Season 1: Episode 6

Spontaneous Human Combustion




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Episode Transcript

Episode 6 – Spontaneous Human Combustion

 Mike: [00:00:29] Hello. Good evening, and welcome to episode six of Stories of Strangeness. I’m Mike. Hello. And this is Zoe. 

Zoe: [00:00:36] Good evening, or good morning. 

Mike: [00:00:39] Or whenever you’re listening. 

Zoe: [00:00:40] Indeed. 

Mike: [00:00:41] This week is a Zoe week.

Zoe: [00:00:43] It is! 

Mike: [00:00:43] Yay! And what are you going to be doing for us this week Zoe? 

Zoe: [00:00:47] I’m burning to tell ya. No, that’s a bit…

So this week I will be talking about spontaneous human combustion. 

Mike: [00:00:56] Cool. Take it away. 

Zoe: [00:00:58] Thank you very much! 

So spontaneous human combustion. This is something, as I said before, that I’ve been mildly obsessed with for quite some time. Since I was a lot younger in the 1990s, when it was very en Vogue. It was featured in a lot of books and magazines that focused on the paranormal, many of which we had in our home. Yet again – thanks mum and dad! At the time, it was actually a bit scary, and lots of thoughts and theories being thrown around about how and why it happened. It was sensationalised. I became obsessed with the TV, as I said before, about how close I sat to it, because I believed it increased the chances of me bursting into flames.

And I’m pretty sure I must’ve heard that somewhere, I’m just not sure where, I’m just pretty sure I didn’t make it up. So what is spontaneous human combustion? It is the idea that a body can ignite without any influence from the outside world. In other words, the point of ignition is the body itself, not a match, or an external heat source. These days most people don’t believe it exists, and that if you were to look into these historical cases, you would probably be able to find the true cause. According to Larry E Arnold’s, 1995 book “Ablaze,” there have been approximately 200 cases in about 300 years. So we’re averaging about two cases every three years. So there should be plenty of stories to look at.

 We’re going to start at the beginning, although not the first instance, the idea and the term spontaneous human combustion was supposedly coined in 1746, by a man named Paul Rolli. While writing an article including other deaths involving fire, Rolli translated a 1731 document written by Joseph Bianchini, an Italian historian, regarding the strange death of the Countess Cornelia Bandi.

He wrote that during her last meal, the Countess who was in her sixties, was “Dull and heavy.” She was an infamous brandy drinker and would sprinkle camphorated brandy onto herself to relieve her aches and pains, and was also known to bathe in it as well. Which, a bath of brandy – Wow. Anyway, after the meal, she was accompanied to her room by her maid, where they spent the next three hours in conversation.

When the maid left her, she was asleep in bed. The next morning, when the maid went to wake her, she found the room full of soot. On closer inspection, they found a pile of ash about three foot from the bed. All that remained of her mistress, was a pair of legs from below the knee, still with the stockings on; three fingers, and the front half of her skull. The skull was actually positioned between her legs as if she had fallen straight down, and not toppled over- which suggested a very quick incineration. The bed, and the room at large had not been affected, but it was covered in a thick layer of grease and soot, that was really quite smelly.

As the covers on the bed were folded back, it looked as though the Countess had risen from the bed, and then fell. And that’s where we’re going to leave her for the moment. 

And I want to just give you a heads up. If you do choose to Google this, there are some pretty gruesome photos out there. So you have been warned.  So I mean, obviously I’ve been doing a lot of research, and I stumbled across a website, and it’s amazing. It’s called And this has to be one of the biggest collections of amazing information I’ve ever seen. The writer has really done his homework. He takes note, and researches each piece, and if he hasn’t researched it, he lets you know. So I just want to give a shout out, his name is Garth Haslan. Honestly, amazing work. So the list of supposed cases of spontaneous human combustion on his website is really, really long. Some with only very basic details, like a place and a date to be researched at a later date. And others are really detailed.

Some of the pieces have been debunked. Others have highlighted that bad reporting and use of words to optimize effect can change and taint a story, kind of like written Chinese whispers. But we all know what the media can be like. Anyway, if you have a spare moment, go and check it out, because I literally could have spent hours reading the stories on there.

One thing that Garth did point out that is linked to this research, and I found this quite interesting, there is a book by Jenny Randle and Peter Hough called, “Spontaneous Human Combustion,” and it was published in 1992, and it includes many, many occurrences with details, but it couldn’t give official sources for the details, and they often just put “Author’s own research,” as the source, which is really vague. What was even more worrying, is that people doing research now, are using that book as a form of reference. So then no one knows where the stories come from. Anyway, the more I’ve researched, the more I’ve realized that this term is thrown around very casually these days. When someone dies by fire, it doesn’t take long before somebody suggests that it’s spontaneous human combustion. It almost seems like a “Get out of jail free card,” and can actually harm finding out what really happened.

As soon as people hear the term spontaneous human combustion, it’s so fantastical, that it’s almost like they don’t want to hear the truth. I’ve also come to realize that it must be incredibly upsetting for family members and friends to have photos of their family’s remains regularly pop up on the internet, the TV, or in magazines.

