Grisly Death Has Some Talking Spontaneous Human Combustion

Retiree dies after mysteriously bursting into flames in London
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 15, 2017 7:15 PM CST
Grisly Death Has Some Talking Spontaneous Human Combustion
John Nolan, 70, died in September after bursting into flames on a London street. Authorities have yet to find a cause for the fire.   (Metropolitan Police)

A grisly mystery in London has police searching for answers. The Independent reports a 70-year-old man named John Nolan was walking near his home Sept. 17 when he burst into flames. Emergency services were called for a "man ablaze" while bystanders tried to put out the fire. The retired construction worker later died at the hospital from "horrific" burns, according to the Telegraph. His relatives say even his internal organs had burned. Despite months of investigation, officials have found no source of ignition or sign of an accelerant and have no suspects. Police say that interviews with witnesses don't indicate Nolan "had been in contact with another person at the time of the fire."

The Telegraph raises the specter of spontaneous human combustion, which it says is "a fiercely debated process" with only 200 deaths ever attributed to it. Bernard Knight, a former pathologist, says it's "ridiculous" to give any credence to spontaneous human combustion. “In the course of my career I saw maybe three or four cases of so-called spontaneous combustion, but they were all indoors near an open fireplace," he says. In the case of Nolan, he says "a failure to find a cause does not mean there isn't one." Meanwhile, Nolan's family just wants answers. “We were just worried that a frail, elderly man was attacked on the street,” nephew Kevin Byrne tells the Journal. “We just don’t know what happened to him and we’d like to know." (More spontaneous human combustion stories.)

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