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No. 89: Sep-Oct 1993

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Smoldering Corpse

Most cases of SHC (Spontaneous Human Combustion) are written off by mainstream scientists (if they acknowledge the phenomenon at all) as easily explained by the "human candle effect." The elements of this accepted scenario are: (1) An ignition source, say, a fireplace; (2) The accidental ignition of the victim's clothing and/or adjacent bedding or upholstery; (3) The rendering of fat from the (assumed) corpulent victim, which combined with the surrounding wick-like material simulates a candle; and (4) The nearly complete, slow consumption of the victim, who is assumed to be asleep, drunk, or otherwise unable to rescue himself. But some cases do not involve all of these elements, as in the following item:

"Syracuse (AP) -- Police have scheduled an autopsy today for a woman whose body was found smoldering next to a cemetery tombstone.

"The woman's body was found lying on its back Wednesday afternoon next to a massive, 5-foot-high tombstone in St. Agnes Cemetery in Syracuse by the cemetery's caretaker, police said. .....

"'We just don't know what happened,' said the Rev. James Fritzen, who runs the cemetery for the Catholic Diocese of Syracuse. 'We don't know if this was foul play or (someone) grieving.

"Authorities have been unable to determine the age and identity of the woman because her body was charred."

(Anonymous; "Smoldering Corpse Found Lying next to Tombstone," Buffalo News, April 15, 1993. Cr. L. Gearhart.)

From Science Frontiers #89, SEP-OCT 1993. 1993-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987