Spontaneous Human Combustion
Fact or Fantasy?
Although hard to define and even harder to verify the mystery of Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) has been a topic of media interest for at least 300 years, with over 200 reported cases. Just lately the cause of death of Mr Michael Flaherty (76) left investigating officers bemused and bewildered for the best part of a year, until finally in September 2011 the West Galway Coroner pronounced the cause of death to be Spontaneous Human Combustion, the first recorded case since 1951. Although he deemed it to be the cause, the reasons for it and processed behind it remain a mystery.
Although cases are rare there are striking similarities between them. The areas immediately around the body remain unburned, with only the area beneath the body and the ceiling above showing signs of fire damage. In several instances a portion of the body remains untouched by flame, a macabre memento of their passing.
In 1951 the case of Mary Reeser caught the public’s attention, on July 2nd she was found in her home, her body reduced completely to ashes, except that is for her skull and a totally undamaged foot. May 18th 1957 marked the passing of Anna Martin, aged 68 of West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was found incinerated in her home, leaving only her shoes and a portion of her torso behind. In his report the coroner estimated that temperatures in and around her body must have reached up to 2000 degrees to cause such incineration, yet just two feet away from her remains some newspapers remained unscathed. Bizarrely, in 1944 a man called Peter Jones experienced the sensation for himself when smoke started to issue from his body, he stated quite clearly that during this process he felt no pain, and neither was there a sensation of heat or any flames to report. It was however quite unnerving.
Experiments have been carried out in crematoriums in the UK and the US, but all reports state that they are unable to achieve the temperatures required to achieve the results reported in these cases. The debate continues.