Spontaneous Human Combustion – Is it possible?
In 1725, Nicole Millet, wife of a French landlord, was found dead in her kitchen. Cause of death? Burnt by a fire of unknown cause.
Similarly, in 1776, Gio Maria Bertholi, an Italian priest, was killed in the same manner while praying.
Even Charles Dickens mentions a death by spontaneous combustion in his novel Bleak House.
So, is it really possible? Charles Dickens believed so. After investigating evidence of more than 30 cases of spontaneous human combustion, he arrived to the conclusion that it is, indeed, very possible to die of such cause.
The case with the most well documented evidence is that of Robert Francis Bailey, who died in September 13, 1967. The fireman who helped the victim said that he had seen a strong blue fire come out from a cleft of about 4 inches deep located in Bailey’s abdomen. The fire, proceeding from the victim’s body, had already begun to burn the staircase. In order to extinguish the fire, the water hose had to be inserted inside Bailey’s abdominal cleft. Bailey was not a smoker, and there was no evidence of matches found on or around his body. To add to the mystery, the floor around Bailey was completely burnt, but everything else around him showed no significant damage.
No objective explanations to this mystery were given until the 18th century. One of the theories given was that the victims were alcoholics, and that the excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages had made their bodies combustible.
Others said that alcoholics usually lose sense of their whereabouts, and are more prone to accidents, thus causing fires that can lead to their death.
Today, the most commonly accepted theories are electric discharges, or external fires causing the subcutaneous fat to burn, thus leading to this phenomenon. However, none of the most recent explanations state that the fire can actually start in the human body.
Scientists have yet to find the real cause for this mystery.
Sources: Magazine Muy Interesante, Oct. 2010