Originally when cases were written about, it was for scientific journals to learn and gain knowledge. These days, if it’s written about, we can expect horrendously exaggerated headlines, and very little information. And regardless of if it is actually relevant, spontaneous human combustion will be splashed about.

There are some very recent cases that have been labeled, more by the tabloids than by scientists, as spontaneous human combustion, but I’m choosing not to include them, because they’re more of an example of how the media can have a very negative effect on a case if the reporting focuses on shock factor rather than facts.

 So, anyway, as I said, originally these articles were written for scientific journals for a very niche audience to ponder. But once there was a term for death by fire, it seems that some time was spent going back through awkward or unsolved cases, and reassigning them as spontaneous human combustion.

As supposed cases increased, it was obviously questioned: Why, and how, and who was at risk. The more questions asked, the more answers the scientists couldn’t actually give. In the end, it seems the scientific community brushed it aside as unbelievable or impossible, to the point that one would risk ridicule for considering it. It was actually Charles Dickens who was partly responsible for taking the idea to the wider audience.

 In his 1853 novel Bleak House; a character comes to a grizzly end, and it is put down to spontaneous human combustion. Dickins was actually warned at the time in private letters from a friend, that scientists had deemed it incorrect and a falsehood. He replied thus: That, “While human combustion may or may not be spontaneous, the strange fire deaths had occurred as evidenced by the numerous reports.”

Now, how many adaptations of Bleak House have there been? How many reprints? It’s a classic. So it continues to introduce the idea to people. So that was 1853. We’re now going to jump ahead almost a hundred years. And it was this one case that got the world talking about spontaneous human combustion again, but this time for a slightly different reason. Mary Reeser, a lady in her sixties, living alone. On the morning of the 2nd of July in 1951 Mary’s landlady woke up at 5AM to the smell of smoke, but thinking that it could have been a generator, or the like, she ignored it. At 8AM. She went to deliver a telegram to Mary, but found the door handle too hot to touch.

When the fire brigade entered the room, they found what remained of Mary Reeser. A slippered foot, a piece of spine, and a partial skull, apparently shrunken to the size of a teacup. Even though her body had been reduced to ash, most of her flat appeared unharmed. It was noted that there was a pile of newspaper relatively close to her, that had not been affected. A clock had stopped at 2:26, giving an approximate time of death. Newspapers obviously reported the bizarre death, as Mary had been well liked in the community of St. Petersburg in Florida. And it was also reported in her hometown of Columbia, Pennsylvania. And so the story spread, but it was the skull that got people really interested. But let’s leave her like the Countess, there for a little bit.

I’m not going to list more cases. Like I said before, there is a lot of information out there, but I will say that many people lived in properties that had regular open flames, be it fireplaces, oil lamps, or candles. There are also smokers. So, many argued that it was simply a case of a stray ember, and a person who may not have been as quick as they once were.

Could it be that these people were just accidentally set alight, but were unable to deal with the flames and could not raise the alarm? This is a preferred theory of a lot of people. Since the invention of central heating and electricity, the need for open flame within the home has been reduced to a scented candle and a birthday cake. And cases of spontaneous human combustion seem to have disappeared.

So how does it work? And this bit might be a bit graphic. True spontaneous human combustion means that somehow the body itself creates the flame. One scientist who was very vocal about his theories is Brian J. Ford. His theory involves the body producing a substance like acetone. This is breathed out. It’s also highly flammable, so that it could be ignited by something as minor as a static spark. So basically we’re talking about the same effect as like, lighting a fart, and we’ve all heard the urban legends of how that can go horribly, horribly wrong. But having looked at his opinions, he is very blinkered, and it seems any case put in front of him, he will argue for it being spontaneous human combustion, and doesn’t seem open to sayin, “Well, oh yes – maybe that one might have been an accident.”

In his book Ablaze, Larry, E. Arnold actually made up a new particle, called a, “Pyrotron,” to support his theories, but since then he’s been accused also of being very selective with his evidence. True scientists, not authors, have other ideas. They have come up with, “The Wick Effect,” and this is how it works: It starts with a flame. Be it an ember from a candle, or a fire. This comes into contact with the clothes of the person, often around the torso. The clothes start to burn. The flame works its way to the skin. The outer layer of skin burns, and before long, the fat layer is exposed. The heat melts the fat and you basically have a human candle, like a normal candle, but reversed – the wick is the clothes, and the body fat is the wax.

Tests have been carried out, not on people I might add, and it was found that this kind of fire burns extremely hot, and can keep going for hours. Is also very localized and burns inwardly, explaining why that often surrounding areas are not affected. So let’s go back and look at the cases we covered: 

The Countess. She was a heavy drinker, and liked to rub brandy on herself to relieve pain – not a great start. A detail, which I’ve seen in some accounts, and not in others, is that there was actually an oil lamp on the floor. It was empty, but it was covered in ash as well as the greasy substance. If it has ash on it, that suggests that it was actually quite close to the body.

What if the Countess rose in the night to use the chamber pot, or maybe to open a window to get some fresh air, because she had been feeling ill – and she got up, took hold of her lamp and somehow managed to just set herself alight. She was old. If it’s a big house, maybe she just didn’t have a chance to cry out for help, or maybe she did, and nobody heard her.

