Nothing else compares to the terrifying idea that the human body can burn itself without external causes. This phenomenon is known as spontaneous human combustion. Spontaneous human combustion is when a human body supposedly catches fire due to heat created by internal chemical activity but without proof of an external ignition source.
The scientific community has remained dubious and has viewed many reported cases of spontaneous human combustion with mistrust. They have felt that these events had an external ignition source (albeit possibly not apparent) and that spontaneous human combustion without such a source was exceedingly unlikely.
Regardless of its validity, we can’t deny that this concept is fascinating despite its terrifying nature. Indeed, several real-life examples of spontaneous human combustion are so compelling that they can make you more invested in the idea. Here are the top 10 best internal combustion stories.
Related: 10 Shocking Electrocution Deaths
10 Cornelia Zangheri Bandi (1731)
The death of Countess Cornelia Zangheri Bandi is the inspiration for the concept and term “spontaneous human combustion.” Although her death was not the first known example of such an event, it was so perplexing that it ignited a debate that continues to this day.
Cornelia Zangheri Bandi died when she was 66 years old. According to some stories, the “dull and heavy” countess was a brandy drinker who used to rub camphorated brandy on her body to cure discomfort.
She was said to have spontaneously combusted while sleeping after dinner. The next morning, her maid discovered her remains, reduced to a mound of ashes more than 1 meter (3 feet) from the bed. The fire had not damaged the bed or the surrounding furnishings, but they were covered in a greasy and stinky layer.
9 Polonus Vorstius (Late 1400s)
Polonus Vorstius died in the late 14th century, and his death was the first documented incidence of spontaneous human combustion. He was an Italian knight who spent his time drinking and singing in pubs all around Italy when he wasn’t fighting.
According to reports, Vorstius was one of several individuals who drank a couple of ladles of a “very strong” wine. However, he soon began to cough up a fire, causing him to combust.
Vorstius’s death was puzzling because no one else seemed to have an issue with the wine, and others were perplexed about how he died. To this day, the perplexity remains.
8 Margaret Hogan (1970)
Margaret Hogan, an 89-year-old widow living alone in a home on the outskirts of Dublin, Ireland, was discovered on March 28th, 1970, nearly completely burnt. The first reporter on the scene was Conor Brady, who would eventually become editor of The Irish Times in 1986.
“The lady had been reduced to a small pile of ashes,” Brady remembers to Lost Leads. “In the room, there were indications of extreme heat. In the corner, the television was transformed into a blob. However, there was just a little amount of charring around her seat, indicating that there had been a fire.”
Conor Brady suspected Margaret’s death was due to spontaneous human combustion, but higher-ups met him with pushback when he tried to report it. According to the coroner, her death would conform to what is known as spontaneous combustion. However, there was also conjecture that she was killed by lightning or committed suicide. Either way, the cause of the fire was listed as “unknown” after an inquiry held on April 3rd, 1970.
7 Henry Thomas (1980)
In 1980, 73-year-old Henry Thomas was discovered dead in the living room of his communal house in South Wales. Thomas had been reclining pleasantly in his easy chair when he was caught in an intense fire around the top of his body and died.
“Mr. Thomas’s legs and cranium were all that remained of him. His feet were strangely unburned, and what remained of his legs were still dressed in socks and pants that had escaped the fire. Although there were indications of a fire in the fireplace, it did not appear to have spread,” said the forensic scientists.
One non-spontaneous human combustion theory was that Thomas had set his hair on fire while stoking the nearby fire and then sat down in his chair, completely ignorant of the situation. The professional crime scene investigator who examined the area stated that if a guy had been seated when he saw his hair was on fire, he would not have sat there and let it burn. However, Thomas’s death was eventually deemed “death by fire,” with no mention of spontaneous human combustion.
6Jeannie Saffin (1982)
One spontaneous human combustion case that particularly stands out is Jeannie Saffin’s death. Jeannie Saffin was born with congenital abnormalities in Edmonton, London, resulting in mental disabilities that limited her abilities to those of a kid. Her death occurred when she was 61 years old.
She was with her father, Jack Saffin, and brother-in-law, Don Carroll, at their Edmonton home on September 15th, 1982. In the kitchen, Jeannie was seated with her father. When something took Jack Saffin’s attention away from Jeannie, he noticed his daughter on fire. Jack and Don used water from the kitchen to put out the fire before calling an ambulance.
