On July 2, 1951, Mary Reeser brought Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) to the forefront of scientific investigation. Her death is so bizarre, it really defies logical explanation.
Ms. Reeser had said goodnight to her visiting son and was last seen sitting in her easy chair of her modest St. Petersburg, FL apartment. Her neighbor, Ms. Carpenter was awakened by smoke, and traced it to Mary Reeser's door - which was scolding hot.
What firefighters and police found was immensely gruesome and incomprehensible. Mary's 170 pound body was nothing more than 10 pounds of ashes, her skull that had shrunk to the size of an orange, and her left foot completely intact. The room showed signs of heat damage - plastic was melted on switches and outlet covers, melted wax from her candles, and her chair was severely damaged. But that was it no widespread fire damage at all.
Dr. Korgman of the University of Pennsylvania that performed the pathology exam was baffled. He said it would take temperatures of more than 3000 degrees to do destroy a body so...especially the bones. With that much heat generated, the entire apartment - the entire building - should've gone up in flames. It's a classic case of SHC.
So what happened? Is SHC real? There are several theories out there:
1)Alcoholism...probably perpetuated by Charles Dickens in one of his novels where a drunk spontaneously combusts. They did an experiment where they saturated human flesh and tried to light it. Sounds like a Beavis and Butthead episode to me. The flesh didn't burn much.
2)Divine intervention...this was popular in the 17th century, particularly in the less-education population. I guess the thinking was you look at your cousin in the wrong way and God will turn you into crispy toast for having such lewd thoughts.
3)Build up of static electricity...ok, I tried this in the 5th grade. The library had thick lush carpet. I dragged my feet on it for almost 20 minutes straight and shocked the hell out of Todd Weber. He screamed like a girl and told on me...but he didn't shoot up in flames.
4)The "Wick Effect"...this is the most widely accepted scientific explanation. In 1999, the BBC TV show QED showed how SHC was really not such a mystery. They believed that body fat could indeed burn for a long time. So they did what any British scientist would do - they burned a pig! They took a pig, wrapped it up in a blanket (ha), put some petrol on it, put the pig in a room, and lit 'er up! The result? Tasty bacon on English muffins with tea in the morning.
5)Build up of methane gas...this theory was made popular by the renowned investigative TV show South Park. Here's an excerpt from one of their episodes where Kenny apparently spontaneously combusts:
Mayor: All right, people. Scientist Marsh and I have been working very hard on the problem of spontaneous combustion, and we have finally come up with a solution. Mr. Marsh?
Randy: The little boy combusted because he had a new girlfriend. It wasn't the girl that caused him to combust, it was the fact that Kenny did not want to pass gas in front of her. The methane gathers here in the bowel area where it causes pressure. Normally a person would expel this byproduct in the form of a pleasant fart. Should the gas not be expelled, the methane can build up and then ignite, leading to... disaster. Kenny combusted because he held his farts in for too long.
Townsfolk: You mean, all we have to do is fart and we won't explode?
Randy: Exactly. [after a while, a fart is heard, then more farts follow as the townsfolk release their gases]
Mayor: So, from this day forward, everyone in South Park will be required to fart on a regular basis to insure that nobody else spontaneously explodes.
So please, take spontaneous combustion prevention measures at regular intervals and whenever you deem neccessary.