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1864, December: Un-named Woman’s Evidential Death

In December 1864, a woman known to be a drunkard was found burned to death in her room; her clothes were on fire, and her chair was burnt. The room was filled with a "thick black offensive smoke." On examination, it was found that some of her bones were fully deprived of flesh. A candle was burning on a table in the room; for this reason, her death was not considered to have been caused by spontaneous combustion or preternatural combustibility... and, by extension, was taken as evidence that a common fire could produce the sort of damage generally attributed to the strange fires.


        In the 1873 edition (and probably earlier) of Thomas Stevenson's Principles and Practices of Medical Jurisprudence, this death was given as an example of what a common fire from a known cause can produce which, when compared to many cases attributed to spontaneous combustion, is seen to display much the same pattern of damage to the body and surrounding objects. This is taken as likely evidence that comparable cases are only attributed to spontaneous combustion when the source of ignition is not obvious.