1953, May: Esther Dulin’s Fiery Death
In May 1953, the remains of 30-year-old Mrs. Esther Dulin were discovered in her home in Los Angeles, California, USA. She had apparently fallen asleep in an overstuffed chair; her body and chair were ‘virtually consumed’ by fire, having burned through the floor and fallen into the room below. No other rooms or objects in the house were damaged.
According to FATE Magazine, quoting from a Los Angeles newspaper, the coroner ruled that Dulin had falling asleep from an overdose of sleeping pills while smoking a cigarette. The main mystery was that no one understood how a fire could burn so intensely to incinerate Dulin and the chair, yet not cause more damage throughout the room or structure... but a plausible explanation for this form of fire has since been proposed and proven.
Known as the 'wick effect', clothing ignited by a outside source -- such as a cigarette -- can consume a body with a slow smolder as it boils and consumes the body fat. In this case, the clothing acts in the same fashion as a wick in a candle, transporting fluid fat to the flame and only being consumed in part itself when the fluid runs out of a particular part of the body. Such a smolder will follow the clothes as long as there is body tissue to fuel it, and can reach localized temperatures high enough to destroy bone. Limbs can be left untouched, generally consumed only as far as clothing reaches them; so the bottom edge of a dress may leave an unburned foot behind. This all of course requires two main things (after a flame); time to burn slowly, and a victim who is already paralyzed or dead. In most of these cases, the victims have been drunk, drugged, or deceased before the fire started.