Hot Times!

Published 4:04 pm Sunday, October 15, 2023

Today we will take a walk into the world of an unbelievable phenomenon. The happenings that I am about to tell you are about as up close and personal as ghosts and hauntings can get. One that we know of has happened in Georgia. Let us go and grab a lawn chair and set in the shade of an old oak tree, while we explore the possibility of bursting into flames without any notice or reason. I think that Co Cola and pork rinds would go good. Oh, and we don’t want to forget the fire extinguisher.

One of the most baffling and unexplained phenomenon is spontaneous human combustion. This is when the human body, or some part of it, suddenly, and for no apparent reason, bursts into flames. In many cases, the body is totally reduced to ashes by the intense burning but with little or no heat damage to surrounding objects. Spontaneous human combustion is not new, for reports of these unusual occurrences go back hundreds of years, with several accounts appearing in seventeenth-century medical journals.

Author Charles Dickens wrote about this happening in his novel, “Bleak House”. This is the first mention in literature of spontaneous human combustion. Dickens, who was a writer whose thinking was way before his time, believed that death can happen in this manner. When critics of that era challenged him about this idea, he vigorously defended his position, telling about many cases which he had found, and also the ones that he knew about personally, as a helper to the local coroner.

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In “Bleak House”, he describes the death of an illiterate, villainous character named Krook, who meets his maker in this unusual way. He is a paper and rag collector and also the landlord of Bleak House. He also loves gin and is in possession of numerous papers that would solve the murder case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.

While living in Bleak House, many times Krook would smell brimstone and not know where the odor was coming from. Dickens then describes Krook’s demise as him “smelling brimstone”, before he burst into flames.

This book has been made into many plays, silent films, talkies and another film as recent as 2005, in which Jillian Anderson, from the television series “X-Files” was the star.

Like with the existence of ghosts, there are skeptics who refuse to believe that the human body can incinerate itself. But, just for a moment, let’s consider some facts that could explain how this can happen. We humans stuff all kinds of flammables into our stomachs: alcohol, fats, certain medications and gas producing foods. When these are in our intestines, they produce gases that resemble methane, not unlike that which is produced by decaying bodies.

Now, let’s consider the biological makeup of the human body. It contains large amounts of fat, oil, phosphorus and other substances that will burn. Any cook will tell you about how persistent a grease fire can be.

We also know that we consume large quantities of oxygen, which is needed to sustain both life and fire. Now, add all these facts to what I have found in a fire protection manual from the 19th century, which states: “The human body can accumulate several thousand volts of static electricity just by moving around.” Considering all this, we could be walking combustibles, just asking for ignition!

My first story is one of the best documented cases of spontaneous human combustion that is known, the incineration of Mrs. Mary Reeser. She was sixty-seven years old and lived in St. Petersburg, Florida. On the morning of July 2, 1951, her landlady went to her apartment to deliver a telegram and found the door handle extremely hot. Fearing that the apartment was on fire, she yelled for help.

Two painters working next door heard the woman’s cries and ran to her aid. Slowly, they opened the door and were hit with a rush of hot air. The two men immediately went inside to rescue Mrs. Reeser but she was nowhere to be found. Strangely, there was only a little smoke coming from a small flame burning on a wooden beam which separated the kitchen from the living room.

When the fire department arrived, they quickly extinguished the flame but there was still no sign of the renter. When the fire chief arrived at the scene, he was shocked by what he found. There, in the middle of the floor, was a four-foot square, scorched spot with the remnants of a chair and the incinerated remains of a human body. Mrs. Reeser had been reduced to a pile of ashes, except for her skull and one foot, which was still in its slipper.

The police, state fire marshals, arson investigators, pathologists and even an FBI agent, became involved in the investigation. These experts were all left puzzled by their lack of findings. There seemed to be no heat damage beyond the four-foot area containing the victims ashes. The ceiling directly above the burned area was coated with an oily soot-like residue somewhat like that which is produced in a grease fire. Close by were flammable items, like newspapers and cloth. However, none of them had been touched by the heat.

Their investigation ruled out lightning, electrical malfunctions, smoking and all other likely causes. It appeared that Mrs. Reeser had simply exploded into flames and burned up. The fire experts estimated that the temperature in that room had reached the same as that of the type of furnaces that are used in cremation, about three thousand degrees. However, there was no damage in that room that had been caused by heat. The final conclusion was that Mrs. Reeser had died from a fire of unknown origin. The official report referred to the incident as “unusual and improbable”.

