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Spontaneous Human Combustion: More than one person at the same time

Unusual case of spontaneous human combustion in which more than one person was involved.

Guérigny, France, 1821

Guérigny, France, 1821:

An account has been lately read to the Society above named, of what the narrator — Dr. Charpentier, physician to the royal forces of the marine, at Guérigny, near Nevers, — considers to have been instances of spontaneous combustion of the human body. We shall give the history in detail, because there are some circumstances in it that seem very forcibly to favour the inference above mentioned; whilst the occurrence of the phenomenon in two persons at the same time, on the contrary, furnishes grounds for a strong suspicion that the combustion arose from an external source.

On the 15th of January, 1820, at ten o’clock in the evening, several neighbours of Mrs. P—, of Nevers, perceived a peculiar odour, which they thought similar to that of broiled animal matter and burning wool, only more disagreeable and nauseous. They saw neither smoke nor vapour issue from any of the adjacent houses; and at last, agreeing amongst themselves that this odour was produced by the burning of the remains of an old Carmelite nun, who had died in the neighbourhood that day, they retired to bed without making any further inquiries. On the 13th, in the morning, a woman, living near the place, who had a second key to the door of the house, because she was in the habit of going there daily to assist the servant in attending on her mistress, opened the door to go and perform her ordinary duties. On entering the room, a dense vapour issued out, accompanied with an insupportable stench that almost suffocated her. She retreated from the house, crying out in the most violent manner for help. The neighbours came about her; and, after waiting a few moments to let the vapour escape, they proceeded to examine the state of the room. They found neither Mrs. P— nor her servant. At first they saw no appearance of dead bodies, but they immediately recognized that Mrs. F.’s bed was entirely burned. Its different parts, however, preserved their form; but, on the slightest touch, it all sunk away, and the bedstead, pallaisse, mattress, feather-bed, sheets, blankets, and curtains, were reduced to a cinder. Before they stirred these cinders they examined the fire-place, in which they found no wood, nor any charcoal, in combustion: the fire had not been covered, and it had probably gone out for want of wood. A candlestick stood in the fireplace, and another, on the ground, in the middle of the room; there was no candle in either of them. On proceeding to examine the ashes, or remains of the combustion, there was found, in front of the spot which had been occupied by the bed, the extremity of a leg covered by a stocking, with a shoe on the foot, and which was recognized to be part of the right leg of the servant. It was the only portion of the body of this woman that had not been reduced to ashes. The cranium of the mistress, devoid of the scalp, which had been burned, was found in a situation corresponding with that in which the head would be as the woman lay in bed. This was the only portion of her body that had not been utterly destroyed by combustion, excepting a small fragment of the neck, or rather the skin of the neck that had been enveloped in a red kerchief, which had probably served as a cravat, and of which there were yet some remains immediately attached to the preserved portion of the neck. The Servant’s bed, which was very near to that of the mistress, was untouched, as well as the table, chairs, and other furniture of the room, excepting a wooden clock, hung up against the wall beside the bed, that, having preserved its form, fell into ashes on the first movement. . .Although the room had no ceiling, the beams and rafters, which were very near to the top of the bed, were not burned, but they were black and felt very hot. All the things about the room, especially such as were close to the bed, were extremely humid; which was owing, without doubt, to condensation of the dense vapours with which the room was filled on being first entered. As there were no other persons in the house than these two women, and the accident not having been discovered until the ensuing morning, no one can possibly know the cause of it.

Source: The Medical and Physical Journal, London, 1821, page 348-349