Warehouse G

Fiery Finish

Stories Of People Who Suddenly Go Up In Flames

By James Donahue

As incredible as it seems, it appears that people do on occasion burst into flame and go out in a fiery death without probable cause. The phenomenon has been called spontaneous human combustion.

There have been so many reports from around the world, for so many years, usually with police report documentation and even photographs of the remains to make any claim that the stories are a myth because there is no scientific proof that such things are possible. After all, the human body is said to be composed mostly of water. Other than body fat, which some of us carry in extra abundance, there is nothing in the human body that would contribute to a fire, let alone ignite itself.

Yet entire books have been written, all filled with police, newspaper and photo documentation, that people have been unexpectedly going up in flames for the last 200 years or longer.

The earliest report we found happened in Ipswich, England, on April 9, 1744. It appears that Grace Pett, 60-year-old wife of a fishmonger, burst into flames and was completely consumed by the fire in her home. A daughter found her burned remains on the brick hearth in the kitchen, where there had been no fire the night before. A candlestick was still standing by her with the wick burned out. The daughter insisted that her mother was not addicted to gin.

Five years later in France, Madame De Boiseon, 80, was found burning alive in her chair by a maid who had left her only moments earlier. The maid first attempted to beat out the flames with her hands only to have the fire appear to cling to her own skin. When water was poured on the flames, the fire burned hotter. The fire went out only after the old woman’s body was consumed. One leg and her hands were all that was left. Authorities proposed an unproven and undocumented theory that Madame De Boiseon may have been a heavy consumer of intoxicants and that the alcohol in her system fed the flames.

On March 2, 1772, Mary Clues, a Coventry, England widow, and known alcoholic, was found burned to death in the bedroom of her apartment. All that was left of her were her skull and spine, her legs and one thigh. Again, alcohol was blamed for the strange burning.

Other victims of spontaneous human combustion to follow included:

--Marie Jeanne Antoinette Bally, 50, was found in December, 1852 burned to death in a chair in the bedroom of her home in France. Her bones, the upper part of her torso, her head and legs were not burned. Nothing else in the room was burned.

--Phyllis Newcombe, 22, was leaving a dance at Chelmsford, England, in 1938 when her dress suddenly began burning. Newcombe ran back into the ballroom where friends extinguished the flames. She died later in a hospital from burns. The cause of the fire was undetermined.

--Mary Reeser, 67, St. Petersburg, Florida, was found burned to death in an easy chair in her home on July 2, 1951. A neighbor first discovered that the front door to the home was very hot. She got the help of some workmen to break in where they found her charred remains in the chair, with a black circle around it. Her head was burned down to the size of a teacup. The only other parts of her remains were a part of her spine and her left foot. Nothing else in the apartment was burned.

--Jean Lucille Saffin died in 1982 of severe burns sustained while sitting with her elderly father in their home in Edmonton, England. The report said Saffin was mentally handicapped and was apparently under her father’s care. He told authorities that he saw a flash of light, looked and found the girl’s upper body enveloped in flames. He and another person in the house managed to extinguish the flames but the girl died of third-degree burns about a week later in a local hospital.

--In 1989 the story was published about Madge Knight of Aldingbourne, Sussex, England, who woke up screaming one night. The screams woke her husband and sister. She said she felt like she was burning. When examined it was found that Knight’s back was severely burned. The cause of the burns was not determined. Even stranger, her bedclothes were not scorched.

These are just a few of many recorded cases of people whose bodies were found strangely consumed by fire. Yet to this day, science has been unable to explain how a body that contains from 60 to 80 percent water. Early suggestions that the victims were alcoholics and that it was the alcohol in them that burned have been disproven.

Another theory is that the fire is fed by methane that has built up in the intestines and ignited by enzymes that cause a chemical reaction within the body. Notice that most victims are elderly, and it is well known that older people suffer more from digestion problems because they lack the proper enzymes in their body.

Larry Arnold, a self-proclaimed expert on spontaneous human combustion, offers the theory that the fires are the result of static electricity that builds in the body from some kind of geomagnetic force. Arnold suggests a subatomic particle he calls pyroton, which he says interacts with cells to create a mini-explosion.

Scientists are only now beginning to find evidence of something that may back Arnold’s theory. They have discovered something they are calling nannobacteria, something that appears to be the pre-biotic chemistry of all life. It takes a special microscope just to see them. Even scarier, nannobacteria, which may be a simple life form, seems to be found everywhere, even in space.

Elderly folks who worry about exploding in flames might find some comfort in taking Beano tablets.