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thinking about 'spontaneous human combustion'

the guy

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I certainly agree that the wick effect is the best candidate so far for a familiar explanation of this strange phenomenon. But it would be interesting to know if the wick effect also somehow shrinks the head. Reports from forensic scientists who have examined SHC cases say that the head is about the size of a grapefruit, which just doesn't make sense, since a skull should crack rather than shrink, and should explode from boiling brain matter inside.


The SHC cases I read about all concerned reclusive and impoverished elderly ladies who had no enemies because they didn't know anyone, and whose heirs, if any, would have had no financial motivation to hasten their harvesting of their inheritance. Random murders do occur, but usually there is some financial, emotional, or sexual motive. On the other hand, the fact that old ladies often wear a long lacey gown is consistent with the hypothesis that the wick effect is operative.


The photos of one SHC case I have seen show that the combustion went right through the floorboards under the old woman, exposing the pipes underneath, but this seems inconsistent with the operation of the wick effect, where the heat would be going upwards and the hottest part of the flame would be at the top. Also, in that same photo one foot and ankle of the woman survived, suggesting the fire was directed away from the floorboards.


Since we don't know how soon the body was burned after being killed, if it was killed at all prior to the burning, we can't settle the issue a priori of whether forensic pathology can establish your point.


I challenged one pathologist years ago to account for why the people in these SHC cases did not seem to have moved after catching fire, and just sat there being combusted without reaching out to an adjacent phone or trying to get out of the chair. If murdered prior to the combustion, this would account for the lack of self-protective motion after the fire started. The pathologist thought that in the specific case we were looking at, the woman had Parkinson's Disease and so could not get out the chair. But even someone with Parkinson's Disease would struggle enough to knock surrounding objects over, I would think.

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Most of the really mysterious SHC cases were in the rather long past when forensics was pretty much "Yeah, he's dead"


Typical case




I specifically addressed the Reeser case because it’s one of the most popular of SHC proponents, and is also one where many of the facts are known. But in working with cases of supposed spontaneous human combustion, an explanation like the “wick effect” won’t cover all of them. There are too many variances between cases, too many different environments and situations. Each situation must be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Given enough facts, there is always a non-supernatural explanation for spontaneous human combustion. No supernatural evidence for SHC has been produced. But because we don’t always have the facts, because credulous media reporting and pseudoscience can be sexier than deductive reasoning, stories of spontaneous human combustion will continue. The key is to treat them for what they are: just another horror story to be told around the campfire. Is spontaneous human combustion entertaining? Yes. Is it interesting? Absolutely. Is it supernatural? No.


While not all of the details of every SHC case are the same and a few have been shown to be murder SHC is not as mysterious as anecdotal accounts would have you believe. The shrinking skull thing is often told as a sign of SHC but I could find only two cases cited where that occurred.


Reeser's remains, which were largely ashes, were found among the remains of a chair in which she had been sitting. Only part of her left foot (which was wearing a slipper) and her backbone remained.[1] Plastic household objects at a distance from the seat of the fire were softened and had lost their shapes.

Reeser's skull had survived and was found among the ashes, but shrunken (sometimes with the added descriptive flourish of 'to the size of a teacup').[1] The extent of this shrinkage was enough to be remarked on by official investigators and was not an illusion caused by the removal of all facial features (ears, nose, lips, etc.). The shrinking of the skull is not a regular feature of alleged cases of SHC, although the 'shrunken skull' claim has become a regular feature of anecdotal accounts of other SHC cases and numerous apocryphal stories. However, this is not the only case in which the remains featured a shrunken skull.











Spontaneous Human Combustion as a phenomenon itself does not exist. It is most likely used as an explanation for deaths involving burning which occur under very unusual circumstances. Although it may seem impossible for a body to burn in a chair and leave most of the surrounding area untouched, the deaths can be explained without the need for fantastical theories.
Edited by Moontanman
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I think we all (?) agree that SHC does not exist, for the very reason that it would require some sort of supernatural action for something so naturally moist and difficult to combust as a human body to burst into flames. So no one is disagreeing with you there. The cases are interesting, however, since finding a real explanation that covers all the available data in a plausible way seems difficult.

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