1907, January 27: Mrs. Houck’s Fiery Death

On Monday, January 28, 1907, a short article appeared in a number of papers nationwide regarding the strange death of a housewife in Pittsburgh.

"WIFE BURNED TO DEATH.

Albert Houck found the body of his wife lying on a table of her room, burned to a crisp, when he returned home from work late last night.

The theory of accidental death was abandoned when it was discovered that nothing else in the room was burned, not even the table on which the body was found. Whether the woman met with foul play the police are reluctant to say, but considerable mystery surrounds the death."

In 1932, the article was picked up by Charles Fort, who always had his eye out for strange and inexplicable events. The mystery of the matter, coupled with the strange fact that the table Mrs. Houck was found on was not burned, meant that Fort was bound to mention it in one of his books, which were hodge-podge collections of possible paranormal events.

        But the short article got many of its facts wrong.

The Original Story

        The original, and much longer, article on the matter was published in the Pittsburgh Daily Post for January 28, 1907... this was then apparently read and written up as a much shorter article for national release by someone, resulting in the better known article above.

        Albert Houck appears to have worked nights, as the article opens by explaining he had gotten home from work on the morning of Sunday the 27th. After several attempts to get his wife to open the front door, Houck climbed in through a cellar window, then proceeded to search for his wife. Smelling "the odor of burning rags," he entered her room; she was in a chair, her clothing mostly burned away, her body charred. the only other evidence of fire in the room was that the table cloth was burned, as was a large quantity of paper in a waste basket in the far corner of the room.

        Houck ran outside and called on neighbors for help; some recalled having seen a bright light in Mrs. Houck's room around 11:30PM the previous evening. Police were called and were soon investigating; at the time of the article, there wasn't much they could say other than it was possible that Mrs. Houck had lit her lamp, then tossed the used -- but still hot -- match in the wastebasket, and accidentally lit her clothes afire after the paper in the wastebasket caught aflame. The coroner had at first advanced the theory that it was an accidental death, but was waiting for further investigation before ruling out possible foul play.

        And no more was ever printed on the matter, as far as I know.

        I've attempted to find information on Albert Houck and his wife -- little details like her name and age would be helpful -- but I've had no luck on it so far. So, while the story itself is not as the short article and Charles Fort presented it, there is still a mystery around the death of Mrs. Houck that requires more investigation... and probably a lot of luck.