Theory of Spontaneous Human Combustion Goes up in Flames
By Aisling Irwin
SPONTANEOUS human combustion is a myth, researchers will announce this week.
A study of 200 cases, in which people have allegedly erupted in flames with
no outside cause, has shown that each one has a rational explanation.
Believers in spontaneous human combustion allege that victims have died
grisly deaths, bursting suddenly into flames and being reduced to piles of
ashes in a few seconds. Much of the skeleton has often disappeared, despite
the fact that it should be resistant to burning at such temperatures.
Surrounding upholstery often remains untouched, it is claimed.
Explanations for the fiery reaction have included ball lightning, vampires,
psychic suicide, magnetic storms and the wrath of God. But David Pescod, a
biologist and librarian at the Linnaen Society, and Mark Benecke, a
forensic scientist at the office of the chief medical examiner in New York
City, have examined most of the cases.
Mr Pescod said: "I've not yet received one scrap of evidence for such a
thing as spontaneous human combustion, in that the body self-ignites
through some property it possesses." Mr Pescod will tell the Edinburgh
International Science Festival that the cases he has investigated
invariably involve a careless cigarette and a human wearing flammable
clothing. In some cases he has found that crucial photographs of the
victims, revealing an ordinary death, have been omitted from the evidence.
One picture showing only a pair of legs left in a chair, from which
advocates have argued that the rest of the skeleton mysteriously burnt away
to nothing, was taken after scientists removed the rest of the bones for
investigation. In one celebrated case in 1986 an elderly man was "consumed
along with the mattress of the bed in which he was sleeping," said Mr
Pescod. "All that was left was his skull and bits of his rib cage."
Mr Pescod found that the man kept an oxygen canister beside his bed which
he had switched on. He was a heavy smoker and drinker, and there was
evidence that he had lit a cigarette, which in oxygen would burn furiously.
In most cases Mr Pescod believes that the victims were elderly people who
died of a heart attack and fell into an open fire or on to electrical
devices. Other explanations include a knife wound to the stomach of someone
who suffers from excessive flatulence in the presence of a spark.
Ian Andrew Bell firstname.lastname@example.org
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