1956, December 8: Catherine Cahill's Fiery Death

On December 8, 1956, Mrs. Catherine Cahill, living in the Roxbury neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, was discovered at 4:20PM sitting in her rocking chair in the kitchen with her clothing burning. She was discovered by her thirty-five year old daughter and twenty year old granddaughter as they returned home from church.

        Mrs. Cahill, who was 78 years old, was described as an invalid and was killed as a result of the fire. According to her daughter, Mrs. Cahill had not been a smoker. At the time of reporting, December 9, fire officials had not yet determined the cause of the fire. No more was reported on the matter in newspapers.

        In May 1957, FATE Magazine, an American periodical devoted to strange and paranormal stories, briefly reported the details above with two changes: they titled their short entry "Another Cremation Mystery?," and they described the event as "a mysterious blaze which was confined to her kitchen rocking chair." This was an obvious attempt to connect the incident to reports of spontaneous human combustion without actually saying it directly. Surprisingly, only one other publication went on to claim that Cahill's death was a case of spontaneous human combustion; Larry Arnold's 1995 book Ablaze!.

        Despite these two endorsements for the possibility, it doesn't seem likely that SHC is the cause of Cahill's death. The fire wasn't "confined to her kitchen rocking chair," it was the clothes Cahill was wearing that were burning. The fire could have spread if not discovered when it was, so it's not possible to say it was 'confined.' Besides, Cahill was in her kitchen... so it's possible she was lighting the stove or some other normal activity, and accidentally lit her clothes afire. The fact that the fire offcials didn't have an answer as to the cause immediately, for the one time the fire was reported in newspapers, is not proof there was no explanation.