Early on, a list was developed for the criteria of spontaneous human combustion. It was most likely to happen to the elderly, or infirm; living alone; overweight; drinkers, and smokers. 

Back to Mary Reeser: She was all of these. So it seemed to be a perfect case, but if you look into it further, the previous night, Mary had been visited by her son who was a doctor.

She had told him, as she sat smoking a cigarette, that she’d taken two sleeping pills, and that she may even take two more. Could this simply have been a case of falling asleep with a lit cigarette? There were many that thought so, but that’s not why this case interested people. It was the skull, a shrunken skull, the size of a teacup.

Scientists have explained that, if anything, the skull should’ve got bigger with heat, not smaller. This was the case that made people wonder if spontaneous human combustion was actually a paranormal occurrence. So let’s hear some of these theories: 

In his book in 1976, “Fire From Heaven,” Michael Harrison concluded that spontaneous human combustion actually belonged to the extensive range of Poltergeist activity.

He also supported theories to do with magnetic fields, and Ley lines – and spent many an hour plotting Ley lines across the country – and he had proof that at least 10 cases of spontaneous human combustion had occurred on a Ley line. And anything that caused extreme emotional states. Ball lightning was another option, although that had been mentioned years earlier. I think even with the Countess’ case they said that maybe ball lightning had come down the chimney, or came through a crack in the curtains. Ritual dancing, and of course aliens – either by alien abduction an alien encounter, or simply a UFO. 

I mentioned that tests had been done with regards to the theory. They’re actually done by the BBC and QED. One of the most thorough ones was in 1998, where they wrapped a pig in a blanket – it was a dead pig – and set light to it. But, I haven’t really gone into that because, both for, and against spontaneous human combustion, use it as proof to argue their case. But I want to just to let you know that that is out there as well. 

So whether or not these cases are spontaneous human combustion in its truest form, or very unfortunate, sad accidents – we just don’t really know yet. That’s not to say that we never will, but right now we can’t prove anything, but cases are still being reported to this day.

So there you go.

Mike: [00:16:00] Wow. 

Zoe: [00:16:02] The research didn’t really take me the way I thought it would. 

Mike: [00:16:05] Where did you think it was going to take you? 

 Zoe: [00:16:07] I thought.  Actually, I’m not entirely sure what I thought, cause he’d been such a long time since I’d looked into it. I knew about Mary Reeser, and a lot of the older cases from the 50 sixties seventies, because like I said, we had those books.

Mike: [00:16:21] Yeah.

Zoe: [00:16:23] There were some more recent cases, and there’s actually quite a few cases where people have survived, and others where they haven’t, obviously, And people have said, “Oh, it’s spontaneous human combustion,” but the burns have been very, very, superficial on the outside of the body. Which then makes people say, “Oh, but if it’s spontaneous human combustion, they should have died, because it should have come from inside.”

Mike: [00:16:42] Right.

Zoe: [00:16:44] But, no one specifies where the flame comes from. I think when you hear the term combustion, you think combust – explode!

Mike: [00:16:52] Yeah. 

Zoe: [00:16:53] But combust means to burn. So it doesn’t mean the body explodes into flame. People just assume, yeah. It should be spontaneous human ignition, but even then you get that kind of “Vroom,” kind of feeling.

 I know that I told you that I’d found a lot of information from a particular case back in the eighties. 

Mike: [00:17:15] Yeah. 

Zoe: [00:17:16] It was splashed around headlines, spontaneous human combustion. I found the notes from the inquiry. 

Mike: [00:17:23] Right. 

Zoe: [00:17:24] And it seemed like there were actually three plausible explanations: Spontaneous human combustion being one of them, another, which was completely overlooked, which is basically death by misadventure, which, they just completely didn’t look into it at all. And the other was, blaming natural causes. The fact that spontaneous human combustion was mentioned, they were so adamant that it wasn’t that, 

Mike: [00:17:50] Yeah,

Zoe: [00:17:50] that they went completely for the natural causes, and actually in my opinion, missed out very, very, important information, to the point where people didn’t turn up to give evidence – witnesses. Witness statements changed, and no one was ever questioned why. The report from the fire department, and a scientific Institute wasn’t even included in evidence. 

Mike: [00:18:13] Ok,

Zoe: [00:18:13] And the jury came back in under 10 minutes basically saying, no, it was, that was that I don’t want to go into details of what case it was, because although I was really… not excited, by the amount of details I’d found for it, the last piece of information I found, was the mother’s plea to ask people to stop using this instance. 

Mike: [00:18:35] Right, ok. 

Zoe: [00:18:36] So I was like, I’m not going to include it. So I’m mentioning no names, but it was a real example about bad reporting, bad police work,

Mike: [00:18:45] Yeah.

Zoe: [00:18:45] And it was just a really, really sad case. It just wasn’t thoroughly done, and I think it was so sensationalized by the media, that they just wanted to get it out of the way and done.

Mike: [00:18:55] I mean, I suppose fire is natural,  technically speaking.

Zoe: [00:19:00] It is. Yes. I mean, fire is natural, but generally we don’t have a habit of bursting into flame.

