. He was also a particularly heavy smoker. These two factors, at least to those who knew little else would seemingly make it clear enough what had taken place.

Close-up frontal picture of Danny Vanzandt

Danny Vanzandtr

However, for officers at the scene and working the case, this was far from reality. Aside from the fact that there was no damage to the property other than minimal scorch marks where the remains of the body were found, there was no evidence that a cigarette was responsible for the blaze. Or that Vanzandt was drinking at the (presumed) time of his death.

Furthermore, there were no signs of a break-in, a struggle, or anything that would suggest any type of untoward ending to his life.

Despite all of this, the body was one of the most “badly incinerated” that investigators had ever seen. Whatever happened to Danny Vanzandt remains a mystery.

Local Lady Becomes Engulfed In Flames In A German Park, 2015

Another incident that took place in full of view of multiple onlookers would unfold in the small town of Flensburg near Hamburg, Germany in November 2015. While sitting on a bench in a crowded park, a locally known but unnamed woman in her 40s suddenly burst into flames. [9]

In fact, so fast were the events that took place, the lady’s entire body was quickly completely awash with fire and despite efforts to smother the flames, she was quickly overcome and quickly burned top death.

Like many such other accounts, a surge of theories and suggestions as to what might have been behind such a sudden, strange, and brutal death would spill forth onto the Internet.

Some people would speculate that the woman’s death was clearly a suicide. However, there was nobody who could state they had witnessed any type of self-immolation. And furthermore, those who did know the tragic woman would dismiss such notions.

Things took a little bit of a twist when several witnesses claimed to see “two men” fleeing the area in the immediate aftermath of the bizarre situation. These sightings, though, would ultimately be placed on the backburner.

Much like many of the other incidents where an attack is put forward as an explanation, no external accelerant was found anywhere at the scene.

Drunken Man Has Flames Emerge From Torso In Serbian Doorway, 2016

One of the most recent cases of spontaneous human combustion occurred in January 2016 when a since-removed video appeared online showing a clearly drunk man asleep in a doorway in the small town of Novi Sad in Serbia. [10] However, as people close to the person filming look on, bizarre “white flames” appeared to emerge from the man’s torso.

Depiction of a man in a doorway with flames coming from his torso

Reproduction of incident in Serbia, 2016

Within seconds, the flames appear to be about to engulf the man, who himself appears completely unconcerned with what is happening. Ultimately, before the flames spread and engulf him completely the man staggers to his feet and appear to brush the intense flames away before walking away from the location before the footage ends.

As with all such cases, particularly those open to the views and opinions of the Internet, there were numerous claims from people as to what was behind the footage. Including that it was a hoax.

Whatever the truth of the incident, and indeed the all of the encounters highlighted above, perhaps our following case is one of the most famous.

The Truly Bizarre Case Of Mary Reeser – A Death Of Interest To The FBI!

One of the earliest apparent cases of spontaneous human combustion, at least in the (relatively speaking) modern era, is that of Mary Reeser. [11] She would seemingly burst into flames one July evening in 1951. The remains of the sixty-seven-year-old from St. Petersburg, Florida, would sit patiently in the remnants of a chair in the living room of her home.

All that did remain of Mary was a skull fragment, a piece of her spine and one of her feet. Even the chair she sat on, like the rest of her body, was now nothing more than ash. Strangely, the rest of the room remained untouched. The fire had contained itself to the chair and Mary Reeser.

The burnt ash-like remains of Mary Reeser

The case of Mary Reeser is one of the most well-known cases of spontaneous human combustion

What’s more, it seemingly would die out as soon as Mary and the chair had burned away. Considering the high temperature required to achieve this, it is highly unlikely that this would have happened. In reality, the fire should have consumed the entire building – but it hadn’t!

The FBI would conclude – bizarrely to some – that Mary had fallen asleep while smoking a cigarette. And had burned to death as a result. The case is officially closed, but many researchers reject this version of events.

Did they simply shut down the investigation so quickly, and seemingly unsatisfactory, due to it being in an area they had no knowledge of? Or might they know more about this gruesome phenomena than most, and dismiss such cases purposely? Their reasons, like the phenomena, remain a mystery. And, to some, a source of suspicion.

