1930, January 22: Nora Lake’s Fiery Death
I have two versions of the legend of Mrs. Lake's death.
The first version, originally presented by Charles Fort in his 1932 book Wild Talents, states that on January 22, 1930, Mrs. Stanley Lake was found burned to death in her home in Kingston, New York, USA; although her body was severely burned, the clothes she was wearing were undamaged.
The second version, possibly presented first in Joe Nickell's 1988 book Secrets of the Supernatural, states that on January 22, 1930, Nora Lake, age 42, was found burned to death in her home in Kerhonkson, New York, USA. She was lying on her bed fully clothed; although her body was severely burned, the clothes she was wearing were undamaged. It was thought that she was burned to cover up a robbery.
Obviously, the two stories are related. It took some digging and a lot of luck, but I can finally state how they are related... and tell the true story of Mrs. Lake's strange death.
The Real Story
Mrs. Nora Lake, 42-year-old wife of Stanley Lake, had been out of the area because her husband had picked up a job in Walden, New York, USA, for the winter. Mrs. Lake and her daughter returned to their home in Napanoch, about twenty miles from Walden, on Monday, January 20, 1930. The first night they stayed at their home but, due to the extreme cold, they decided to spend Tuesday night at a relative's house, Harvey Lake.
At about 11:30 Tuesday night, Mrs. Lake left her relative's house to go and fix the fire at her own house for the night, presumably to keep the house warmer through the cold of the night; she left her daughter behind. When Mrs. Lake failed to return in a timely fashion, it was simply assumed that she had gone to her mother-in-law's house to sleep, since it was nearby.
Sometime between 1 AM and 2 AM on Wednesday Morning, January 22nd, fire was discovered in the home of Stanley Lake's family.
Firemen soon arrived, and extinguished a fire on the first floor in the kitchen and dining room of the house. Sometime during this event it was realized that no one actually knew where Mrs. Lake was, probably due to several attempts to find her and tell her about her home. A search was made of the house, and Mrs. Lake was found dead on the second floor in a bedroom. Her body was on the floor next to a dresser and a window that overlooked a porch roof. Her face was burned, and there were blisters on her legs... but her clothes were not burned.
Initially, two theories were put forward as to what had happened. The first guess was that the fire that Mrs. Lake had been lighting flared up and burned her face, and she retreated upstairs in shock and pain only to collapse and later die. The second theory was that she had correctly started the fire, but that it somehow got out of hand later... it was thought that Mrs. Lake may have gone upstairs to sleep and, later discovering the fire, may have been burned while trying to escape through the downstairs, only to be either overwhelmed by her wounds or suffocated by smoke before she could escape through the window upstairs. A third theory developed after her pocketbook was discovered in the room with her body, and was missing $30 she was known to be carrying. It was believed by some that she had been killed during a robbery, and that the fire had been set to try and cover up the crime.
After an autopsy, it was announced that the cause of death was suffocation and shock. Nora Lake was buried in Fantinekill Cemetery in Ellenville, two days later, on Friday.
You may be asking why the legends about Mrs. Lake's death state that she was living in Kingston and/or Kerhonkson... the answer is actually pretty simple. Napanoch, Kingston, and Kerhonkson are all small towns that are very near each other -- Mrs. Lake's autopsy was performed in Kerhonkson, for example -- and all had local newspapers that carried the story. Depending on the newspaper story a researcher is looking at, it may not be clear that Mrs. Lake's death was in a different town than where the paper was printed!
Also, any conjecture about this being a case of spontaneous human combustion is basically defeated by the fact there was a fire in the house, a minor detail most authors seem to have missed... which is why I'm marking this account as "Factually Challenged."