Mike: [00:19:08] Not on average, no.

Zoe: [00:19:10] It’s saved for… well, not special occasions – horrific occasions, you know? 

Mike: [00:19:16] Yeah. Yeah. Imagine that, like going up like a candle on your birthday and everybody else has to blow you out.

Zoe: [00:19:21] Oh, I’m sure there’s a comment about blowing on your birthday love, but 

Mike: [00:19:29] I’m sure 

Zoe: [00:19:30] I’m not going to go there. 

Mike: [00:19:31] So I was quite taken with Larry E. Arnold, cause you’ve mentioned his book “Ablaze,” before, but he created a new particle called a “Pyrotron?”

Zoe: [00:19:41] Yes. I think it sounds like a Transformer. 

Mike: [00:19:44] Yeah, I like it. 

Zoe: [00:19:45] Like a hotrod.

Mike: [00:19:45] Pyrotron – Come to burn your bum! 

Zoe: [00:19:50] Yeah.  So I don’t know how it came across, but he did have some sort of scientific research to back up his, Pyrotron,

Mike: [00:19:59] His pyrotronic empire. 

Zoe: [00:20:01] Exactly. But, I think it’s a guy called Joe Nichols. He’s like an actual, proper scientisty type research guy. He has basically said he was very, very, selective in his research, and very, very blinkered. So he just used whatever made his theory right. And only use the cases that 

Mike: [00:20:21] Crap science basically. 

Zoe: [00:20:22] Yeah. It’s that, you know, crap science. Yeah. That’s, that’s basically what it is, isn’t it. and yeah, but he wrote this book and it was massive. 

Mike: [00:20:29] Yeah, but when you’ve got to start inventing particles to prove a theory, I think, you know, 

Zoe: [00:20:35] I don’t know if scientists 

Mike: [00:20:36] I say that, but Physics do it, but generally it’s backed by mathematical proofs, or experimental observations, or something, not just… 

Zoe: [00:20:43] They put them on like little, you know, put them on those little glass things on the microscope?

Mike: [00:20:48] I’d love to know more about the Pyrotron though. I’d love to know how he thinks, how they move, how they interact with things. 

Zoe: [00:20:53] Do you remember the old gas adverts with the little gas flame with a face? I feel it’s like that.

Mike: [00:20:58] Or like Calcifer, on Howl’s Moving Castle.

Zoe: [00:21:00] I mean, I prefer that, but I feel like a blue flame is more – oooooh! 

Mike: [00:21:04] Yeah. Interesting theory. The shrunken skull. 

Zoe: [00:21:07] Yeah. 

Mike: [00:21:08] So what was that about? 

Zoe: [00:21:09] So that’s apparently part of her remains this shrunken skull, but only one person saw it. 

Mike: [00:21:16] Right. 

Zoe: [00:21:17] And it has now been buried with what was left of her, and the family won’t give permission for it to be exhumed.

Mike: [00:21:24] Understandable.

Zoe: [00:21:25] Exactly. Leave her where she is. I think she’s getting…

Mike: [00:21:28] “Here, d’ya mind if we ‘ave a look at your auntie’s skull?”

Yes actually, I do. 

Zoe: [00:21:32] Leave her alone. Some people argued, that actually it could have been a big knot of muscle, that kind of solidified in the fire, from, like the base of the neck. 

Mike: [00:21:45] Okay, but then where’s her skull?

Zoe: [00:21:48] Burned up completely with the rest of her bones. At the end of the day…

Mike: [00:21:50] Bones don’t burn.

Zoe: [00:21:51] What do you think cremation is? 

Mike: [00:21:54] They burn the body, and then they smash the skeleton to bits and powderize it, the bones don’t burn.

Zoe: [00:22:02] Okay. Pretty much every case of supposed spontaneous human combustion, the only bones that are left are the extremities of the body, that haven’t burned.

This is part of the argument: To burn bone, you need a temperature of upwards of, I think it’s, is it 2,500 or 3000 degrees? 

Mike: [00:22:25] So this says here, “After some two hours, at a thousand degrees, the only recognizable parts are the bones, which are in a brittle, or crumbly condition. 

Zoe: [00:22:34] Yeah. A thousand degrees. But we’re talking about temperatures of 2000, and 3000. I mean, so then how would you explain all of these cases where it is literally just ash and a bit of leg, and a finger?

Mike: [00:22:47] Yeah, I guess, I mean, it must have to be like, crazy hot. 

Zoe: [00:22:51] Exactly. So, one person saw this supposed skull part, 

Mike: [00:22:57] Yeah,

Zoe: [00:22:57] but then it was suggested that it could have been this knot of muscle, kind of solidified into this kind of weird cup shape, that was the size of a teacup – and no one got to look at it and test it, and see what actually happened, to see if it was actually a fragment of skull.

Mike: [00:23:13] Yeah.

Zoe: [00:23:14] It’s very, very weird. But that, like I said, kind of opened the door for the paranormal theories. 

Mike: [00:23:21] Yeah.

