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Mystery Of Spontaneous Human Combustion

Updated on August 26, 2011

According to history, the first official documented case of spontaneous human combustion was reported by the Danish anatomist Thomas Bartholin in 1663. He detailed how a woman in Paris was incinerated while sleeping. The straw mattress on which she slept was untouched by the fire.

Hundreds more cases have been recorded ever since.

Charles Dickens added a famous Victorian era case to his novel Bleak House to kill off one of his characters. The combustion event that inspired Dickens occurred in 1731, when Countess Cornelia di Bandi of Cesena, Italy, was found in her bedroom by her maid. The body had been reduced to ashes; all that remained were her legs and a portion of her head.

In 1951, Mary Reeser was dubbed the Cinder Lady by the media after she spontaneously combusted in her living room. Only a portion of her skull, backbone and a part of her left foot endured. The chair she was sitting on was burnt down to the springs.

In 1982, the township of Edmondton north of London, was shocked when they heard a local girl - Jeannie Saffin - had burst into flames while sitting beside her father in their home. Jeannie later died from the horrific burns.

In 1990, a Chinese newspaper ran a story about the spontaneous combustion of four-year-old Tong Tangjiang.

What makes this case of spontaneous human combustion even more alarming is the area of the outbreaks – his groin.

Apart from keeping the child cool, the medicos had little idea of what to do.

Although they agreed that the strong electrical current running through boy’s body was most likely a contributing factor for the combustion episodes.

 So what causes this strange event?

A fire supposedly starts inside the body, and burns from the inside out, reducing the victim to ash.

Some believe the phenomenon is due to bacterial action, similar to that which causes haystacks to burst into flames. If the centre of the haystack is moist bacteria multiplies rapidly, producing heat in the fermentation process. Bacteria in the human alimentary canal or stomach might cause a similar effect.

But experts say bacteria could never generate enough heat to consume a human body – it takes over a thousand-degrees Celsius in a crematorium.

The reasons behind this mysterious phenomenon are many and varied – from old-age, smoking, alcohol addiction and obesity.

Whatever the cause, spontaneous human combustion is certain to remain one of the most bizarre occurrences ever recorded.

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