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Modern Mysteries

Mysteries revisited: spontaneous human combustion

By T.K. Randall
January 12, 2022 · Comment icon 11 comments

Is it really possible for a person to spontaneously combust ? Image Credit:
Precisely what befell Sarah Morley, who was found burnt to ashes in 1902, would remain a topic of debate for decades.
The terrifying case occurred in England in May of that year when a policeman, who had been passing Morley's house, noticed smoke inside and quickly entered the property to check on its resident.

What he found, much to his surprise, was not a raging inferno but a room that seemed untouched by fire aside from a pile of ashes and a heap of burnt clothing on the floor.

A further investigation revealed that the ashes were in fact the remains of Mrs. Morley.

But how could her body have been incinerated with such intense heat and ferocity within a room full of soft furnishings without setting fire to anything else ?

At the time, it was considered plausible that Mrs. Morley had, through processes unknown, burnt to death in a case of spontaneous human combustion.
"It seems probable that the woman's clothes caught fire," Dr Ernest George Archer wrote in an article for the British Medical Journal at the time. "But how is one to account for the absolute cremation of a body in the midst of a sitting room filled with furniture?"

"I may say the remains were seen with me by a brother practitioner, and we were both agreed that several features of the case were beyond comprehension..."

A similar case reported a few years earlier was also highlighted, again involving an elderly woman who had been living alone and whose body had been incinerated despite no other fire damage to the room.

The phenomenon would go on to perplex the authorities for decades.

While modern science has since offered at least some theories, the phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion continues to remain a particularly chilling addition to the annals of the unexplained.

Source: | Comments (11)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #2 Posted by Jon the frog 11 months ago
One of the main culprit is the wick effect, when the body fat feed a soaked burning material like the way a candle burns. You need an exterior source to start it tho. Strange stuff, I remember a case that a man arm catched fire during his work at a library. The man survived but was not allowed to work in the rare manu sections after the event. WIll try to to find it on the web.
Comment icon #3 Posted by pallidin 11 months ago
Say, Jon, do you have any thoughts on what might be the ignition source during these rare events (presuming the wick effect)?
Comment icon #4 Posted by Jon the frog 11 months ago
Most of the case are old peoples that are smoking or in vicinity of fire. They could be cases of falling asleep and choking from the initial smoke or even dying before the fire. So the wick effect fit well with these cases. The younger cases in active situations are way more baffling. Maybe a biological source is possible with some kind of metabolism imbalance, we are a heat source, we are burning sugar all day long... . We have seen spontaneous burning of a cheese sandwich on an airliner because the pilot put his oxygen mask near it, so you don't need a lot to tickle something bad. 
Comment icon #5 Posted by stereologist 11 months ago
Another worst of the worst videos. Can they get any more worthless?
Comment icon #6 Posted by Poncho_Peanatus 10 months ago
when the Aliens decommission their humanoid bio droids.
Comment icon #7 Posted by the13bats 8 months ago
I was rather intrigued with this when younger and while i cant prove anything i still see no reason to consider it paranormal, I got overwhelmed with the embellished non confirmed tales and a few who i believe were fraud hoaxers saying they watched their arm flame up, as expected no backing evidence. I followed that fireman who insists its wick effect but when he tried to prove that with a pig it failed no bbq that day just burnt pork. I dont buy into the people burned up because they were drunks, but there did seem to be a clue that the people couldnt have done much to help themselves when th... [More]
Comment icon #8 Posted by Skulduggery 8 months ago
It is maybe worth pointing out that methane is very flammable and it may stand to reason perhaps a few humans out there may be packing a bit more methane internally than others. Especially if older or more sedentary. Just a layman's guess. I'm not sure about the physics at play during these scenarios, but from a total layman's perspective, my own educated guess might involve some sort of ignition of the internal fuel source and then it is all burning from the inside out.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Skulduggery 8 months ago
Here is an interesting article.
Comment icon #10 Posted by Skulduggery 8 months ago
In Sarah Morley's case, it was probably the candle. She may or may not have been drinking. Other cases are likely to have been caused by cigarettes or other ignition sources. It was most likely a cigarette in Mary Reeser's case. We won't know the specifics but something happened. Maybe she was half asleep and had a lit cigarette in her mouth and she attempted to pull it from her mouth in her sedated state but her lips were dry from medication and/or alcohol and the cigarette stuck to her lips as her fingers inadvertently slid across the cigarette to the fire instead, and burning/blistering her... [More]
Comment icon #11 Posted by Skulduggery 8 months ago
I think an exothermic reaction inside the body is pretty unlikely (... unless there were some really fishy suppositories making the rounds back then).

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