Spontaneous Human Combustion

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Spontaneous Human Combustion Paranormal proponents and popular articles are quick to attribute certain dramatic fire-death characteristics to an unknown or bizarre power source, but in all such deaths documented in forensic literature, there has been no need to resort to bizarre interpretations to account for the observed facts. Forensic scientists very rarely, if ever, mention the (alleged) phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion (SHC). After reading an article on the subject in BILD, Germany's most famous tabloid newspaper (circulation four million daily), I started to wonder about this. I first contacted the chief of our local police department, who is responsible for fire accidents, arson, and other fire-related incidents. After a few minutes of conversation, he recalled having heard about cases of spontaneous combustion, although' he had never been an eyewitness to any such cases. He later sent me an article (Feuer unbekannten Ursprungs c. 1990), which was a collection of case reports of alleged spontaneous combustion cases. The cases had received worldwide coverage in newspapers and magazines, and the article seems to be one of the major sources of information for Germans interested in the phenomenon. Further research led me to several accounts of SHC in the popular press (e.g., an account by a physicist in a German rock magazine [Czerny 1996]), novels (e.g., Charles Dickens's novel Bleak House, thought to have been inspired by the death of countess Cornelia Bandi in 1731), early reports (Hunefeld 1830), and magazines such as the Fortean Times (e.g., Simmons 1996; Arnold 1996) and The X Factor (e.g., Burning question 1996). From such sources, it is obvious that a significant percentage of the ... ... middle of paper ... ...erichtliche Medizin 18: 233-249. Nickell, Joe. 1996. Not-so-spontaneous human combustion. SKEPTICAL INQUIRER 20 (6), Nov./Dec.: 17-20. Pescod, David Taylor-. 1996. Personal communication, Nov. 16. Prokop, O. 1960. Lehrbuch der gerichtlichen Medizin. Berlin: VEB Verlag Volk und Gesundheit, pp. 116-124. Prokop, O., and G. Radam. 1987. Atlas der gerichtlichen Medizin. 2nd ed., Basel: Karger, pp. 185-200. Richards, N. F. 1977. Fire investigation: Destruction of corpses. Medicine, Science and the Law 17: 79-82. Schneider, V. 1991. Farbatlas der Rechtsmedizin. Stuttgart: Fischer, pp. 3, 138-145. Simmons, I. 1996. All fired up with spontaneity. Fortean Times 90: 57. Teige, B., J. Lundevall, and E. Fleischer. 1977. Carboxyhemoglobin concentrations in fire victims and in cases if total carbon monoxide poisoning. Zeitschrift fur Rechtsmedizin 80:17-21.

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