Zoe: [00:23:22] So another theory put forward, is that some people are just more predisposed to actually burn more than others, because of things like health, because of things like weight, because of genetic makeup 

Mike: [00:23:37] So just genetically more flammable than your average person,

Zoe: [00:23:40] Yeah, because we have so many things going on inside of us, with different chemicals, different illnesses create different chemicals. That there are going to be people who are more flammable than others.

Mike: [00:23:52] Yeah, I was just wondering actually – if you were to get a group of people who were more flammable than normal, and make a dating app for them, what would you call it? Cause Tinder’s already taken! 

Zoe: [00:24:03] What are you like?

Mike: [00:24:08] Oh dear. Whoo!

Zoe: [00:24:10] So it’s weird though, because there are cases, and unfortunately there’s just not enough information. There’s literally just snippets of the girl who found herself surrounded in a blue flame. She was walking and every second step, she was like, “Oh!” Kind of, flame, was whooshing over her.

And she was like, what’s going on? She thought it was quite funny, turned around and went, “Mum, look at this!” Her brother comes out of the house, and is like, “Do you not know about spontaneous human combustion?” And they got her in the bath. Literally put her in the bath. But literally, it was blue flame over her, from nowhere.

Mike: [00:24:48] That could be all sorts of things, really. That could be, something to do with her clothes, or static igniting a gas that happened to be around her, or something like that. 

Zoe: [00:24:57] Yeah. 

Mike: [00:24:58] Again, we’re back to lighting farts there really, but yeah. 

Zoe: [00:25:01] But then think of the things that we use, as things like lamps, and candles, and open fires in the home have reduced, the amount of basic crap we throw at our bodies has increased: Deodorant, hairspray, body spray, perfume, lotions, all sorts of things.

And a lot of them have alcohol in them to dry them out. 

Mike: [00:25:23] Yeah. Yeah. Cause that kind of thing does sound like an alcohol fire. Where you see that kind of blue flame, just kind of, rippling over things.

Zoe: [00:25:31] Like lighting a Christmas pudding! 

Mike: [00:25:34] Or like dousing yourself in brandy, and then suddenly going on fire.

Zoe: [00:25:38] And then going, I’m going to pick up this lamp.  

Mike: [00:25:40] Cornelia Bandi.

Zoe: [00:25:42] Yes. Countess. 

Mike: [00:25:43] Countess. You said her skull was found between her legs, as if she’d kind of just burned up and dropped forward. 

Zoe: [00:25:50] Yeah, dropped straight down, yeah.

Mike: [00:25:51] Her skull was supposedly the same size though. 

Zoe: [00:25:54] Yeah. That was just a normal sized… 

Mike: [00:25:55] So it was only Mary Reeser that’s ever been noted to have had a shrunken skull?

Zoe: [00:25:59] Yeah. I think that’s the only case where there’s actually been shrinkage that we know of.

Mike: [00:26:04] Voodoo. I reckon it was Voodoo. 

Zoe: [00:26:07] She’s like, 66 year old… 

Mike: [00:26:09] Yeah, and she pissed off a shaman. 

Zoe: [00:26:11] I mean, you know at the end of Beetlejuice where he spinkles the powder on his head and it shrinks. Does that actually work?

Mike: [00:26:17] Well I don’t know. I mean, there’s, there’s the whole shrunken heads thing isn’t there that supposedly some tribes used to do, but whether that’s real or not I don’t know…

Zoe: [00:26:23] Yeah. Yeah. But does that not come under – yeah. But does that not come under paranormal?

Mike: [00:26:28] In theory? Yeah, unless they can figure out how they supposedly did it. I think a lot of it was dried vegetables, that were carved to look like human heads that, were used to like…

Zoe: [00:26:38] I mean, I’ve seen some really skanky looking carrots. 

Mike: [00:26:40] Yeah. I’m not sure you’d get head out of that one.

I mean, it’d be good for doing like a miniature Donald Trump face, cause it’s the right color.

Zoe: [00:26:50] Nice.  

So I’m, leaning towards the, well, I mean, obviously these people have died and they have died by fire. Generally, they’re older people, they’re living alone, they’re overweight, they’re often smokers and drinkers. 

Mike: [00:27:04] Yeah, I mean, it does sound like there’s a lot of things that it could quite easily be explained away as, to be perfectly honest. 

Zoe: [00:27:10] Yeah. And if you, look at it and you, if you can find the whole report of, where they were, you will often find that there were candles and a fireplace, et cetera.

And they say, “Oh, but the fire wasn’t lit.” I was like, but when you came in the body, wasn’t on fire. So who’s to say the fire wasn’t lit 12 hours ago when this was happening? 

Mike: [00:27:30] Well, I’m guessing they’ll have investigators, but you don’t know.

Zoe: [00:27:34] Not always though!

Mike: [00:27:35] So there was the other guy, Brian J. Ford, that mentioned that the body produces a chemical like acetone, which could then maybe be ignited by static. 

Zoe: [00:27:44] Yes. Okay. So I’ve got a little bit of extra information on that. It’s ketosis I’m guessing that this research was done before that diet kicked in, and he argues that, now I’m sorry about this love, that people with diabetes, are more likely to be victims, because of the way their body processes food. 

Mike: [00:28:05] Yup. Well, we’re more likely to be victims of pretty much everything to be fair. Corona virus, heart disease. 

