The history of mankind is riddled with the weird and the wonderful; bizarre people, strange places and odd events. For centuries, we’ve told each other fantastic stories around campfires and in darkened rooms. Tales of ghosts, UFOs, and conspiracies, but are these stories exactly that: Stories? There’s only one way to find out! Join me as I dive down the rabbit hole and into… the Unexplained Files.
This week: Spontaneous Human Combustion
Galway, Ireland. December 2010: Forensic experts enter the home of Michael Faherty to find a scene as baffling as it is macabre. Mr Faherty’s home had been the scene of a blaze; oddly, the blaze hadn’t spread beyond the confines of the living room. The 76 year-old was dead, lying on his back, with his head closest to an open fireplace. Thing is, the baffled experts had ruled that a fire in the fireplace had not been the cause of the fire. Aside from the floor beneath and ceiling above the body, there was no other damage to the room. On top of that, there was no trace of any accelerant, and there was nothing at the scene to lead investigators to believe that the badly burned body had fallen victim to foul play.
So had the victim just burst into flames?
According to the coroner, Dr Ciaran McLoughlin, yes.
You’re Kidding, Right?
I shit you not, dear reader. At that point in his career, Dr McLoughlin had been investigating deaths for over a quarter of a century; this was the first time he’d ruled someone victim to spontaneous combustion.
"This fire was thoroughly investigated and I'm left with the conclusion that this fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation," he said.
Hold Your Horses!
So at any given time folks can just burst into fucking flames?! Apparently, yep. This is far from the first case. In September 1967, a call was made to the emergency services: whilst walking to work, the good people of Lambeth, South London, had noticed a derelict house with an odd bright light burning inside. Shortly after the call was made, The Lambeth Fire Brigade arrived on the scene, and what Brigade Commander John Stacey saw left him shocked.
The source of the bright light was the burning body of Robert Bailey, a local alcoholic. He’d sheltered in the house overnight, and caught fucking fire the next morning. The house itself was untouched, only Bailey burned.
According to Stacey, Robert Bailey was found in the foetal position at the bottom of the stairs. In his stomach was a four inch slit and burning from it a cone of blue flame, similar to that of a blow-torch. There was no damage to neither the house, nor Bailey, apart from the area immediately surrounding the slit. The rest of his body and even his clothing was untouched. Thinking the poor bastard might actually still be alive, they emptied several fire extinguishers, eventually dousing the fire.
As horrible as all of that sounds, you haven’t heard the worst: Stacey said that the flame was coming from inside Robert Bailey; that the man was burning from the inside out. Such was Bailey’s agony, during the episode he’d bitten into the solid mahogany of one of the newel posts of the stairs. His dead body remained teeth locked into the wood. His jaw had to be prised open by the firemen.
An investigation determined that no source of ignition could be found. In what might be one of the greatest understatements ever committed to record, Bailey’s death was put down to “unknown causes”.
Make Your Mind Up Time.
Is spontaneous combustion a thing?
One documentary hosted by Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson (because why the hell not?) tested a bunch of theories around some of the possible causes of this most bizarre of mysteries. One theory quickly dismissed on the show actually replicated the results of the sad tale of Robert Bailey. A mixture of gases created by the gut in very rare circumstances that ignited upon contact with oxygen. In other words. Flatulence. Death by farting.
This sounds like making light of the matter but the truth is, the sad stories of Robert Bailey and Michael Faherty are not so easily dismissed. Is there something more to this? I think so.
RATING: 1=Bollocks 2=Not convinced 3=Possibly… 4=Compelling stuff 5=Holyshittheskyisfalling
Further Reading: The article the death of Michael Faherty is available on the BBC website.
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In this blog I'll be bringing to you short tales of things that go bump in the night, true stories of weird and unexplained events, and the real-life news of all things odd and macabre, and entertain you along the way.