The Quick 7: Seven Cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion

Don't you hate it when you're just sitting there at home, watching some TrueBlood (any other fans out there?) and enjoying a night at home on the couch, when all of a sudden your leg just randomly bursts into flames? No? Is it just me? Well, it's not just me "“ there are about 200 reported cases of incidents that may have been spontaneous human combustion (SHC). Here are a few of those cases.

1. Henry Thomas was a 73-year-old man living in South Wales when he came to his mysterious end in 1980. The policemen and forensic scientists deduced this from Thomas' remains: he had been sitting comfortably in his easy chair when he somehow caught fire near the top of his body and burned to death. And it was an intense fire "“ all that was left of Mr. Thomas were his legs below the knee and his skull. Oddly, his feet were completely unburned and what was left of his legs were still clothes in socks and trousers that were practically untouched by the fire. Although there was evidence of a fire in the fireplace, there was no evidence that it had spread from there. One of the non-SHC theories was that Thomas had somehow managed to set his hair on fire while stoking it, then sat down in his chair unaware of the fact. The trained crime scene officer who analyzed the place argued that if a man had been sitting down when he realized his hair was on fire, he certainly wouldn't sit there and continue to let it burn. In the end, though, Thomas' death was ruled "death by burning" with no mention of SHC.

denatured2. Robert Francis Bailey apparently experienced something similar about 13 years prior to Thomas' incident. A group of office workers were waiting for the bus around 5 a.m. on September 13, 1967, when they noticed flames in the upper window of a building. They immediately called the police, who rushed to the scene of the derelict building. There, they found the still-burning body of Robert Bailey, a homeless man. The policeman first to the scene reported that a blue flame was being emitted forcefully from a four-inch slit in Bailey's abdomen, and his teeth were clenched down on the newel post of the staircase he had collapsed next to. They managed to extinguish Bailey by forcing a hose into the abdominal cavity. No external means of ignition were found on his body, and he was a non-smoker. He was a known alcoholic, though, drinking denatured alcohol because it was cheap. Denatured alcohol is the stuff without any beverage properties to it "“ it's often used to ignite fires while camping and to remove stains from clothes and upholstery. One theory was that all of the denatured alcohol in his gut somehow reacted with an igniter of some sort.

3. Mary Reeser of St. Petersburg, Florida, was found dead in her home on July 2, 1951.

Her landlady showed up at the door around 8 a.m. on July 2, and when she touched the doorknob to the apartment it was alarmingly warm to the touch. Getting no response from inside, the landlady called the police. They found what was left of Mary Reeser in a chair, just like Henry Thomas. Part of her left foot remained, including the slipper it was encased in. Her skull remained as well, but some reports say the heat shrunk it down to the size of a teacup. Reports and evidence were sent off to the FBI; they concluded that Reeser had taken sleeping pills "“ something she was known to do regularly "“ and then inadvertently set herself on fire with her cigarette after the pills had taken effect. Professor Krogman of the University of Pennsylvania had another theory, though "“ someone had murdered her, then incinerated her remains in a crematorium and brought them back to her apartment for someone to find. What's more, they used some sort of a portable heating device to burn the spots that surrounded Mary's body and burn the doorknob to make it hot.

4. John Irving Bentley enjoyed an evening of visiting with friends at his home on December 4, 1966, and then, apparently, he spontaneously combusted. Sometime after 9 p.m. when his friends departed and the morning of December 5 when his meter reader showed up to check the meter, Bentley was reduced to a pile of ashes, except for his right leg (seeing a trend here?). The meter reader noticed a weird odor and saw some blue smoke and decided to investigate; when he reached Bentley's bathroom he found Bentley and ran to get help, yelling, "Dr. Bentley has burned up!!" At first, it was thought that the elderly man had accidentally set himself on fire with his pipe, but then his pipe was found intact by his bedside. Nevertheless, it remains the culprit in this case: investigators determined that he dropped ashes from his pipe onto his robe and then went to the bathroom to fetch a pitcher of water to put out the flames. This was supposed by the broken remains of something that may have been a pitcher and by Bentley's smoldering robe, which was found next to the hole that had burned through the floor. Bentley apparently kept matches in his robe pocket, which are thought to have intensified the fire when they caught.