Paramedics treated Jeannie on the way to the hospital, where she was treated until she died eight days later from “bronchopneumonia due to burns.” Investigators are baffled since neither Jeannie’s chair nor the adjacent walls were harmed by fire or smoke, and the fire had no clear ignition source.
PC Leigh Marsden of Edmonton Police Station believed it was an instance of spontaneous human combustion. The coroner disagreed, claiming there was “no such thing,” and rendered an open judgment.
5 George Mott (1986)
Kendal Mott, George Mott’s son, visited him after he had not returned numerous phone calls. Kendal discovered browned windows and smoky interiors. He discovered what remained of George inside his chamber. Ash, a few bone splinters, and a chunk of his skull were all that remained of him. He perished from spontaneous combustion, according to the relatively confined damage.
George Mott, ironically a veteran firefighter, was not a smoker, unlike some of the others on this list. As a result, he couldn’t have accidentally gotten any ashes on his outfit or anything like that. An inquiry revealed no evidence of external ignition.
That said, skeptics think he died for a plausible reason. George was a previous drinker and smoker, so he may have been despondent and opted to light up a cigar or a cigarette. He might have lit himself on fire if he dropped it on himself.
4 Matilda Rooney (1885)
On December 25th, 1885, Matilda Rooney and her husband, Patrick, died in their farmhouse under strange circumstances. Matilda was alone in her kitchen late on Christmas Eve 1885 in Seneca, Illinois. Except for her feet, the flames swiftly consumed her entire body.
Apart from Patrick, the husband, nothing else in the room was harmed. He was discovered dead in a rocking rocker in the kitchen, but the fire had not burned his corpse. According to a verdict, he had passed out and been asphyxiated by smoke from his wife’s burning body. The fire began within his wife’s body and lingered there.
This catastrophe mystified investigators. There was no cause to suspect any wrongdoing. That evening, the Rooneys were unwinding and sipping whiskey. Nothing unusual had been detected by a farmhand who had spent a few hours with them. Furthermore, there was no source of ignition for the fire.
3 Nicole Millet (1725)
Nicole Millet, like many other purported spontaneous human combustion victims, died tragically. She was discovered dead in an unburned chair.
Nicole Millet was a Parisian lady whose husband ran the Lion d’Or inn. Nicole’s husband detected a blazing fire in the kitchen on February 20th, 1725. When he arrived, he saw that his wife had been burned. The fire burned Nicole’s body alone without affecting its surroundings much, similar to past spontaneous human combustion instances.
The court brought the husband to justice since he was allegedly guilty of Nicole’s murder. Nicole’s husband was later released because of a lack of solid evidence of such an accusation. At his trial, a young surgeon named Nicholas Le Cat persuaded the court that Nicole Millet’s death was an excellent case of spontaneous human combustion. Nicole Millet died “by a visitation of God,” according to the final judgment.
2 Rahul (2013)
An Indian baby named Rahul also experienced a case of spontaneous human combustion; fortunately, he is still alive. In fact, Rahul’s is the sole case of spontaneous human combustion where the sufferer has escaped death. However, there’s a catch: the boy has suffered through this rare phenomenon at least four times.
When he was nine days old, Baby Rahul’s skin began to burn itself while in his hometown of Tindivanam, India. He then experienced the same thing up to three times. The poor baby was then rushed to a hospital in Chennai, India, with severe burns—Grade 10.
What happened to Rahul? Could it be that his parents burned him? The mother denies having committed any heinous act against her child. Another allegation is that Rahul experienced the phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion. However, several experts deny the truth of such a claim.
1 Phyllis Newcombe (1938)
Phyllis Newcombe, 22, was dancing with her fiancé Henry McAusland at the monthly dance in Chelmsford, Essex, on August 27th, 1938, when she was suddenly engulfed by “bluish flames.” She was burned to ashes in the center of the dance floor in less than two minutes, unrecognizable as a human being. This terrifying incident is one of just a few completely seen spontaneous human combustion events. There is, however, a different version of the story.
On a different account, the bottom of her garment caught fire as she and her fiancé were exiting the dance floor. As the flames climbed rapidly, she dashed back to the dance hall. When she collapsed, numerous people tried to put out the fire with their jackets, while others called for medical help. The ambulance took around 20 minutes to arrive at her location. She was hospitalized with serious burns all over her body and died a few days later.
Newcombe’s fiancé assumed her garment had caught fire due to a cigarette butt. However, the fabric of the clothing did not catch fire from a cigarette after her father removed it and checked it. Her death was determined to be an unintentional death for unexplained reasons.