Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC)
Alleged SHC Cases

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Cases of spontaneous human combustion are, of course, contentious. Many cases are either unreported, attributed to explicable causes or (as some would argue) not even real. As such, compiling a list of cases is fraught with problems. The primary source used here is Jenny Randles and Peter Hough's 1991 book Spontaneous Human Combustion, based on their own extensive research.

  • 26th June 1613
    John Hitchin: Christchurch Dorset
    After a hard day's work as a carpenter, Hitchin went to bed - which he shared with his wife and child. Agnes Russel (his mother) was asleep in a different bed in the same house when she was awoken by an apparent blow to the cheek as an electrical storm raged outside.

    She tried to wake other family members but failed to rouse them with her shouts. Eventually, she went to her daughter's bed to find her burnt down one side. Mr Hitchin and his child were both dead, and Hitchin was ablaze. Dragged into the street, he is said to have burned for three days.
  • 2nd March 1773
    Mary Clues: Gosford Street, Coventry
    52 year old Mary Clues is found by a neighbour, having been incinerated in her bedroom. Only her skull, legs and spine have survived the blaze, but her feather bed is untouched. She liked a drink and had suffered from a variety of medical complains including jaundice. Earlier, she had told her neighbour that she had been visited by the devil in her room and been told that he would return to "take her away".
  • July 1852
    John Anderson, Darnaway Forest
    Anderson is driving a cart of wood through the woods. A herd boy sees him from around a quarter of a mile away as he falls from his cart alight. Despite dousing Anderson in water, he cannot be saved and dies of his burns. His pipe is found under his body.

  • 19th February 1888
    Unknown victim, Aberdeen
    A doctor was called to examine the remains of a man aged around 65. The corpse was leaning against a stone wall in a hayloft and was almost reduced to a cinder. Hay nearby had not been touched by the flame and showed no sign of scorching. When attempts were made to remove the body, it crumbled into ash.
  • 5th January 1899
    The Kirby Sisters
    In January 1899, one of the odder cases of what is alleged to be spontaneous human combustion occurred in the mill town of Sowerby Bridge, perched among the reaches of the Calder valley. The case involved not just one, but two young girls apparently burning to death simultaneously. Weirder still, th...
    The Kirby Sisters: in depth
  • December 1904
    Mrs Clark
    Pensioner Mrs Clark, a resident at the Trinity alms-house, is found burned horribly in her bed. She lives for a few days before dying of her injuries, but can recollect nothing of the incident. Her bedding is unscathed by the conflagration.
  • 16th December 1904
    Mrs Cochrane
    Body discovered in her well-stuffed armchair, burnt beyond recognition. There was no fire in the room.
  • 28th February 1905
    Barbara Bell
    77 year old Mrs Bell is discovered by neighbours with her body badly scarred by fire. The sofa on which her body is found shows no sign of fire damage.
  • 1908
    Mrs Dewar, Whitley Bay
    Mrs Dewar's sister returns to her house to find her burnt to death on an unscorched bed.
  • 1922
    Euphemia Johnson, Sydenham, London
    68 year old widow Mrs Johnson returns home from shopping and makes a well-earned cup of tea. She takes it to her table near the window, where she is found some hours later, burnt to death. Her body has been reduced to ashes, but aside from some slight bubbling on the varnish of the chair there is no evidence of the fire that consumed her.
  • 4th January 1930
    Peter Seaton, London
    11 month old Peter Seaton is asleep upstairs when a guest at the house - Mr. Huxstep - hears him scream. Rushing upstairs, Huxstep is knocked backwards by heat and flame when he opens the child's door. The body is destroyed by the fire and the London Fire Brigade fails to find a cause for the blaze.
  • 27th July 1938
    Phyllis Newcombe: Shire Hall, Chelmsford
    22 year old Miss Newcombe is leaving a dance with her fiancÚ when her dress is suddenly set alight. Her fiancÚ burns his hands trying to put out the flames. Despite his efforts, the girl is dead within minutes. At the inquest, it is suggested that the dress was ignited by a cigarette, but this is shown to have been impossible.

  • 29th July 1938
    Mrs Mary Carpenter, Norfolk
    Mrs Carpenter is reduced to ashes when she apparently combusts for no reason while aboard a boat on the Norfolk Broads.
  • 6th December 1943
    Madge Knight: Chichester
    Mrs Knight is discovered in bed with severe burns to her back and body. Doctors have to anaesthetise her before dressing her burns. Despite their efforts she dies in hospital. Neither the bed where she was discovere not the bed lined show any sign of scorching.
  • 29th January 1958 - 17:30
    Edith Middleton: Pimlico, London
    Mrs Middleton - a sufferer of both high blood pressure and Parkinson's disease - is visited by her friend Annie Law, who leaves her sitting on her bed. Later that day she sees a sparks and flames coming from Mrs. Middleton's chimney and returns to investigate. She discovers Mrs Middleton's body burning through the floorboards of the room - although furniture around her is untouched. It is established at the inquest that she had suffered a fatal heart attack prior to the blaze starting.
  • 2nd February 1964
    Clapham, London
    A 72 year old woman is found almost totally incinerated in a small room. Aside from some minor damage close to the body, the room and its contents are untouched.
  • May 1964
    Naphill, High Wycombe
    A 13 year old boy is found dead in the kitchen with serious burns. Aside from some damage to the carpeter, the room is otherwise undamaged.
  • July 1964
    Hampton Hill, Middlesex
    A 77 year old man is found dead in the corner of his cellar, burnt to death. Speculation is advanced that he doused himself in paraffin.
  • September 1967
    A homeless man of middle age is found in a derelict building with neither gas nor electricity. His body is lying on the stairs and flames 'like a blowtorch' are coming from a slit in his stomach. The autopsy does not find a cause for the fire, but finds that the man died of asphyxia. He has inhaled fumes from the fire and was thus still alive when the burning started.
  • 28th March 1974
    Blacon, Chester
    A 35 year old woman is found, burnt to death in her armchair. No reason for the blaze is found and damage is limited to the immediate vicinity of the body.
  • 20th April 1976
    A 23 year old woman is discovered, badly burnt, in a basement by her father who is awoken by the smell of a fire.
  • 24th December 1976
    Mayfair, London
    An 84 year old woman is found, burned to death inside her house. No details are found as to the cause.
  • 29th December 1976
    Isleworth, Middlesex
    A 32 year old woman is found, burned in her living room. Evidence of a small fire is found - but no fire or smoke is detected from outside.

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