Zoe: [00:28:12] So you’re older and overweight, 

Mike: [00:28:14] Are we still on me now, or what?

Zoe: [00:28:15] No, on the victim! Oh God, fine – you, I mean, you said that not me. 

So he says that this process creates this ketone, which is like acetone, 

Mike: [00:28:25] Right 

Zoe: [00:28:25] in the body. 

Mike: [00:28:26] Yeah. 

Zoe: [00:28:28] Naturally the body should diffuse it, or absorb it – get rid of it basically.

Mike: [00:28:33] Yeah.

Zoe: [00:28:34] But if it doesn’t, and it builds up, it can give you like, I guess, like heartburn. So it starts to come out of the mouth, I guess, a bit like halitosis.

Mike: [00:28:43] That’s one hell of a heartburn!

Zoe: [00:28:45] Well, no, because it doesn’t burn going out. Cause it’s just a gas, but it’s so flammable, you get that kind of like, backdraft.

Mike: [00:28:53] Right, okay. Yeah. So, yeah. So it  ignites, and then goes down your throat. 

Zoe: [00:28:58] Like if your tummy is full of gas, it is from the inside out, rather than from just being on the surface. Cause a lot of people have argued that if there’s no visible  exit wound for a burn, then it can’t be spontaneous human combustion because the flames should come from inside.

  Mike: [00:29:13] But the thing there being, that if ketosis and this Ketone, was the cause of this, surely we’d be seeing more cases because of this keto diet, cause loads of people are doing that. 

Zoe: [00:29:25] You’d think wouldn’t you?

Mike: [00:29:26] Yeah. But that’s a hot tip for the listeners then, is – don’t invite people on the keto diet to your birthday. Because if they get too close to the flames, they could go up, and plus they probably can’t eat the cake anyway.  The Wick effect I think is a contributing factor in some cases. The weird thing was though with the pig – so they wrapped a pig up. They did pigs in blankets. 

Zoe: [00:29:46] Okay. I didn’t mean like the sausage with bacon wrapped around it.

But yeah, pig wrapped in a blanket to be the person, and they set light to it. And it did burn, but there was, I think, in their eyes, more damage to the surrounding. So they’re like, “Oh, well, this doesn’t work with the ‘Not being damage to the surrounding’,” but it did burn, pretty much down to nothing 

Mike: [00:30:08] Because that’s one of the biggest mysteries with it. Isn’t it? Is that oftentimes most of the surroundings, like you said, there was a stack of newspapers nearby with one victim where they were untouched. But also with the same case, I think you said that the handle was too hot to touch on the door. So that’s weird. It’s like it’s hot enough in the room. 

Zoe: [00:30:27] Well you’ll find that most cases they’ll say that, if there’s any candles in the room that weren’t lit, all the wax will have been melted, but the wick will still be standing. Plastic items within the home,  will have melted ,like the clock, and I think it was actually a clock that was plugged in, and I think it was the actual socket that had melted, and stopped the clock. So they knew roughly when the heat got to that particular area. But you know what our kitchen gets like after, you know, having a cooker on for half an hour and that’s with the door closed for half an hour, 200 degrees, 

Mike: [00:31:02] Sure, but generally, it doesn’t make the handle too hot to touch.

Zoe: [00:31:03] No, but imagine having the cooker on for maybe, four or five hours at a stupid, stupid hotter, I reckon the handle might get a bit warm.

Mike: [00:31:12] But it seems to me that it would be a shorter thing. It would burn incredibly hot over a short period of time because otherwise the whole place would go up, surely?

Zoe: [00:31:22] Not necessarily. Think of when you’re doing a barbecue, and you get your coals all sorted out, you light them, they flame for a bit, but it’s when the flame goes out and they start to smolder that you get the real heat. 

Mike: [00:31:33] Yeah, ok.

Zoe: [00:31:34] And also the people who are saying, “Oh, why didn’t other things in the room burn?” 

But if somebody was stood in the middle of the floor, or next to a table, or next to some curtains – although saying that, maybe in a few cases, or several cases, the rest of the house did burn down, but of course, then we never knew  it was spontaneous human combustion because everything burned, and it was almost impossible to tell one thing from another. 

Mike: [00:31:56] Yeah. 

So it’s difficult to say how many other cases would be out there. Some of the causes you mentioned were interesting: Magnetic fields?

Zoe: [00:32:04] I have no idea. 

Mike: [00:32:06] Yeah, no, that’s an interesting one: Ley lines?

Zoe: [00:32:08] Yeah. This, was, something about where they meet and where they cross. And apparently he’d done a lot of research into Ley lines, cause they’re supposed to be places of great power. And he’d said, “Oh look, there’s all these cases!” and I think you’d listed 10 cases that happened on Ley lines, but I’m like – if we’ve had 200 cases in the past 300 years…

Mike: [00:32:28] And 10 of them happened on Ley lines. Yeah.

Zoe: [00:32:30] I’m not sure that’s proof. 

Mike: [00:32:32] No, not really: Ball lightning?

Zoe: [00:32:35] Yeah. That was something that was put forward, even for the Countess’ case, 

Mike: [00:32:40] Which is bizarre. 

