1820, December 31: Rouen Fiery Death

In April 1826, the Journal Général de Médecine, de Chirurgie et de Pharmacie [General Journal of Medicine, Surgery, and Pharmacy] of France published an account of a strange fire death reported by M. Hellis Jr., a medical man who attended the bizarre scene.

        Hellis explained that Mrs. Thomasse Goret of Rouen, France, was 57 years of age when she died and had long been addicted to eau-de-vie (a fruit brandy). She had caused much trouble for her husband because of it. He had her on a tight financial leash, giving her four francs a year. Having received this on December 30, 1820, she headed straight for an inn to drink it up. It had been very cold the night before, and promised to be just as cold this night; she returned home around 10:00PM, more drunk than usual, and presumably not feeling the cold as much. She retired to a fourth floor room, and was heard moving about around midnight. Sometime after midnight, however, some of the neighbors heard a strange sizzling sound; and when it had continued loud and longer than seemed necessary, one of the neighbors rose from bed to investigate... but not seeing any unusual lights, they eventually lay back down to sleep.

        Around 7:00AM, another neighbor went up to Mrs. Goret's room to borrow some household instrument; but upon opening the door, she was assaulted by a thick and foul-smelling smoke. The neighbor called for help, and soon buckets of water were being thrown into the room randomly. When the smoke cleared enough they discovered the incinerated remains of Mrs. Goret were the only thing actually burning in the room. The police commissioner was called. A few hours later, Hellis was called to inspect the scene and determine the cause of death. despite the water that had been thrown in some abundance into the room, parts of Mrs. Goret's remains were still burning when Hellis arrived; the room still had the foul thick smoke in evidence.

        Mrs. Goret was lying face down; her legs, including a portion of her buttocks, and her head were intact... most of the rest of her body was just missing, turned into a layer of ash on the floor. Her clothing, except for leg coverings, shoes, and part of a coat, was entirely gone. Her trunk was just ashes with a few calcined vertebrae between the legs and the head -- her stomach, intestines, and guts were gone. Disconcertingly, her face was intact, though covered with a greasy yellow coating, and her hair and the hairband that held it in place were still intact also. Her left hip, still burning, sat on a nearby block which was also burning. Hellis picked up the hip to examine (and, presumably, extinguish) it.

        A closer look at the torso area showed some calcined ribs, and "some traces of coal where the lungs had been." The bones of the arms were present, but fleshless and calcined... and while the right hand had been completely destroyed, strangely the left hand was found intact and "at some distance from the trunk." There were some traces of blood where Goret's head had been found, "and the remains of a recent evacuation." Other than the burning block, no furniture or other objects in the room were fire damaged. The fireplace had three fire pots in it, all empty.

        There was a candle that had been previously lit on the table, but it was intact and not lit when Hellis arrived... though he did guess that it could have been lit previous to the strange fire, and been suffocated out by the smoke from the body.

        Hellis didn't care to forward a guess as to what had happened, and stuck to reporting the facts as he found them so others could try to puzzle the matter out.

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