20th century accounts of Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC)


The following accounts of 20th century spontaneous human combustion are presented in chronological order. The next cases of SHC are just a few. A few of an estimated 400 worldwide anecdotal or well documented accounts of spontaneous human combustion.

Maybelle Andrews, october 1938

Maybelle Andrews was with her boyfriend dancing at a nightclub. Suddenly flames erupted from her back, chest and shoulders.

Her boyfriend was severely burned trying to put the flames out. He said that at the time there were no other flames in the room anywhere. Also that they had come from Maybelle herself. Maybelle died of her injuries on the way to hospital.

Jack Larber, january 31st 1959

Jack Larber who was a 72 year old patient at the Laguna Honda Home in San Francisco. He had his clothing catch fire a few minutes after being fed. His attendant was out of the room at the time it happened. When returning back into the room attempted to put out the fire. Mr. Larber died of 3rd degree burns on February 2nd 1959. No explanation was found for the fire – Mr Larber was a non-smoker.

Billy Peterson, december 1959

An autoworker by the name of Billy Peterson was found dead in the front seat of his car in Pontiac, Michigan. At first it appeared that Peterson had attempted suicide. Because the exhaust pipe had been bent to lead into the car’s front seat. However Peterson’s body had third-degree burns. His back, legs and arms and also his flesh was severely burnt . Strangely, neither his clothing or the front seat were damaged. It was also noted that hairs on the charred portions of the body were not even singed. On the death certificate the cause was unanbiguous. The death certificate noted the cause of death as carbon monoxide poisoning and the burns were ignored.

John Irving Bentley, december 1966

92 year old Dr. John Irving Bentley was last seen alive on the evening of December 4th, 1966. The time was about 9.00pm. The following morning Mr. Gosnell, a meter reader let himself into Mr Bentley’s house. Once in the basement Mr Gosnell could smell a strange smell. He then could see a light blue smoke. Worried, he went upstairs to investigate. Mr. Bentley’s bedroom was filled with smoke. In the bathroom there lay the charred remains of Mr. Bentley.


All that was left of the old man was the lower half of his right leg. The slipper was still on the foot. The rubber stoppers on his walker which lay beside his remains were still intact. Also, the bathtub was hardly scorched. It was first thought that Mr. Bentley set himself on fire with his pipe. Later, investigators discovered that his pipe was still on it’s stand by the bed in his bedroom.

Henry Thomas, january 6th 1980

Blackwood, Ebbw Vale, Wales – the police and forensic officers discovered a mans body burnt beyond recognition. They found him in his living room. The armchair that he was sitting in had hardly been damaged. Along with some nearby plastic objects.

The fire that had killed the man had been very intense. In fact, so intense that it left a coating of vaporized flesh on the ceiling.

Jenna Winchester, October 1980

An airwoman by the name of Jenna Winchester burst into flames whilst sitting in a car next to a friend in Florida. Her friend saw yellow flames coming from Jenna and heard her scream “Get me out of here!”. The friend saw her trying to beat out the flames with her bare hands. The calamity caused the car to crash into a telephone pole. Jenna survived the experience with 20% of her body covered in burns.


John O’Connor, march 24th 1997

Co Kerry, Irish Republic. 76 year old John O’Connor was found dead in his living room at Gortaleen by the community nurse who regularly visited him. They found the charred remains of Mr. O’Connors in a chair positioned some distance from his hearth. Only his head and upper torso along with his feet remained unburnt. There was little smoke damage to the room or furniture.

The Local priest who attended the scene described it as “if somebody had poured petrol into his lap”

Agnes Phillips, august 24 1998

The death of Agnes Phillips, 82, might be the result of spontaneous human combustion. The elderly woman died in August from burns to her upper body while sitting in a car in Wollongong, New South Wales. Yet amazingly there was no evidence to suggest the source of the fire or how it started. None of the usual signs that determine sources of combustion were present. Fire brigade inspector Donald Walshe conceded during the inquest that the case was so baffling that spontaneous human combustion had initially been considered a possibility.

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