Spontaneous Human Combustion. The Woman Who Burst Into Flames -Mystery Files
Was this a case of Spontaneous Human Combustion?
It is eight in the evening on the second of July in 1951. A landlady in St Petersburg USA, has received a telegram for one of her tenants - a Mrs. Mary Reeser.
The landlady takes the telegram to deliver it to Mrs. Reeser. However on touching the doorknob to the residence, the landlady almost burns herself - The doorknob is scorchingly hot.
She runs for help and finds two painters working nearby. They return together and manage to open the door. It is like opening an oven as they are met with a blast of hot air - and yet, inside there is no great inferno, just a small flame on a dividing partition, and a little smoke.
They check the 67 year-old widow's bedroom - The bed is empty and she is nowhere to be seen.
The Firemen arrive and need only a small hand pump to douse the feeble flame. They pull away the charred partition to check that all flames have been extinguished and discover a burnt circle on the floor. It is little more that three feet in diameter.
Within the charred circle they see a pile of ashes containing several chair springs, a human spine with the burnt remains of a liver still attached, a human skull which the heat has shrunk to the size of a grapefruit and a satin slippered human foot, burnt off at the ankle. This was all that remained of Mrs. Reeser
The Enigma of Spontaneous Human Combustion
Here was a case of human combustion that was to baffle Police, Insurance men, Fire officials and Arson experts alike. On the face of it, there was no real reason for the fire. Nearly all of the damage was limited to the chair where Mrs. Reeser had met her fate. This area alone seems to have been subjected to incredibly intense heat.
It was explained at the inquest that Crematoria generally need to generate temperatures as high as 2500 degrees fahrenheit and sustain them for up to four hours to incinerate a body. They would still then need grinders to reduce the remains to match the state of Mrs. Reesers remains as they were found.
Mrs. Reeser was not a slightly built woman. When alive, she weighed in at twelve and a half stone, yet had been reduced by the burning to a mere eight and a half pounds of ash.
Although the heat was said to have been phenomenal, as in most cases of spontaneous human combustion, very little damage had occurred outside the charred circle of death. Two pink candles standing on a dressing table had been reduced to mere pools of wax and a wall mirror had cracked. Yet a pile of newspapers standing just outside the circle was completely unharmed. The slippered foot resting outside the circle was unharmed, yet the portion of leg residing within the circle had completely incinerated.
Investigation into the Human Combustion
Spontaneous Human Combustion is not regarded as a proved phenomenon by most official bodies. The FBI suggested that Mrs. Reeser must have fallen asleep whilst smoking after taking sleeping pills even though it was determined that neither the chair or her nightdress was particularly flammable.
Experts also dismissed the possibility of death by lightning, suicide or murder. For the murder scenario to hold water, the body would have to have been soaked in petrol or some other such incendiary agent, but no trace of accelerant chemicals were found.
A leading expert in death by fire, Dr. Wilton Krogman was called in to give his opinion, but having surveyed the evidence, confessed that he was baffled. A particular puzzle was the strange shrunken state of the victim's skull. Dr. Krogman explained that a skull subjected to such intense heat would normally expand and then shatter explosively! "They say truth is often stranger than fiction" he said "and this case proves it".
Dr. Krogman also said "I regard it as the most amazing thing i've ever seen. As I review it, the short hairs on my neck bristle with vague fear. Were I living in the middle ages, I'd mutter something about Black magic"
More about Spontaneous Human Combustion
The Phenomenon of Spontaneous Human Combustion
The strange demise of Mrs. Mary Reeser is often cited as a classic case of what is known as "Spontaneous Human Combustion" This is a well documented phenomenon, in which it is believed that the human body can spontaneously ignite and burn itself to ashes. Many cases of spontaneous human combustion have been reported, some going back as far as the 17th century.
Most scientists deny that such a thing as spontaneous human combustion is possible, despite the regular reporting of such incidents, but denial of the facts gets us no closer to explaining how an old lady could find herself in the midst of an inferno with temperatures high enough to reduce her body to dust whilst leaving combustible materials only a few feet away unharmed. That is the mystery of Spontaneous Human Combustion.
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