Spontaneous human combustion

Spontaneous human combustion

John Irving Bentley (15 April 1874 – 5 December 1966) was a physician burned to death in the bathroom of his house in Coudersport, Pennsylvania. His death was allegedly caused by spontaneous human combustion.

Bentley was last seen alive 4 December 1966, when friends visiting his home wished him good night at about 9 p.m. The following morning, meter reader Don Gosnell let himself into Bentley’s house, as he had permission to do due to Bentley’s infirmity, and went to the basement to check the meter. While in the basement, Gosnell noticed a strange smell and a light blue smoke. He explained the smoke to be “somewhat sweet, like starting up a new oil-burning central heating system”. On the ground was a neat pile of ash, about 35 centimeters in height. The floor underneath the ash was unmarked. Had he looked up, he would’ve seen a hole about a foot long square in the floor boards above. Intrigued, he went upstairs to investigate. The bedroom was smoky and in the bathroom he found Bentley’s cremated remains.

All that was left of the aged doctor was the lower half of his right leg with the slipper still on it. The rest of his body had been reduced to a pile of ashes in the basement below. His walker lay across the hole in the floor generated by the fire. The rubber tips on it were still intact and the nearby bathtub was barely scorched. Gosnell ran from the building to get help. He reached the gas company office screaming “Doctor Bentley’s burned up!” to his colleagues. Later on, his colleagues said: “he looked as white as a sheet”.

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