pipe5. Jeannie Saffin is an unusual case "“ someone actually witnessed her combustion. Jeannie was 61 years old when she died, but had the mental capacity of a six-year-old. According to her father, who was 82 at the time, he and Jeannie were both sitting in the kitchen when he saw a bright surge of light out of the corner of his eye and turned to ask his daughter if she had seen it. To his amazement, when he turned his head to look at her, she was on fire, but just sat still with her hands in her lap. He yanked her over to the sink to try to put her out and disfigured his hands in the process. Jeannie suffered "full thickness" burns on her face, hands and abdomen. That means the flesh was burned off down to the subcutaneous fat. Her hands and face were pretty much destroyed; she lapsed into a coma and died eight days later. Her combustion is largely unexplained, although an attempt has been made: supposedly, a speck from her father's pipe had fallen into her clothing sometime earlier and was only ignited when a gust of wind from an opening door fanned it. Hmm. Not sure I buy that one.

6. George Mott of Crown Point, N.Y., was enjoying an episode of The Twilight Zone the night before he burst into flames, and is said to have remarked, "Nothing weird like that ever happens to me. I wish it would." Umm"¦ be careful what you wish for. The next day, according to Weird New England, his son found the three and a half pounds of bone and ash that used to be George Mott. Unlike some of the other people on this list, Mott was not a smoker and therefore couldn't have accidentally touched a cigarette to his clothing or anything along those lines. An investigation could come up with no means of external ignition whatsoever. Another kicker: Mott was a retired fireman.

angel7. Jack Angel is a man who spontaneously combusted"¦ and survived. At least, that's his story. He says he simply went to sleep in his trailer in a hotel parking lot and woke up four days later with burns and blisters all over his body, including a giant hole in his chest. He got up and showered and walked over to the hotel, where he collapsed. He woke up in a hospital and was so badly burned that his right hand became horribly infected and was unsalvageable. He had to have his arm amputated at the elbow. However, this totally contradicts what Angel said in court when he sued the manufacturers of his trailer's hot water heater for $3,000,000. The conclusion? Angel was taking a shower when the water stopped and when he went out to check it, the pressure valve released and the hot water scalded him. But the doctor who examined Angel signed a report saying that Angel had burned from the inside out, not the outside in "“ so was the doctor mistaken? Or did Angel really spontaneously combust and then try to pass it off on a faulty hot water heater to get the money? Illustration from Weird Georgia.

So, what do you think? Can SHC always be explained by things like smoldering cigarettes and strange alcohol reactions, or is there something more mysterious at work? Share your theories in the comments. By the way, there are some rather horrifying pictures of spontaneous combustion, but I chose not to show them in case some of you are squeamish. But just do a Google Images search and you'll see the ones I mean.

10 Sweet Facts About Candy Canes

The sweet and striped shepherd’s hooks can be found just about everywhere during the holiday season. It's time you learned a thing or two (or 10) about them.


While the origins of the candy cane are a bit murky, legend has it that they first appeared in hooked form around 1670. Candy sticks themselves were pretty common, but they really took shape when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany got the bright idea of twisting them to look like shepherd’s hooks. He then handed them out to kids during church services to keep them quiet.


It’s no surprise, then, that it was a German immigrant who introduced the custom to America. The first reference we can find to the tradition stateside is 1847, when August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decked his home out with the sugary fare.


Candy canes without the red don’t seem nearly as cheery, do they? But that’s how they were once made: all white. We’re not really sure who or exactly when the scarlet stripe was added, but we do know that images on cards before the 1900s show snow white canes.


Most candy canes are around five inches long, containing only about 50 calories and no fat or cholesterol.


The world’s largest candy cane was built by Geneva, Illinois chef Alain Roby in 2012.  It was 51 feet long, required about 900 pounds of sugar, and was eventually smashed up with a hammer so people could take home a piece.


Fifty-four percent of kids suck on candy canes, compared to the 24 percent who just go right for the big crunch. As you may have been able to guess, of those surveyed, boys were nearly twice as likely to be crunchers.


According to the National Confectioners Association, about 1.2 billion candy canes are made annually, and 90 percent of those are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Which honestly begs the question: Who’s buying the 10 percent in the off season?


