Spontaneous Human Combustion

By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©1993
There are rare incidents of spontaneous human combustion: people who simply burst into flame with their clothing and surroundings usually left untouched. There are well-documented cases where the victims are unable to escape, as if in a kind of trance.

Spontaneous Human Combustion

Excerpt from “The Coming Darkness”

We even find rare incidents of spontaneous human combustion: people who simply burst into flame with their clothing and surroundings usually left untouched. Vincent Gaddis in Mysterious Fires and Lights refers to several cases, as do Mitchell and Rickard in Phenomena: A Book of Wonders. </sup>There are over a hundred well-documented cases like this, where the victims are unable to escape, as if in a kind of trance. The fire burns primarily human flesh—which is usually the least combustible of materials. While an occult association is at this point conjecture (no studies have been done), spontaneous human combustion may also be related to poltergeist phenomena, or we just might be seeing rare examples of simple demonic revenge upon humans for whatever reason.

The following three documented cases, reported by Dr. Gary North, are typical:

1) On September 20, 1938, a woman was dancing on a crowded dance floor in Chelmsford, England. Without warning she burst into flames. Not her clothing—her body. Her flesh emitted blue flames, indicating tremendous heat, as she crumpled to the floor. Her escort and others tried to put out the flames, but it was hopeless. Within a few minutes, there was nothing left of her except a few ashes. There was no longer any trace of a human being. Coroner Leslie Beccles announced: “In all my experience, I’ve never come across any case as mysterious as this.”

2) In December 1956, in Honolulu, Mrs. Virginia Caget dashed into the room next to hers in an apartment house that was occupied by a seventy-eight-year-old invalid man, Young Sik Kim. He was on fire in an overstuffed chair. Blue flames shot out of his body, making it impossible for her to approach him. When firemen arrived fifteen minutes later, the victim and his chair no longer existed, except for his undamaged feet, still propped on his wheelchair, unmoved. Had he felt no pain? There are numerous cases in the literature that indicate precisely this.

3) July 1, 1952, St. Petersburg, Florida: Mrs. Mary Reeser, a sixty-seven-year-old widow, was visiting in her room with her neighbor, Mrs. P. M. Carpenter. When she left her that evening, Mrs. Reeser was seated in her armchair by the window, dressed in a rayon nightgown, slippers, and a housecoat, and was smoking a cigarette. The next morning, a Western Union messenger failed to raise her by knocking at her door to deliver a telegram. Concerned about her normally light sleeping neighbor, Mrs. Carpenter started to open the door. The brass doorknob was hot. She cried out, and two house painters ran to see what was wrong. Together they broke into the house. Although both windows were open, the room was hot. In front of an open window were some ashes: a chair, an end table, and Mrs. Reeser. All that remained of her were a few pieces of charred backbone, a shrunken skull the size of an orange, and a wholly untouched left foot, still in its slipper. Her room was generally unaffected, except for some melted wax candles and melted plastic fixtures. From four feet above the floor was the soot. The clock had stopped at 4:20 a.m., but when plugged into an unmelted wall outlet, it started running again. There were no embers and no smell of smoke. Mrs. Reeser had weighed 175 pounds the night before; now only ten pounds remained.

The FBI was called in. The case received lots of publicity locally. Result: No explanation. Professor Korgman happened to be visiting friends nearby and volunteered to study the case. His conclusion: spontaneous human combustion. But he had never seen a head shrunken by fire. The skull should have exploded, not shrunk. Said Korgman, “Never have I seen a skull so shrunken, or a body so completely consumed by heat. This is contrary to normal experience and I regard it as the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. As I review it, the short hairs on my neck bristle with vague fear. Were I living in the Middle Ages, I’d mutter something like ‘black magic!’”

Not living in the Middle Ages, he can only mutter “spontaneous human combustion.” But what comfort is that? The phenomenon exists. It exists in the twentieth century.

Gaddis, while reporting on numerous spontaneous human combustion cases, also records some physically harmful incidents relating to séances. In one case:

At a séance two months before his death there was a sudden brilliant flash from a levitated trumpet, followed by a shout for lights. The medium was found unconscious and bleeding from the nose and fingernails. A Mr. Herbert Wright, who was in charge of the light switch in the room, received a terrific blow in his solar plexus when the flash occurred. As he staggered he managed to turn the switch, then fell to the floor unconscious.

During the ten minutes that Mr. Wright was unconscious, clouds of steam rose from his body, and his clothing was saturated with perspiration. Later a “psychic burn” was found encircling his body, red in color, three-fourths of an inch wide, commencing at the solar plexus and returning to it. He stated that this burn was painful, but that he felt greater pain in the nerve centers of his body.

Finally, there are seemingly thousands of cases of various kinds of attacks by spirit beings on mediumistic and occultic practitioners. We will mention only one example, chosen for the message it provides.

Things had thus gone on for many months, when M. at least awakened to the fact that a great transformation was passing over his moral and intellectual nature, and that some other mind had permeated his entire being, and he was now conscious that he was ceasing to think his own thoughts; in short, there could not be any doubt that fetters were being woven around him, which he was growing daily more incapable of breaking. The condition of servility and submission which the [spirit] control at first effected, was now thrown off and the latter showed signs of absolute power. No treatment, either hypnotic or medical, had the slightest influence upon the strange phenomenon, and M. had now given up all hope from this quarter. Some of the authorities, whom he had consulted, did not believe in obsession or possession. Other ascribed it to hysteria and fixed ideas—help there was none. Dr. Raupert goes on: I tried to argue with the personality and prove to him that he was merely a subconscious product on the part of M. When I persisted in denying the presence of a personality other than and different from that of M., a very frenzy seemed to shake the frame of M. and words of the most abusive kind were leveled at me: “What fools you are,” it exclaimed, “to tamper with things you do not understand, to facilitate the invasion of spirits and then deny that they exist, to play with hell-fire and then be surprised that it hurts and burns! I challenge you to propose any kind of experiment to test my utter and entire independence of the person of this idiot, with whom I can do absolutely as I please. See, how I can handle him and ill-treat him. I am now beating and hurting him and he can do nothing to defend himself.” With this there appeared red spots in different parts of M’s face and he groaned as if in physical pain.

Many similar cases can be found in this author’s works, particularly Modern Spiritualism and The Supreme Problem…

There are other Spiritualists who have written much on this subject of spirit-obsession, as for instance, Dr. J. M. Peebles, whose work The Demonism of the Ages or Spirit Obsessions should be read by all interested in Spiritualism. Many cases are given in this work.

This is why Dr. Fodor, referring to the phenomenon of obsession, observes the person “may be driven to criminal, insane acts” if an “evil personality gets into control.”

So far, we have been examining the hazards of genuine occult involvement, but there are also equal if dissimilar hazards in fraudulent occult activity. Many people have sacrificed large sums of money, not to mention their own peace of mind, physical health, or even their life because they naively trusted in a fraudulent practitioner who promised them physical healing, gave erroneous financial advice, or wrongly predicted their future. In the following chapter we explore this tragic kind of deception.

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