It’s frightening to imagine that a perfectly healthy human being can suddenly and inexplicably burst into flames. But that’s what a number of experts believe happened to several victims of spontaneous human combustion (SHC), a much-debated phenomenon involving the burning of a human body despite the absence of an external ignition source.
The term “spontaneous human combustion” and the idea of it were first published in a 1745 article by Paul Rolli that appeared in the 21st volume of Philosophical Transactions. According to the account, one morning in 1731, the remains of Countess Cornelia Bandi were discovered with most of the body in ashes but with the legs from the knees down, along with the beddings, remaining unscathed.
By 1995, Larry E. Arnold, in his book Ablaze!, claimed that there existed about 200 documented cases of SHC all over the world. The common characteristics of most of these cases are as follows:
-The victims are chronic alcoholics
-They are usually elderly females
-The body has not burned spontaneously, but some lighted substance has come into contact with it
-The hands and feet usually fall off
-The fire has caused very little damage to combustible things in contact with the body
-The combustion of the body has left a residue of greasy and fetid ashes, very offensive in odour
Strange unexplained phenomenon or pure science fiction? Perhaps, these ten stories involving alleged genuine cases of SHC can help you make up your mind:
10. A Blue Flame Emanated From a Slit in His Stomach
In the morning of September 13, 1967, passersby noticed a strange bright light emanating from an abandoned home in Lambeth, South London, prompting them to call the fire department. When firemen entered the home, they were shocked to find the body of Robert Bailey on the bottom of a staircase. From a four-inch cut on the homeless man’s stomach emanated a blue flame, which firefighters had difficulty putting out when they used fire extinguishers. And strangely, upon closer inspection, investigators noticed that Bailey’s clothing had remained undamaged by the fire, save for the portion where the flame burnt the material. This led them to conclude that the fire had begun from the inside of the man’s body before moving outwards. At the end of the investigation, the incident was simply marked as having been the result of “unknown causes.”