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Spontaneous Human Combustion May be Attributed to 2 Men’s Death in England

December 2017 ended with 2 suspicious cases of possible Spontaneous Human Combustion, also know as SHC. On December 15th, John Nolan burst into flames. The 70-year-old man was airlifted to the area hospital but died the next day. He suffered 3rd-degree burns to 65% of his body. Police did not find any accelerants by his body and continue to investigate.

A few weeks later on December 27th, police received calls about another man on fire on Thanet Road, Hull, England. Just like with Mr. Nolan, paramedics administered treatment only for him to succumb from his burns. Police are seeking the public’s help in solving these cases.


Spontaneous Human Combustion is not fully embraced in the scientific communities. SHC occurs when a living human body catches fire without any external source. In nearly every case, only the body burns. Rarely are the surroundings effected. There are common threads in SHC cases: most victims are elderly people; the phenomenon occurs at home; the cause is a chemical reaction. Many witnesses notice a sweet smell in the area. The consistent characteristic is that the body is basically cremated—burned beyond recognition. Surprisingly, a small number of people survive.

SHC is not new. The earliest known case is from the 1400s where the Italian Knight Polonus Vorstius, a man who enjoyed copious amounts of wine every night, burst into flames after consuming “two ladles” of wine.

Two authors collected numerous cases and published the in the 1600s. Every century seems to have one SHC case.

In the United States, one case in 1951 still sparks interest. Mary Reeser, a 67-year-old retiree living at 1200 Cherry Street NE, Saint Petersburg, Florida, was found by her landlord. Only her left foot remained. Her death was ruled as “accidental death by fire of unknown origin.” Her possessions were shipped off to the FBI for analysis. The FBI concluded that the “robust woman” weighing 170 pounds fell asleep smoking a cigarette and her body fat caused the extraordinary cremation. Her death is known as the “Cinder Woman Case” and still generates debate.


The most recent unsolved case stems from the 2010 death of Michael Faherty in Ballybane, Ireland. The 76-year-old man burst into flame and died. The local coroner, Dr. Ciaran McLoughlin, was unable to rule out SHC and issued a statement stating that Faherty “may have” spontaneously combusted.

There are several theories discounting SHC. One admits that there are things that self-ignite without the use of an accelerant; however, the human body is not one of them. They claim that there must be an accelerant. The second points to a medical condition called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, whereby a skin disease appears to have been burned due to adverse reactions to certain medications. It can be fatal; however, none of the people who die are turned to ash.

With stories appearing in mainstream media, spontaneous human combustion will remain a talking point until someone fully debunks the cases.