An Unknown But Very Real Phenomenon

Might the FBI have known more than they let on? And if so, what type of avenue would researchers be traveling down to get to such potential truth? Might an understanding of spontaneous human combustion allow us to understand the human body and genetics more so than we do at the moment? Or might it open our understanding to phenomenon all around us, of which SHC cases might be a consequence?

For example, some researchers suggest cases of spontaneous human combustion is the result of the opening and closing of unseen electrical energy fields, of which, some unfortunate people are in the wrong place at the wrong time (remember the claim of “silent lightning in the 1700s).

Others believe the explanation, while no less fascinating, lies in a complex, and not yet understood combination of body fats and their potential flammability, static and internal electricity in the human body, and any number of external sources – including, as we have seen repeatedly – alcohol.

Some, particularly hundreds of years ago, firmly believe such cases of spontaneous human combustion were the result of Devine Intervention. Or even Devine Punishment. Or even the result of an encounter with The Devil.

Whatever the truth might one day prove to be behind the very real and most often deadly phenomenon we know as spontaneous human combustion, we should make no mistake that it is a real phenomenon. And one that humanity would do well to understand sooner rather than later.

Check out the video below. One of many intriguing and fascinating documentaries on yet another phenomena of our world that we have such a tiny understanding of.


1 The Fire From Within: Spontaneous Human Combustion, The Dark Histories Podcast, S1, Ep12 http://www.darkhistories.com/the-fire-from-within-spontaneous-human-combustion/
2 Spontaneous Human Combustion: A Brief History, Anomaly Info http://anomalyinfo.com/?q=Topics/spontaneous-human-combustion-brief-history
3 Spontaneous Human Combustion: Eye Witness Cases In More Detail, Signs of the Times, June 7th, 2007 https://www.sott.net/article/133945-Spontaneous-Human-Combustion-Eye-witness-cases-in-more-detail
4 1957, January 4: Young Sik Kim’s Fiery Death, Anomaly Info http://anomalyinfo.com/Stories/1957-january-4-young-sik-kims-fiery-death
5 Spontaneous human combustion: Man’s body burst into flames on the sofa – but he lived to tell the tale, Chris Richards, The Mirror, October 4th, 2013 https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/spontaneous-human-combustion-mans-body-2337320
6 2007, December 16: Brazilian Spontaneous Combustion, Anomaly Info http://anomalyinfo.com/Stories/2007-december-16-brazilian-spontaneous-combustion
7 ‘First Irish case’ of death by spontaneous combustion, BBC, September 23rd, 2011 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-15032614
8 Man, 65, believed to have died from spontaneous combustion after a pile of charred remains is found and no trace of fire source or other damage, Rachel Quigley, Mail Online, February 19th, 2013 https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2281158/Man-65-believed-died-spontaneous-combustion-pile-charred-remains-trace-source-damage.html
9 Germany: Woman sitting on park bench dies after ‘spontaneous human combustion’, Mark Piggott, Weird World, November 5th, 2015 https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/germany-woman-sitting-park-bench-dies-after-spontaneous-human-combustion-1527240
10 Is this bizarre video the first ever genuine footage of spontaneous human combustion?, Kara O’Neill, The Mirror, January 21st, 2016 https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/weird-news/bizarre-video-first-ever-genuine-7217149
11 Spontaneous combustion in St. Petersburg? The curious case of Mary Reeser, Gabrielle Calise, Tampa Bay Times, October 17th, 2019 https://www.tampabay.com/news/florida/2019/10/17/spontaneous-combustion-in-st-petersburg-the-curious-case-of-mary-reeser/

Marcus Lowth

Marcus Lowth is a writer with a love for UFOs, aliens, and the Ancient Astronaut Theory, to the paranormal, general conspiracies, and unsolved mysteries. He has been writing and researching with over 20 years of experience.

Marcus has been Editor-in-Chief for several years due to his excellent knowledge in these fields. Marcus also regularly appears as an expert on radio talk shows including Troubled Minds and Unexplained Radio discussing these topics.

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