Spontaneous Human Combustion

Spontaneous Human Combustion

Article written by Frank M. Statler

Wikipedia defines Spontaneous human combustion as:

“…the combustion of a living (or very recently deceased) human body without out an apparent external source of ignition”

No one knows who the victim of the first case was or how long this phenomenon has been going on.  However, it is well know enough to be mentioned in the Charles Dickens book Bleak House published in 1853.

In this article I will describe three famous cases of Spontaneous human combustion.


George Mott

The first victim goes by the name of George Mott. Mott was a retired firefighter so it would seem that he of all people knew how to carefully handle fire.

He burned to death in his home in Crown Point, New York in 1986.  He was found by his Son. His Son and a neighbor reported a dark film over everything in the house.

The more the case was looked into the stranger it became. Only the bed was burnt up. A box of matches by his bed did not ignite, yet food in the closed and insulated refrigerator was totally cooked.

A package of wieners in the fridge was reported to have looked like they had been par boiled. Mott’s body was completely burned except for one leg.

The leg, however, was burned to just above the knee. His entire body not including the leg had turned completely to ashes.

Even a crematorium could not achieve that level of complete burning. They often have to smash left over bones with a hammer.

The Fire Marshall proclaimed it to be an accidental fire. He reported that an electric arc from the power outlet had jumped over to the bed where Mott was sleeping and set him on fire.

But, when an electrician checked the outlet there was no sign of damage.  A very strange death indeed for a retired fire fighter.


Dr. John Irving Bentley

The next case comes from the book Ablaze by Larry E. Arnold.  In it Arnold describes a case of the very strange combustion of Dr. John Irving Bentley.

On the morning of December 5th 1966 a gas meter reader by the name of Donald Gosnell headed for the basement of the Bentley home to read the gas meter.

Ablaze by Larry E. ArnoldWhile performing his work duties he glanced to the corner of the basement and was surprised to see a pile of ashes. On further investigation he discovered a burn hole through the floor above and it was still smoldering around the edges.

He was very alarmed by this and quickly went upstairs to check on the good doctor. Upon entering the residence he was assaulted by a strange sickly sweet odor that permeated the upstairs of the home.

Cautiously, he called the Doctor’s name but there was no answer. He peered around the corner into the bathroom. What he saw when he looked was horrifying.

A hole about 4 x 4 feet round was burned into the floor exposing the bathroom pipes. Gosnell kept looking and there was more, a browned leg from the knee down.

At first he thought it was a mannequin’s leg but on closer inspection realized it was a human leg. Scared out of his mind he went to fetch the police.

When the police arrived they were startled to discover a pile of ashes, a skull and part of a leg. The man was reduced to cinders yet the tub next to him showed no signs of being burnt.

The walker that was close to the combustion had rubber legs that did not melt when exposed to the intense heat there must have been.

Even the ceiling above the fearsome heat was untouched. Fire inspectors will tell you fire burns up and not down so it was totally unexplainable.

However, the local fire inspector, a man named Dec, concluded that the good doctor had dropped his pipe in his lap, walked to the bathroom and then his clothes ignited and he was burned to ash, as unbelievable as it sounds.

Two of the major issues with that assumption is that the pipe was placed in its holder and it would have taken the very old man 5 full minutes to walk to the bathroom, as attested to by his housekeeper and caretaker.

Unfortunately, the sequence of events claimed by Dec are too unbelievable to be considered. So we are left with the conclusion that Dr.Bentley WAS a victim of spontaneous human combustion.


Micheal Faherty

The next case is very recent, 2010 to be not so exact. The man’s name was Micheal Faherty and he lived in Ireland.

Experts have concluded that the fire in the fireplace in his sitting room, near the body, was not the cause of the blaze. A Fire Marshall that investigated said that it was the strangest thing he had seen in twenty years of fire scene investigations.

Stranger yet there was no trace of accelerant on the body or around the area burned. Police Constables quickly ruled out foul play as there simply was no sign of it. The body and the area were badly burned.

Micheal Faherty
The Unexplained Death of Michael Faherty

This case however, did have burning on the ceiling above the body, which is consistent with how we know fire burns. Namely up.

The main Fire Marshall in charge made his findings.

An errant cinder from the fire floated on air currents carrying itself to the thick robe of the sleeping man.  Slumbering for a moment because of heavy drinking, it took him a bit to notice his clothes blazing.

In that short moment the older man became engulfed in flames. He awoke, panicked, and then stood erect and attempted to remove the burning robe.

However, by the time he noticed he was on fire it was too late. He was overcome and fell to the floor in front of the fireplace and was burned to ashes.

That’s a pretty wild explanation for the incident. But, is it the official account.

Personally, it sounds like Spontaneous Human Combustion to this intrepid reporter.

Frank M. Statler.


Special thanks to Frank M. Statler for contributing this article to our site. If you have any thoughts or opinions on the subject Frank has covered here, please leave them in the comment section below.

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