“So-called Spontaneous Human Combustion”

Some people are fascinated with the idea of spontaneous human combustion. If you’re one of those people, grab hold of a fire extinguisher and a copy of this new study:

So-called Spontaneous Human Combustion,” Thierry W. Levi-Faict and Gérald Quatrehomme, Journal of Forensic Sciences, vol. 56, no. 5, September 2011, pp. 1334–9. (Thanks to investigator Kurt Rafael Verkest for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at Laboratoire de Médecine Légale et de Médecine sociale, Clermont-Ferrand, and at Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis, Nice, France, report:

A well-documented case of so-called Spontaneous Human Combustion is reported. Review of the literature shows that these strange observations have been reported since the 17th century, even in famous novels….

Case Report: In 2006, the mayor of the little village of the Centre of France had been without news of one of his villagers for 48 h. The 57- year-old divorced man was living off welfare. He was known for his alcohol and tobacco addictions, his violent temper, and his lack of social skills…. The autopsy concluded that burning had occurred in the postmortem period. It was impossible to determine the exact cause of death. The high blood alcohol concentration was probably not lethal given the subject’s history of chronic alcohol dependency. Heart failure complicated by alcohol intake was suggested as a possible cause of death…. The results of the police inquiry were inconclusive. There was no indication of burglary, and no motive for foul play was discovered. The arson expert found no suspicious sources of fuel in the house that might have served to start the fire. The wood stove was out, and the logs inside were uncharred. The ash drawer was full of ashes. Liquid fat of human origin was found near the body. The arson expert was surprised to find the objects surrounding the body, including paper, newspaper, wood, straw, and alcohol bottles to be undamaged….

In conclusion, so-called spontaneous human combustion is a reality in forensic practice, but burning of the body is not spontaneous. To avoid any ambiguity, another name could be suggested for these cases, as “isolated body combustion” or “isolated central body combustion.”

BONUS: A recent case in Ireland that was officially deemed (by a coroner) to be human spontaneous combustion (HT @ruthie147)

BONUS: Spontaneous fructic explosions