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1919, April 7: J. Temple Thurston’s Mysterious Death

The Legend: 

J. Temple Thurston, an English author, was found dead in his home -- Hawley Manor, in Dartford, England -- at about 3:00 am on the night of April 7, 1919, by the firemen who came to put out the fire blazing in his house. Strangely, he was found in a room that was not ablaze; and though he had been badly scorched on his legs and thighs, the clothes he was found wearing were not damaged in any way. 

        The fire itself surrounded just the room Thurston was found in, and there was no obvious source of ignition, accidental or manmade. Thurston was wearing his daytime attire, and he still had money and his watch in his pockets; so robbery was not the motive if this was a crime. His death was officially stated to have been caused by heart failure brought on by smoke inhalation.

Variations 

        In The World's Greatest Mysteries, Joyce Robins claims this case as an example of spontaneous combustion by convieniently not mentioning that the house was on fire. In addition, she states that Thurston was found in his armchair, and that some people have put forward the theory that he was the victim of a curse and that to support this claim they pointed out how the author looked as though he had been burned at the stake, with the flames having been put out before they could reach his upper body. 

        Although Robins did not state what her source for the Thurston story was, it's very clear that the theory she presents is a distorted version of the account of Thurston's death given in Charles Fort's book, Wild Talents [1932]. Here is a line from Fort's book:

"The scorches were large red patches on the thighs and lower parts of the legs. It was much as if, bound to a stake, the man had stood in a fire that had not mounted high."

In this original context, the stake analogy is simply meant as a colorful description of the wounds on Thurton's body, and not as a serious theory to explain said wounds. Curious about this variation, I emailed Robins and asked what her source for the story was; her response was that she could not remember -- over ten years had passed -- but she was pretty sure she didn't get it from Charles Fort's book. So either Robins is the creator of this version of the story, or there is a book or video that she used as a source that predates the 1989 publication of her book. I'll keep an eye out. 

        In Wild Talents, by the way, Fort gives the Dartford Chronicle [Kent] for April 7, 1919, as his source; I'll try to get a copy (though regional papers from overseas could be tricky, to say the least).