Although spontaneous human combustion is not recognized as a medical condition, there’s no denying that the phenomenon itself is very real, even if we don’t understand what it is or why it happens. The most mainstream theory is called the wick effect. Essentially, the body, particularly the fat, acts as fuel for the mysterious flames. However, some researchers argue that this explanation simply doesn’t stand up, given the insanely high temperatures required to reduce a body completely to ash. While it seems obvious that further study is needed, here are 10 examples of apparent cases of spontaneous human combustion.
10 Brazilian Woman ‘Incinerated In Seconds’ On The Street
In an incident said to have happened on December 16, 2007, numerous witnesses, including police, saw a young woman burst into flames and become “incinerated within seconds” in Brazil. The mystery lady’s face, arms, and upper torso were burned to the point of nonrecognition, and she suffered severe burns to her right leg. Bizarrely, her clothing did not appear to be as damaged as her body was—as if her body had perhaps been ablaze from the inside out.
One theory was that she was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and fell victim, as unlikely as it sounds, to ball lightning. On several Internet forums and message boards, it was also posited that the young lady had actually been set alight as part of a grim gang initiation, although no particular gangs were mentioned, and there didn’t appear to be any sign of an accelerant on the body or the clothing, making this theory equally unlikely.
9 German Lady Bursts Into Flames Sitting On Park Bench
Although a passerby tried to smother the flames with his jacket, a woman in Germany died from her injuries after she apparently burst into flames in full view of several witnesses as she sat on a park bench in November 2015.
The woman, from Flensburg, near Hamburg, was thought to have been in her forties and was well-known locally. According to witness reports, she was simply sitting on the bench before her body became suddenly engulfed in flames. She was completely silent during the encounter, leading to some to suggest that she had committed suicide.
There were initial reports that two men were seen running from the scene in the immediate aftermath, suggesting that the woman may have been the victim of an attack. However, this was soon ruled out, as there didn’t appear to be any signs of attack on the victim’s remains, nor was a source found on her body to suggest where the fire had started.
The woman’s death was said to have left the small town of Flensburg in complete shock.
8 Man Calmly Lies In Doorway While His Torso Burns
In January 2016, a video surfaced on the Internet that appeared to show a mystery man calmly lying in a doorway in Serbia while flames seemed to lick their way out of his body and began to engulf it. An onlooker is heard approaching the man to see if he is okay and asking him, “What’s happening?”
The man’s behavior is strange to say the least, as he simply motions for the concerned bystander to leave him be, apparently not at all concerned with the flames wrapping themselves around his torso. Even stranger, and certainly fortunately for the man himself, he appeared to walk away from the incident largely unharmed.
According to comments made on social media by people who lived in the Serbian town of Novi Sad, where the footage was allegedly shot, the man is known locally and has been involved in “problematic behavior” in the past. Whether the man used something to set the fire himself or if indeed he was a victim of spontaneous human combustion is not known, but the video itself appears to be authentic.
7 Coroner Officially Rules Irish Man Died From Spontaneous Combustion
In September 2011, nine months after the death of 76-year-old Michael Faherty in December 2010, coroner Dr. Ciaran McLoughlin ruled that he was a victim of spontaneous human combustion. McLoughlin stated that after investigating deaths for over a quarter of a century, this was the first time that he had made such a ruling.
Faherty’s death had completely baffled investigators, who quickly ruled out that an accelerant had been used or that the fire in the actual fireplace of his home had been the cause. What’s more, the fire appeared to have been contained solely to Faherty himself, with the only other damage found being the floor and ceiling directly underneath and above the unfortunate man’s burned remains.
Dr. McLoughlin stated that he had not come to his decision lightly and had conducted extensive research into the subject before making his ruling on Faherty’s death. He said that his examination of the body, as well as the investigation of the fire itself, left him with no other conclusion that he could draw.
6 Man Had Blue Flames Coming Out Of His Stomach
Researcher Larry Arnold has researched and examined numerous cases of alleged spontaneous human combustion. Perhaps one of his strangest is that of Robert Bailey, a well-known alcoholic who was discovered burning to death one morning in a derelict building in South London. As people made their way to work that morning in September 1967, they noticed a commotion in a vacant property. When they went in and found Bailey alight, they immediately called emergency services.
The Fire Brigade commander, John Stacey, who attended the scene, would tell Arnold years later that the flames were “coming from the body itself” and that there appeared to be a slit in the man’s stomach from which the blue, blowtorch-like flames issued. It was noted that no other part of the building had been set on fire and that only the body burned, although there were markings on the wooden floor from the heat.
The fire crew emptied their extinguishers onto Bailey, eventually putting out the intense flames, but it was too late to save his life. It was noted that aside from Bailey’s stomach and torso area, no other part of his body or his clothing was damaged. Bailey had also seemingly bitten into the newel post of the stairs of the property, which were made from mahogany. His teeth were locked down so tight that a fireman had to pry his jaws open to release him.
