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1829, December 25: Marie Bally’s Fiery Death

At eight o'clock on the morning of December 26, 1829, 51-year-old washer woman Marie Jeanne Antoinette Bally was found burnt to death in an unusual way in her small room in Paris, France. She had been seen to return to her small fourth floor room intoxicated (which was not unusual for her) the night previous; the following morning, neighbors entered her room to check on her when they smelled a strong odor of smoke coming from there.

        The room was only nine feet long by six feet wide, with two windows overlooking a narrow corridor. The only furniture in the room was a small chest in one corner, a chair, small muslin curtians over the windows, and a fireplace which the chair had been positioned in front of (there was no bed, so Bally may have been in the habit of sleeping in her chair). Bally's lower legs were intact on the floor pointing at the fireplace, and her head, front of her neck, and upper shoulders were intact; but her back from her buttocks up to the rear of her neck and her loins were entirely destroyed, and the sides of her torso and both of her arms were burnt to a lessor degree... in each armpit an unburned piece of her chamise was found. The chair upon which she had sat was almost completely gone; one arm was holding a remaining piece of the chair. Under Bally's body was an earthenware pot that would have contained a small fire to warm her feet. The floor was covered with black soot, presumably from the burning chair, and one exposed beam in the wall of the room had a charred surface, but there was no other damage in the room from the fire, including no damage to the muslin curtains that were only three feet away from the body.

        The doctor investigating this case felt Bally's cloths had been ignited by the fire in the earthenware pot that had been under her; her intoxicated state would have prevented her from responding to the fire or, possibly, she was in a deep slumber to start with, and suffocated on smoke. Despite this theory put forward in the first report, Bally's death was later attributed to spontaneous human combustion since it was generally believed that even with her clothes on fire she should not have been burned so horribly.