Spontaneous Human Combustion: Just What Should We Make Of It?First Published: November 26, 2017 Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
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 is 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.
Before we look at some of the more troubling incidents, check out the video below. It looks at the basics of the strange and tragic phenomena of spontaneous human combustion.
VIDEO: Is Spontaneous Human Combustion Real?
Recent Tragic Cases
In Muldrow, Oklahoma, in 2013, investigators would find what remained of sixty-five-year-old Danny Vanzandt’s body in his home. It was evident that Vanzandt had been subject to a fire of extremely high temperature judging by the complete incineration of his body. What troubled investigators most though, was why this fire hadn’t spread and burned down his completely wooden house.
Much came to light of Vanzandt’s well-known alcoholism, and the fact that he was a heavy smoker. However, investigations would show neither of these things had any connection to his untimely and surely painful death. With that in mind, there was also no sign of any type of struggle, even from Vanzandt to extinguish the flames. It was almost as if he sat in the same spot, calmly burning to death until his body was a charred mess.
Around the same time, on the other side of the world in Chennai in southern India, a new mother would look on in horror as her nine-day-old son, Rahul, simply burst into flames in front of her eyes. This would happen three more times in the first three months of Rahul’s life. The case would baffle doctors and medical experts alike, who could only offer the parents the advice of “keeping their son away from anything flammable!”
Perhaps even more alarming for the parents of the little boy, was that they live each day wondering if the strange phenomena might happen again.
Very Public Incidents
Not all incidents such as these occur in the privacy of the victim’s homes where they sit awaiting the discovery of their charred body.
In December 2007 in Brazil, much to the horror of onlookers a young woman suddenly became engulfed in flames. In a matter of seconds, her entire body was beyond recognition. In a bizarre twist, although they suffered damage, the woman’s clothing was not as burnt by the flames as her body was.
Some people asserted her tragic death was due to a phenomenon known as ball lightning, although they could offer no sound reason for the claims. Others said that the woman was the victim of a gangland attack, but no accelerant was present during the autopsy.
Almost eight years later in November 2015 in Flensburg, near Hamburg in Germany, multiple witnesses would see a woman sitting on a park bench burst into flames. Witnesses would attempt to smother the flames and save the woman, but she would ultimately pass away from her injuries shortly after.
Witnesses would later state that the woman remained completely silent throughout the affair as if she was in some kind of strange trance. Many wondered if the incident was a case of suicide. However, this notion was largely discounted after numerous witnesses swore the women didn’t initiate the fire – she simply sat there motionless.
“Blue Flames” Incidents From Decades Ago Still Unsolved
These bizarre incidents are not solely recent occurrences. In fact, many of the strangest accounts go back as far as the sixties and fifties.
In September 1967 in London, England, passers-by would find Robert Bailey with “blue, blowtorch-like flames” emanating from his stomach. Even more bizarre, it appeared as though a strange “slit” was visible in the torso, with flames coming from the inside. Like many of the other cases, there was only very minor damage to the building itself. Emergency services would “empty their extinguishers” before finally killing the flames, but by then Bailey was already dead.
Just over a decade earlier, in December 1956 in Honolulu, Hawaii, seventy-eight-year-old, Young Sik Kim – or the pile of ash that remained of him – was discovered in his home. Kim – paralyzed from the waist down – would spend his days in his wheelchair. On this particular afternoon, as he sat quietly enjoying time with his neighbor, Virginia Cadet, fire suddenly burst through his stomach. Within seconds, he was a ball of “strange blue flames!”
No other part of the property burned due to the intense fire, and by the time Cadet had returned with help, the fire had stopped and Kim was but a pile of burnt remains. All around where Kim was sitting, were clothes and papers – all equally unaffected by the flames.
The Bizarre Case Of Mary Reeser
One of the earliest apparent cases of spontaneous human combustion is that of Mary Reeser, who seemingly burst into flames one July evening in 1951. The remains of the sixty-seven-year-old from St. Petersburg, Florida – which we will look at in a moment – 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 tiny 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, seemingly dying 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.