7 Most Incredible Cases of Death By Spontaneous Human Combustion

Image: Shane Gorski

In 1663, Danish physician Thomas Bartholin described a woman who “went up in ashes and smoke,” while the straw mattress on which she was lying asleep remained untouched by the blaze. This strange incident, which took place in Paris, is thought to be the first recorded account of the phenomenon we now know – but scarcely understand – as spontaneous human combustion.

Spontaneous human combustion is the name given to those rare instances when a person has gone up in flames and been burnt to a cinder, with no apparent external heat source there to have ignited them.

Image: Flaming skull/shawn_h/Shawnh


Most of the some 200 reported cases of spontaneous human combustion (SHC) share some similar characteristics.

First, the corpse is almost completely incinerated while the larger area around it remains undamaged; only the body itself, the floor below it and the ceiling above are affected.

A second common feature of SHC is that, of the human body parts, generally it is the torso that is most completely consumed, with any remains found among the extremities.