Bobs (that’s right; no apostrophe) Candies was the first company to really hang its hat on the sweet, striped hook. Lt. Bob McCormack began making candy canes for his kids in the 1920s, and they were such a hit he decided to start mass-producing them. With the help of his brother-in-law, a Catholic priest named Gregory Harding Keller (and his invention, the Keller Machine), McCormack was eventually able to churn out millions of candy canes a day.


December 26 is National Candy Cane Day. Go figure.


Here’s how they make candy canes at Disneyland—it’s a painstaking (and beautiful) technique.

10 Actors Who Hated Their Own Films

1. Sylvester Stallone, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Sly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his film career. Despite co-starring with the delightful Estelle Getty as the titular violence-prone mother, Stallone knows just how bad the film was:

"I made some truly awful movies. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was the worst. If you ever want someone to confess to murder, just make him or her sit through that film. They will confess to anything after 15 minutes."

2. Alec Guinness, Star Wars.

By the time he played Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Guinness had already appeared in cinematic classics like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Great Expectations and Lawrence of Arabia. During production, Guinness is reported to have said the following:

"Apart from the money, I regret having embarked on the film. I like them well enough, but it's not an acting job, the dialogue - which is lamentable - keeps being changed and only slightly improved, and I find myself old and out of touch with the young."

The insane amount of fame he won for the role as the wise old Jedi master took him somewhat by surprise and, ultimately, annoyed him. In his autobiography A Positively Final Appearance: A Journal, Guinness recalls a time he encountered an autograph-seeking fan who boasted to him about having watched Star Wars more than 100 times. In response, Guinness agreed to provide the boy an autograph under the condition that he promise never to watch the film again.

3. Bob Hoskins, Super Mario Brothers. He was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. As far as I’m concerned, Bob Hoskins is forgiven for Super Mario Bros. Hoskins, though, doesn’t seem to be able to forgive himself. Last year the Guardian spoke with the veteran actor about his career and he summed up his feelings rather succinctly:

What is the worst job you've done?
Super Mario Brothers.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Super Mario Brothers.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I wouldn't do Super Mario Brothers.

4. George Clooney, Batman & Robin. Sure, Batman & Robin made money. But by every other imaginable measure, the film was a complete failure, and a nightmare to the vast majority of the Caped Crusader’s most fervent fanatics. Star George Clooney recognized what a stinker he helped create and once plainly stated, “I think we might have killed the franchise.”

5. David Cross, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. When actors have a movie out, it's customary that they publicize the film by saying nice things about it. Earlier this year David Cross took a different approach. When it came to describing his new film Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, the veteran comedian — better known for Mr. Show and Arrested Development — went on Conan and called the film a “big commercial for Carnival Cruise Lines” and told people not to go see it.

6. Katherine Heigl, Knocked Up. Judd Apatow’s unplanned pregnancy comedy was a huge hit and helped cement her status as a bankable film actress. After the film’s release, however, Heigl didn’t have all good things to say. In fact, what she specifically said about it was that the film was:

"…A little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys.”

7. Charlize Theron, Reindeer Games. The 2000 action film Reindeer Games starred Ben Affleck, Gary Sinese and Charlize Theron and was directed by John Frankenheimer. But it all somehow failed to come together. In the end the film lost a lot of money and compiled a wealth of negative reviews – including one from its star actress who simply said, “Reindeer Games was not a good movie.”

8. Mark Wahlberg, The Happening. Mark Wahlberg doesn’t exactly seem like a guy who lives his life afraid of trees. But that is the odd position M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 film The Happening put him in. Wahlberg, as it turns out, doesn’t look back too fondly on the film. He went on record during a press conference for The Fighter when he described a conversation with a fellow actor:

"We had actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie and it was a bad movie that I did. She dodged the bullet. And then I was still able to … I don’t want to tell you what movie … alright “The Happening.” F*** it. It is what it is. F***ing trees, man. The plants. F*** it. You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook."

9. John Cusack, Better Off Dead. John Cusack reportedly hated his cult 80s comedy so much that he walked out of the screening and later told the film’s director Steve Holland that Better Off Dead was "the worst thing I have ever seen" and he would "never trust you as a director again."

10 Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music. The Sound of Music is considered a classic and has delighted many generations of fans. But the film's own lead actor, Christopher Plummer, didn't always sing its praises. Mr. Von Trapp himself declined to participate in a 2005 film reunion and, according to one acquaintance, has referred to the film as The Sound of Mucus.



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