Of course, I have another strange incident for you to think about. It is rare, (no pun intended) but it had happened and in Savannah, Georgia. In this one incident, the victim survived. Also, while you read it, think if you would like to wake up to find what this victim did.

This happened on November 12, 1974, to a sixty-six-year, old man named Jack Angel. He was the owner of a successful clothing business. Angel had traveled from College Park to Savannah in an RV that he had transformed into a show room from which he displayed and sold his line of clothing. Because of an unfortunate encounter with a Georgia State Trooper, Angel arrived an hour late for a meeting with a possible client. Consequently, his client had left the meeting place and had gone to a motel where he rented a room.

Angel parked in the motel parking lot and decided to sleep on the couch in his motor home for the night. That was the last conscious moment Angel had for four days. When he finally awoke around noon on November 16, the last thing he remembered was feeling a big explosion in his chest that had left a cauterized hole behind. He also discovered that his right hand was burned, blistered and scarred black. Next, he found that he was burned on his legs to his ankles and up and down his back in several places. What was really amazing was that with all of these burns, he felt no pain. Angel made himself get up and take a shower. Next, he staggered his way into the motel bar, where he ordered a Scotch. However, this is when he fainted into the arms of an employee before he could drink it. When he came to, he was in the hospital. The next thing he remembered was the terrifying sight of a doctor, with a pair of tweezers, taking skin off his arm.

After twelve hours of living in this nightmare, Angel began to feel excruciating pain. A doctor explained to him, that he was not just burned externally but burned internally as well. Angel was now transferred to a Veterans Administration hospital, where there was an extensive burn center. Here, the doctor found several areas of his body where the nerves seemed to have been severely burned, with one being in his right hand. Surgery and antibiotics did not help improve his condition and his right hand then became infected. In January, 1975, his arm was amputated below the elbow.

As Angel became more aware of his condition, he was very worried by what the doctor had told him, especially about his burns being internal. He asked his wife to examine the motor home for electrical faults and signs of fire or some type of burning. She found no evidence of a fire in the RV. No burns were on the sofa, or the sheets, his pajamas or clothing. A prominent Georgia law firm heard about Angel and offered to sue the motor home manufacturer on the basis that if the firm did not win the case, they would not get paid.

The lawyers considered lightning as the source of the injuries but weather records revealed no storm. Overhead power lines that could have affected the vehicle were then considered, along with the electrical wiring on the motor home itself. Both possibilities were dismissed.

The inspectors went on to take a close look at the plumbing system of the vehicle. They found that the hot water pump had a drive belt that had slipped. Now they surmised that when Angel attempted to take a shower, he was only able to get cold water. Probably, he then went outside, removed the metal cover over the water heater and opened a safety valve which would have unleased a jet of scalding hot, pressurized water. According to this theory, he then reentered the vehicle and collapsed.

Angel and the lawyers sued the manufacturer for three million dollars, claiming that they neglected to design a safe water heater and pressure valve, and also failed to warn owners of the possible danger. The case continued for two and a half years, but was dropped by the lawyers, a week before the trial date. They stated that they never could come up with enough evidence to go to court.

The fact that Angel really did not know what had happened to him, he could only conclude that he was a victim of spontaneous human combustion. He admitted that he knew nothing about this condition but stated that something had to have caused all of the injuries that he had suffered.

Jack Angel’s unusual condition then came to the attention of a paranormal investigator, who had studied spontaneous human combustion. After talking to Angel, he wrote an account of the case in 1982, for “Fate Magazine”, a publication which believes in poltergeists and other ghostly apparitions. However, seven years later, the magazine published an article questioning the clause of spontaneous human combustion. The magazine had spent two years examining thirty cases and found that all had unbelievable explanations. They reviewed the law suit that Angel had filed in the Superior Court of Fulton County, in 1975. A portion read that Angel was attempting to take a shower in the motor home, which was parked in a motel parking lot, in Savannah, Georgia. While he was taking a shower, the water suddenly stopped flowing from the shower’s plumbing. Angel, in attempting to find out the reason for the loss of water pressure, exited the motor home and attempted to inspect the hot water heater. While making the inspection, the pressure valve on the hot water heater, released and as a result, scalding, hot water, under tremendous pressure, sprayed upon Angel.

Angel’s inspectors did find that the water heater’s safety relief valve was in the open position, as did an insurance company that was working for the manufacturer. The magazine also found inconsistencies in the time of Angel’s burning. However, no one could explain the doctor’s statement that Angel’s body burned from the inside out.

Now, when you are relaxing in your jacuzzi tub, you can think about if human spinaeous combustion really does exist and how it happens. Be sure to use cold water!