Zoe: [00:32:41] I think back then…

Mike: [00:32:42] That was another Tesla thing.

Zoe: [00:32:43] Back then though it was kind of almost not common knowledge, but it was believed that ball lightning could follow you down the street. 

Mike: [00:32:50] Yeah. 

Zoe: [00:32:50] I could chase you. 

Mike: [00:32:52] From the little I’ve read about ball lightning, it does seem to exhibit very odd properties. Like, people have seen it pass through window panes without causing any kind of harm. People have seen it change direction suddenly, and things like that. And yeah. 

Zoe: [00:33:06] Yeah. So it was, it was thrown in there as I guess, a point of ignition, but when you’ve got an empty oil lamp on the floor… 

Mike: [00:33:14] Yeah, there seems to be more pressing evidence. 

Zoe: [00:33:17] Yeah. I really think, bless her, that – I reckon she probably just got up to have a wee, too much Brandy. Right? 

Mike: [00:33:25] Knocked over the oil lamp – woof!

Zoe: [00:33:27] Yeah. Didn’t even look it over. She just picked it up and she was just so flammable. She probably burped or something. 

Mike: [00:33:33] Yeah. 

Zoe: [00:33:34] Like, “Whomp!”

Mike: [00:33:35] Yeah. Well, I’ve got to say I’ve never had ball lightning, but I have sat down on myself a couple of times!

Zoe: [00:33:40] Ooh, that was a terrible laugh!

Mike: [00:33:44] I’m definitely leaving that laugh in.

Zoe: [00:33:46] Thanks!

Mike: [00:33:48] Aliens just come down, set fire to people, piss off again? 

Zoe: [00:33:51] I mean, I didn’t go into that side of things because I was trying to go more for the physical happening, not, you know, laser beam, pew pew! Maybe it was Tesla, with his little laser beam. 

Mike: [00:34:03] Tesla with his laser beam, just setting people on fire.

Zoe: [00:34:05] Yup.

Mike: [00:34:05] “Whoops! Sorry about that.” 

Zoe: [00:34:06] “I thought you were a breeze block!”    

Mike: [00:34:07] No, that one you were thinking of, that was Russell Targ with his laser.

Zoe: [00:34:10] Oh no, it was Russel Targ – damn! 

Mike: [00:34:11] I’ve written down, and I know I’ve paraphrased here, but – “Anything causing emotional stress?”

Zoe: [00:34:17] No, that’s pretty much what he said. 

Mike: [00:34:19] Yeah. I mean, in that case, everybody should be on fire in 2020.   I really hope by the end of the year that isn’t the case because otherwise I’ve been the worst prophet of all time, but yeah.

 Dancing? Didn’t he mention…

Zoe: [00:34:31] Ritualistic dancing, cause I suppose…

Mike: [00:34:33] Ritualistic dancing. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a ritualistic disco, if I’m honest.  

Zoe: [00:34:40] But I reckon he was really subtly trying to blame pagans.

Mike: [00:34:44] Yeah. He’s basically saying occult stuff.

Zoe: [00:34:47] Well if you look – Ley lines, ritual dancing. He’s trying to get the whole demonology thing in there. but without going, “You’re all damned!” 

Very recently, there was a supposed case in 2017,  but again,  no one saw what happened.  So basically it happened during the day; outside; daylight. A guy walking down the street. People saw him – he was not on fire. The next people that saw him, he was on fire. No one saw what actually happened in between. He was, again, I don’t like giving too many details because it’s really, really, recent. But again, the headline in the newspaper, was this: “Police seek witnesses as man bursts into flame in front of horrified crowd. “

Mike: [00:35:43] It’s the sort of thing. You only tend to find out about yourself once as well, isn’t it really? “I’m prone to spontaneous human combustion.” I’m more flammable… You were saying about those people who are more flammable, it’s like you generally only find that out once, unless your sibling and your mum put you in the bath.

But, you know, possible career as a stunt person!

Zoe: [00:36:03] Or not! Why would you want to risk like increase the risk of coming into contact with fire?

Mike: [00:36:08] No, I’m saying, because you could do it on your own. They’d be like, “Oh yeah, we’re going to do this bit where you wander around and  you’re on fire. Do you need a light?” “No. No, I’ve got it!”

Zoe: [00:36:16] It’s not like the guy from Fantastic Four. You can’t just go flame on – poof! It’s not like that, love.

Mike: [00:36:21] Oh, Okay. 

Zoe: [00:36:25] Honestly! Have I inflamed your interest?

Mike: [00:36:29] Absolutely, it was something that I did read around a little bit, and I always remember the photo of the leg near the bath, and the walking frame, and all that kind of thing.

Zoe: [00:36:36] That was a Doctor. But again, they were like, “Oh, well, you know, there was nothing left of him and it doesn’t, you know,” – he was in the bathroom. 

Mike: [00:36:43] Yeah. 

Zoe: [00:36:44] Do you think maybe he was on fire and he was trying to get into the room with all the water?

Mike: [00:36:49] Possibly, yeah. 

Zoe: [00:36:50] And he just couldn’t make it because there’s a Zimmer frame in that photo as well, isn’t there and it’s like, he was obviously maybe a bit slow on his feet?

