1814 (ca.): French Woman’s Fiery Death

In the March 1814 edition of the Journal de Medecine, Chirurgie, & Pharmacie [Journal of Medecine, Surgery, & Pharmacy], notes on a presentation by a Dr. Prouteau regarding a strange fire death are discussed. Given the nature of Dr. Prouteau’s report, the incident likely happened within a few months of his presentation to the Society; therefore, I've set the date for this incident as circa 1814.

        According to Prouteau he had investigated the death of a twenty-eight year old woman, whom he described as 'excessively fat' and an alcoholic.Her neighbors had some reason to suspect things were not right with her; and, listening at her door, they heard a noise as if something within was frying. They must have entered at this point and discovered the woman to be burning; and though they threw water on her to extinguish the flames, she was already dead.

        Prouteau arrived and examined the scene a few hours after the discovery. The woman's body was lying on its back, three feet away from the hearth. There was a layer of black grease on the floor, but nothing else in the room was fire damaged. A book she had apparently been reading was found beside her, undamaged. The woman's face was entirely black and burnt. Just below her left breast, which was partily destroyed by burning, there was a three inch hole; Prouteau inserted his hand into the hole (!), and found a large burned-out cavity in which were ribs that broke very easily, weakened by fire. Her lower abdomen and upper thighs were were burned. When an effort was made to lift the body, the left arm fell off; it was discovered it had received internal damaged at the top that caused it to break off around scapula.

        Perhaps not surprisingly, Prouteau was quite convinced he was looking at a fire that had started within the woman's body, and that any damage to her clothing was likely secondary to her own tissues burning.