Mysterious Events in History Spontaneous Combustion

About the mysterious event in history involving the spontaneous combustion of Mary Reeser.


When: July 2, 1951

Where: St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Mystery: The last people to see Mary Reeser alive were her friend Mrs. P. M. Carpenter and her son Richard Reeser, who dropped by to see her the night of July 1. Mrs. Reese's, 67, was ready for bed in a rayon nightgown, bedroom slippers, and a housecoat.

The next morning, a Western Union boy who had come to deliver a telegram to Mrs. Reeser got no answer to his knock. He sought the help of Mrs. Carpenter, who, when she tried Mrs. Reeser's door, found the brass door-knob too hot to touch. Alarmed, she asked some nearby workmen to help her get in.

The inside of the room was extremely hot, even though the windows were open. Near one of the windows was a pile of charred wood which had once been a chair and a shrunken skull and some bits of bone which had once been Mrs. Reeser. A small table and a floor lamp had burned, too; the wall was coated with soot starting 3'--4' above the floor. A base plug in the wall had melted, which, according to a clock that had stopped, caused a short-circuit at 4:20 A.M. The heat had been so terrific that some pink candles on another table had melted and run out of their holders.

Experts estimated that it would have taken a fire burning at a temperature of 3,000deg to destroy Mrs. Reeser's 170-lb. body and the chair so completely. Where had the fire come from? There had been no lightning that night. Why hadn't the whole room burned? Wilton Korgman, an anthropologist, said, "Never have I seen a skull so shrunken nor a body so completely consumed by heat. This is contrary to normal experience, and I regard it as the most amazing thing I have ever seen."

Possible Solutions: Lightning? There wasn't any that night. Explosives or chemicals? None were present. An electrical fire? The melting wall plug had blown the fuses before the fire began. Months later, baffled police attributed the impossible fire to "a neglected cigarette."

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