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Spontaneous Human Combustion: Witnessed by Others

Cases of spontaneous human combustion witnessed by other people.

Chicago, 1982

London, 2017, John Nolan

The Jeannie Saffin case, 1982

Robert Francis Bailey, London, 1967

Kingston-upon-Hull, England, 2017


The following two cases are unusual as these involve a person that combusted into flames while walking in a street. The first one involved a woman in Chicago in 1982


Combustion Death in Chicago Similar to Local Women's

by Jane Meinhardt and Mitch Lubitz

The spectre of spontaneous human combustion - a theory in the bizarre deaths of two St. Petersburg women years ago — is being investigated after a Chicago woman burst into flames and burned to death on a sidewalk there Thursday.
A witness to the macabre death told Chicago police and fire officials that he was sitting in his parked car about a block away from the woman. He looked up and saw her standing ablaze on the sidewalk. There was no vehicle or other persons near the woman.
The woman was completely burned, Chicago police said. Only a few scraps of her blouse and a singed purse remained. The death occurred about 6 a.m. when the temperature was in the low 70's.
Sgt. George Owen, of the Brighton Park violent crimes unit, said it is unknown if the woman was carrying anything flammable. However, preliminary investigation found no signs or smells of an accelerant that might explain the rapid progress of the flames.
The scorched condition of the woman's body made it difficult for police to determine her age. Owen said she appeared to be middle-aged "due to her gold dental work." He described her as "quite slight" in stature.
"She was not a heavy woman," Owen said. "The detectives said her body looked like that of a young child's. She appears to be a very young girl except for the gold dental work which you don't normally see on children."
No one actually saw the woman until she was engulfed in flames, but Owen said police believe she was black because of one spot on the body that was unburned. Baffled detectives are awaiting the results of an autopsy on the woman today and have received an inquiry from a university researcher about the possibility of spontaneous human combustion...

Source: The Evening Independent (St. Petersburg, Florida), Aug 6, 1982, page 11

The next day, in an article in the Ellensburg Daily Record, Aug 7, 1982, page 5, it was said that the witness had "noticed the woman walking across the street. When he looked at her a second time, she was aflame."

Cook county medical Examiner said didn't believe in spontaneous human combustion (mentioned in The Bryan Times - Aug 5, 1982, page 13). The Ellensburg Daily wrote that he ruled that the victim was dead 12 hours earlier, doused with accelerant and set on fire. Police dismissed the witness' testimony.

Who would murder a person, drag her onto a street and set the body on fire her, while there are people around? Not to mention that a witness saw her walking across the street. It wouldn't be the first time that coroner's and officials make the facts fit with what they believe might have happened.


Man dies after bursting into flames in unexplained circumstances in London street

A pensioner has died of his injuries after bursting into flames in unexplained circumstances in a London street.

Police are appealing for information on the blaze that killed 70-year-old John Nolan, a retired construction worker originally from Ireland.

Emergency services were called to reports of a “man ablaze” near his home in Haringey on 17 September.

Horrified members of the public tried to put the fire out and alerted police but the flames were not extinguished until firefighters arrived on the scene.

Mr. Nolan was taken to a specialist hospital by air ambulance but died of severe burns, with an inquest due to open in March.

The London Fire Brigade investigated the cause of the fire but found no evidence of an “accelerant” that would have spread the flames.

Police have now taken charge of the investigation but have made no arrests, with Mr. Nolan’s death being treated as unexplained.

The investigating officer, PC Damien Ait-Amer, said: “We have spoken with a number of witnesses who saw Mr. Nolan ablaze, but we have yet to establish how the fire started.

“Mr Nolan was a well-liked member of the community and none of our enquiries so far have indicated that he had been involved in a dispute of any sort.

“Nor does any account given by witnesses suggest that he had been in contact with another person at the time of the fire.”

Source: The Independent (United Kingdom), Friday 15 December 2017

The Jeannie Saffin case

Jeannie Saffin of London, England was 61 years of age but had the mental capabilities of a six year old and lived with her 82-year-old father, Jack Saffin.  On September 15, 1982, Jeannie Saffin was in the kitchen, when Jack noticed a bright flash out of the corner of his eye. Turning to Jeannie to ask if she had seen it as well as, Jack Saffin noticed his daughter was on fire, sitting perfectly still with her hands in her lap.

In an effort to save Jeannie’s life, her father disfigured his own hands while pulling her to the kitchen sink. Putting out the flames surrounding Jeannie, her father began calling for his son-in-law Donald to help, screaming “Jeannie’s burning!” Donald stated that he ran into the kitchen seeing Jeannie with roaring flames around her face and abdomen while contacting EMS.

In the reports from the incident, Jeannie’s injuries were listed as facial burns as well as burns to the chest, neck, shoulders, left arm, abdomen, thighs and left buttock along with both sides of both hands. Some of these were full thickness burns in which the skin is destroyed down to fat tissue. Jeannie’s face afterward was described as horribly disfigured. Don Carrol claims he saw flames coming from Jeannie’s mouth and said she was “roaring like a dragon” although no burns were found in Jeannie’s mouth. 

It was too late. Jeannie went into a coma and died eight days later.

P.C. Marsden from the Edmonton Police Station, in a report to the coroner’s office, stated that no cause for the flames had been found. This report also states that the chair and walls of the kitchen were undamaged by fire and smoke, that the closest source of ignition (a gas stove) was at least 5 feet away and that Jeannie was still burning when he got to the residence. He helped put out the flames with a towel.

Jeannie Saffin’s official cause of death was recorded by coroner, Dr. John Burton, as “broncho-pneumonia due to burns”, reportedly due only to the fact that when Jeannie’s family attempted to explain the spontaneous combustion they had witnessed, he replied “No such thing.”.

