Spontaneous Human Combustion
Spontaneous human combustion is the mysterious phenomenon of a person bursting into flame for no apparent reason.  The flames burn very hot and are very localized. They destroy most of the body but leave objects in close proximity to the person relatively unburned.  

These are the remains of Dr. John Bentley (on left)who died of spontaneous combustion in Pennsylvania in 1966.  The spot where the body lay is burnt, but the rest of the room, including the toilet, was not even scorched. This shows a quick, hot flame that devoured the body in seconds.  Only the bottom of one leg remained to identify this as a person.  On the right  is a picture of workers cleaning up the remains of Mrs. M H Reeser of Florida who apparently died of spontaneous combustion in July of 1951.  The only remains found was her skull, shrunken to the size of an orange. 

There are theories on this occurance but no one is sure how or why it happens.  It does happen even without scientific explanation.  One theory is ball lightning which would produce similar results, but many of these instances seem to rule out this possibility just by the location of the death.  A majority of these deaths have the opposite characteristics that one would see if a person was burned to death, such as the shrinking of the skull. 

Crematorium Specialist have viewed photos of combustion victims and say they cannot duplicate the complete destruction of bones in such a short period of time.  They find it even harder to believe that this could happen so completely in ordinary rooms such as living rooms, bathrooms, etc.  There are over 100 unexplained fire deaths a year just in England.  If just ten of these deaths are spontaneous combustion, then the number world could be well over 100. 

Does the body have chemical reactions that science has yet to discover ?  It seems that an internal reaction of some kind is the most likely explanation for these deaths, but what triggers it ? Can it be detected ?  Avoided ?   


This picture is another case of spontaneous combustion that occurred in London in 1964.   One compiled database states the following statistics on possible reported cases: 

1950's -  11 cases 

1960's -  7 cases 

1970's -  13 cases 

1980's -  22 cases 

More Cases of SHC
1932: Mrs. Charles Williamson suddenly burst into flames on a Janurary morning in 1932. She lived in Bladenboro, North Carolina. She had not been beside any kind of fire, and her dress had not been in contact with any cleaning fluid or other flammable substances. Her husband and daughter ripped the dress off her with their bare hands, but not any of them were burned by the flames. Not to soon after a pair of her husbands pants caught fire while hanging in the closet. The same thing happened to a bed, and curtains in an unoccupied room. Although the house was inspected by special investigators from gas and electric companies, arson experts, and police, there could be found no logical explanation for the sudden fires. The family described the flames as 'bluish, jetlike', and other adjacent objects were not affected. There was no smell, and no smoke and until the object was consumed the fire would not stop. - sent in by jsoverei@schreiber.Lakeheadu.Ca

Jan. 13, 1943: 52 year old Allen M. Small was found burned to death in his Deer Isle, Maine home. The carpet beneath his body was scorched, but there was no other sign of fire in the house. Small's pipe was unlit and on a shelf, and his stove lids were all still in place. - sent in by jsoverei@schreiber.Lakeheadu.Ca

March 1, 1953: Waymon Wood's body was discovered in the front seat of his closed car in Greenville, South Carolina. His car was stationed on the site of Bypass Route 291. Little remained of Wood, but his car was basically untouched, even though it contained half a tank of gas. The windshield was the only damaged area; it had bubbled and sagged inward, an affect from the intense heat. - sent in by bmuhwj@hotmail.com

October, 1964:  Mrs. Olga Worth Stephens, 75 years and a former actress suddenly burst into flames while waiting in her parked car. The burns were fatal, and she was killed before anyone could come to her aid. Firemen later concluded that nothing in the car could have started the blaze, and her car was undamaged. - sent in by bmuhwj@hotmail.com

A Chronology of SHC cases

More info on SHC 

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Bibliography - get these books, they are great !

Strange & Unexplained Mysteries of the 20th Century, Randle,Jenny ;  Sterling Publishing co, Inc, NY 1994  pp73-5

Great Mysteries, Grant, John; Chartwell Books, Secaucus NJ, 1988  pp67-9