Mike: [00:36:57] Yeah.

Zoe: [00:36:57] So you don’t know if he tried really hard? 

Mike: [00:37:00] Yeah, that’s not a fun image. 

Zoe: [00:37:02] Exactly. 

Mike: [00:37:02] I’m finding this whole episode really difficult to take the piss out of!

Zoe: [00:37:06] To start off with. I was very much like, “I’m really interested in this. I want to use lots of different examples to show different…” but the more I read, the more I just realized: These were people, and it’s really upsetting, because the families don’t really have complete closure about what happened.

And sometimes, as soon as spontaneous human combustion is stated, it’s almost like that’s all anybody can focus on, and it becomes a battle to prove that either it was, or it wasn’t, but not actually find out what really happened. 

Mike: [00:37:38] Yeah. they’re more kind of fighting over whether it was or wasn’t spontaneous human combustion, rather than looking at probable causes.

Zoe: [00:37:45] Yeah. So, it’s been a weird couple of weeks of research of going in and, being very positive to write lots of information – to not actually wanting to write about individual cases, because it’s so personal. I really considered whether or not to actually include Mary Reeser, but at the end of the day, she, I think, was so pivotal.

Mike: [00:38:06] Yeah. She’s one of the better-known cases.

Zoe: [00:38:09] And such a famous case – your Buzzfeed Unsolved have done an episode on her. So if you want to check out Shane and Ryan being Shane and Ryan. 

Mike: [00:38:16] Yup. And then come straight back here to check us out!  

Zoe: [00:38:20] They’ll have already checked us out. Love.

Mike: [00:38:21] Oh yeah. Hello again! Nice to see you. Hear you. Not hear you. Not see you!

Zoe: [00:38:27] You can’t hear them or see them, love. 

Mike: [00:38:30] Hello? I know you’re out there.

Zoe: [00:38:32] So,  although it’s not heard of as much these days, if you actually look at cases or supposed cases out there, we are keeping up with the ‘two every three years,’ pretty much. It’s just, I think these days we tend to dismiss them more –  let’s say death by fire rather than spontaneous human combustion. So that was spontaneous human combustion folks. What’d you reckon? 

Mike: [00:39:01] Yeah. Let us know – what do you think? Is it a real thing? Is it explainable by other causes? Let us know.

Zoe: [00:39:08] Also, have you ever lit your own fart?

Mike: [00:39:10] Yeah, let us know that. I haven’t.

Zoe: [00:39:14] I mean, that would be dangerous. Love. We should never try that. 

Mike: [00:39:18] Yeah, no, that could go bad. But  talking about backdraft – blimey!

Zoe: [00:39:22] So, if you have enjoyed this episode, please do go back and  listen to our previous episodes. 

Mike: [00:39:33] If you haven’t already, you might be a binge listener, who knows? 

Zoe: [00:39:37] You can review us on… iTunes would be wonderful. If you can leave us a little review on there, that’d be great. 

Mike: [00:39:44] Yup. Reviewing us on iTunes really helps the show get heard by new people.

Zoe: [00:39:48] If you would like to contact us, we have a Facebook group. You can just search for Stories of Strangeness and you will find us. We have a group… 

Mike: [00:39:57] And a page, and you can get to the group from the page. So if you go to, that’s the page. And there is a join group button.

Zoe: [00:40:08] Indeed. We are also on Instagram: 

Mike: [00:40:11] @storiesofstrangeness 

 Zoe: [00:40:13] You can also find us on Twitter: 

Mike: [00:40:15] @sostrangepod 

Zoe: [00:40:17] Do we tweet?

Mike: [00:40:18] I do tweet occasionally. You don’t twote at all.

Zoe: [00:40:21] I’ve not twoted.

Mike: [00:40:22] You’re untwoteworthy!

Zoe: [00:40:24] If you would like to send us a strange story, be it your own story, or one that you think that would interest us, to be read out at a later date, you can email us at:

Mike: [00:40:37] 

Zoe: [00:40:40] That would be wonderful. If you have a preference as to who reads out your story, do please let us know!

Mike: [00:40:45] We also publish a full transcript of each episode to our blog, which is over at, or just click the button from the main page. It’s not that hard – you know how the internet works! 

Zoe: [00:40:56] You will also find some beautiful artwork on Redbubble!

Mike: [00:41:00] You will!

Zoe: [00:41:00] We do a illustration for each episode. I actually haven’t done the one for this episode. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do for it. 

Mike: [00:41:08] It’s a tricky one to cover, isn’t it ?

Zoe: [00:41:09] Yeah. So yeah, Redbubble – you just need to search Zoe and Mike!

Mike: [00:41:14] Yep. And there’ll be a link in the show notes as well.

Zoe: [00:41:17] I’ll also try and put all of the links for my sources, as reference.

Mike: [00:41:22] In case you want to read further.

So from me, Mike. And she, Zoe. 

Zoe: [00:41:28] Hello? 

Mike: [00:41:29] No, it’s the other one. 

Both: [00:41:31] Goodbye.

Zoe: [00:41:32] Love you!

Mike: [00:41:33] Bye!

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