Source: from different sources

Robert Francis Bailey

Robert Francis Bailey, a homeless man, was inside an abandoned home at 49 Auckland Street in Lambeth, South London. At 5:21am on 13 September 1967, an unnamed member of a group of female office workers phoned the London Fire Brigade. While waiting for their bus to work, they had noticed flickering blue flames visible through an upper window of 49 Auckland Street, Lambeth, London. They presumed it was burning gas.  When the fire department arrived at 5:24am they discovered the burning body of Robert Francis Bailey, a local homeless alcoholic.

One of the responding firefighters reported, “When I got in through the window I found the body of a tramp named Bailey laying at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the second floor. He was lying partly on his left side. There was a four-inch (102 mm) slit in his abdomen from which was issuing, at force, a blue flame. The flame was beginning to burn the wooden stairs. We extinguished the flames by playing a hose into the abdominal cavity. Bailey was alive when he started burning. He must have been in terrible pain. His teeth were sunk into the mahogany newel post of the staircase. I had to prise his jaws apart to release the body. The fire was coming from within the abdomen of his body. […] There’s no doubt whatsoever, that fire began inside the body. That’s the only place it could have begun, inside that body.”

Baily had been conscious as he burned to death and there was evidence to suggest he had been convulsing in agony as the fire consumed him. He had bitten into the post on the stairs which was made of solid mahogany and his teeth were embedded so deeply into the wood that his mouth had to be pried open by the fire department in order to remove his body.

The firefighter described what he had witnessed, “There was about a four inch slit in his stomach and the flame was emanating from that four inch slit like a blow torch. It was a blue flame. The flame was actually coming from the body itself. From inside the body. He was burning literally from the inside out. And it was definitely under pressure. And it was impinging on the timber flooring below the body, so much so that the heat from the flame was charred into the woodwork.”.

The only fire damage in the house was on the floor, directly below where the body had been burning. Aside from the abdomen where the fire had originated, Robert Francis Bailey’s clothes were intact and unaffected by the fire. The fire department put out the flames almost immediately, originally believing Bailey may still have been alive. The job required the use of several fire extinguishers and was incredibly difficult. Robert Francis Bailey’s original cause of death was determined to be “asphyxia due to inhalation of fire fumes” but after reviewing the case further his death was deemed to have been due to “unknown causes”.

Source: from different sources


Kingston-upon-Hull, England

In the following case is that the police was not treating the death as suspicious. The place is Kingston-upon-Hull, a city in the East Riding of Yorkshire, England.


'I felt sheer panic and rushed to help': Dad's desperate efforts to save man on fire in Hull street

Emergency services were called to Thanet Road just after 8pm on Wednesday night

A father-of-four has told of his dramatic rescue attempt to save a man on fire in an east Hull street. Emergency services were called to Thanet Road at 8.08pm on Wednesday night following reports of a man on fire. Despite their efforts they were unable to save the man, who died at the scene. Daniel Lingwood, 32, was at his home in the street when he looked out of his porch window to see flames across the road. Thinking his van was on fire, Mr Lingwood rushed outside but, to his shock and horror, realised the blaze had engulfed a man.

Speaking of the tragedy, Mr Lingwood said: "I felt sheer panic and just rushed over to help. "Some other people were already there, but it just felt like the whole street was in a panic.

"There were some women going round to get buckets of water to chuck over him, but I have done first aid before and I knew that would be bad for his skin, so me and another bloke tried to roll him on the ground to put the fire out. "Then we started doing compressions on him until the ambulance arrived."

Emergency services were called to Thanet Road, near the junction with Tedworth Road, just after 8pm on Wednesday night. Mr Lingwood, a Hull City Council worker, says what has happened has left him traumatised.

"I just keep seeing his face," he said. "I couldn't go to work today. I keep thinking about what happened." Residents in Thanet Road have also spoken of their shock.

One woman, who asked not to be named, said: "It is so sad to think this has happened down our street. "There are a lot of kids that live down here and I just hope none of them saw it all." Another woman, who lives opposite the house where the man was, said: "I was actually visiting my friend up the road but I am just so glad I wasn't in as my 12-year-old son's bedroom looks directly over where it happened." A single police car remains at the scene in Thanet Road on Thursday. Humberside Police say they are continuing with their investigations and are appealing for anyone who witnessed the incident to contact them.

Detective Superintendent Dave Wood said: "We were called to reports of a man who was on fire on 27 December 2017 on Thanet Road in Hull just after 8pm. "The ambulance and the fire service were already in attendance at the scene. The man had suffered serious burns in the isolated incident. He was given emergency treatment but he sadly died. "No one else was injured, and we are not looking for anyone else in connection with this. "We are currently investigating the circumstances surrounding this incident." Witnesses are urged to call police on 101 quoting log 480 of December 27.

Source: Hull Daily Mail, England, December 28, 2017

Follow-up article by the same newspaper;

Tragic man who died after being seen on fire in Hull street named

 The 60-year-old man died just two days after Christmas at the scene on Thanet Road, East Hull

A man who died after he was seen on fire in a Hull street has been named after an inquest into his death was opened. Alan Edward Graystone was seen on fire by residents of Thanet Road, east Hull on December 27. Despite the efforts of the emergency services who were called to the scene at around 8.08pm, Mr Graystone died at the scene. The road was cordoned off for almost three hours after the tragedy.

Humberside Police said they were not treating the death as suspicious.

An inquest into the 60-year-old's death was opened on January 2 and has been adjourned for a date to be set, according to Hull Coroner's Court. This will determine how Mr Graystone died and will establish a cause of death.

Source: Hull Daily Mail, England, January 2,  2018