1782, June 3: Mademoiselle Thuars’ Fiery Death

In the February 1783 issue of the Journal de Medecine, a strange fire death was reported by a Mr. Merille, who had been asked to examine the death scene by representatives of the King of France. Merille had written to report to the journal what he had witnessed in the hopes that any of his colleagues reading it might be able to explain to him what it was he had witnessed!

        On June 3, 1782, Merille had been called to examine the remains of 60-year-old Mademoiselle Thuars, of Caen, France. Merille described Thuars as "extrêmement grasse" -- "extremely fat" -- and very much a professional alcoholic... she had drank three bottles of wine and a bottle of brandy on the day she died. Merille found that Thuars had been lying on the floor with her head touching the andiron of her fireplace. It had been a cold day, but the fireplace had just three pieces of wood in it, all only about an inch thick, and all just burnt a bit in their middles. This small fire was eighteen inches away from where Thuars' head appeared to have been touching the andiron.

        Thuars' body had been found reduced to just ashes, a few bit of bone, and her undamaged feet. Her right foot was still burning a bit at the ankle, but was intact from there down... the left was in about the same shape, but no longer burning. What few bit of bone existed in the ashes had been burned so badly that they crumbled at the slightest touch. Thuars' had last been seen alive seven hours before the discovery of her remains. A chair that was only a foot away from her body that she had presumably been sitting in showed no signs of fire damge; infact, other than Thuars' herself, the only other thing in the room that showed fire damage was a cage of very dry oak wood, which was touching the chimney.

Spontaneous Human Combustion

        Though this incident matches modern criteria for the paranormal topic of "Spontaneous Human Combustion" -- which is the proposed possibility of people sometimes catching fire from inside their bodies and being destroyed for unknown reasons -- Merille himself never labels the case such. As mentioned, Merille had submitted the details to the Journal de Medecine in the hopes that someone would be able to give him an idea of how such a death might occur.

        And a good thing, too... because months later Merille's letter received a proposed answer that nearly changed the whole inquiry. Check out the 'See Also' link below for more!