5 Man Reduced To A Pile Of Ash In Minutes
Young Sik Kim lived all of his 78-year life in Honolulu, Hawaii. He’d spent most of it paralyzed from the waist down and made his way around in his wheelchair.
In December 1956, he was at home when without warning, flames began to emanate from his stomach, rapidly spreading in all directions and engulfing him within seconds. A neighbor of his, Virginia Cadet, quickly ran to his aid and later said that he was entirely awash in blue flames. She called for assistance from the fire department, but by the time they arrived some 15 minutes later, both Young Sik Kim and his wheelchair were nothing more than a pile of ash. All that remained of him was a pair of feet.
No other areas of the room suffered any damage, and once the flames had succeeded in reducing the paralyzed man to nothing more than ash, they seemed to have simply disappeared instead of spreading elsewhere. Firemen and investigators were perplexed by this, as there were clothes and books all around that should have caught fire, given their proximity to the raging inferno that suddenly overcame Young Sik Kim.
4 Man Survives Spontaneous Combustion
Vietnam War veteran Frank Baker was preparing to embark on a fishing trip with his friend, Pete Willey, when he suddenly burst into flames while sitting on his sofa in June 1985. Willey managed to smother the flames, and Baker appeared to be largely unhurt, albeit shaken. He still sought medical advice, however, and according to Baker, he was told by his doctor that it looked as though he had “burned from the inside out.”
Baker appeared on the TV show The Unexplained Files to tell his story. He stated that a second incident occurred while he and Willey were out on the lake fishing. As had previously happened in his home, flames began to overtake his body out of nowhere, seemingly concentrated on his arms and torso. Again with Willey’s assistance, the flames were smothered out.
If his account is true, then Baker may be one of the first recorded victims of spontaneous human combustion to have survived the ordeal.
3 Man Burns To Death, Wooden Home Undamaged
In 2013, when Danny Vanzandt’s incinerated body was discovered by members of his family, it was instantly apparent that although the heat and power of the blaze must have been great, there was no other damage to the rest of the wooden house where the 65-year-old lived in Muldrow, Oklahoma.
Although many people pointed out that Vanzandt was a well-known alcoholic and a very heavy cigarette smoker, the physical evidence at the property suggested that neither were the cause, even indirectly, of his death. Not only was no other part of the home damaged, but there were no signs that a struggle had taken place, which might have suggested foul play. Vanzandt seemed to have simply gone up in flames.
Investigator Ron Lockhart, as if to make the point even clearer, stated, “You could pour gasoline on somebody and he wouldn’t be as badly incinerated!” Although Lockhart said that he believed that there must have been some ignition source, the suggestion of spontaneous human combustion was not officially ruled out.
2 Baby Catches Fire Four Times In Three Months
By the time Rahul was three months old, he had already burst into flames four times, at least according to reports that surfaced in 2013. The young child from Chennai in Southern India first experienced this phenomena at only nine days old. His desperately frightened mother watched in horror as her newborn son was seemingly engulfed in flames for no apparent reason.
Dr. R. Narayana Babu, who worked on the case, stated that “combustible gases” released from the patient’s pores may be responsible for Rahul catching fire out of nowhere. The only advice that could be offered to the parents was to make sure anything flammable was kept completely away from the young boy, including any flammable clothing or nappies. It is expected that as Rahul gets older, he will undergo plastic surgery.
Perhaps more chilling for the frantic parents was the fact that Dr. Babu couldn’t be sure that it wouldn’t happen again, simply stating that another episode “may or may not” occur.
1 The Mystery Of Mary Reeser Is Still Debated
The FBI report clearly states that 67-year-old Mary Reeser had fallen asleep while smoking a cigarette in her chair, groggy from the two Seconal tablets she had taken earlier, and accidentally set herself alight and ultimately burned to death in July 1951 in St. Petersburg, Florida. They stated that Reeser’s own body fat had been the fuel from which the fire had burned so intensely.
However, numerous researchers and writers have dismissed the report over the years. They state that the fact that all that remained of Reeser was a foot, a skull fragment, and a piece of her spine, as well as only the springs of the chair she sat on, would have meant the fire would have to have burned at an intensely high heat. There should have been damage throughout the building, and in all likeliness, the fire would have spread.
However, this didn’t happen, and only the spot where Reeser had been sitting was damaged by fire in any way. Even a pile of newspapers stacked right next to Reeser’s chair was left completely unscathed, and upon initial investigation, there wasn’t the heavy aroma of smoke that one would expect to find in a house fire that had been hot enough to reduce a human body to ash.
Mary Reeser’s case is perhaps one of the most famous regarding the phenomena of spontaneous human combustion and certainly one of the most debated.