1957, May 18: Anna Martin’s Fiery Death

The Legend:

Late in the afternoon of May 18, 1957, Samuel Martin, a fireman, returned home to discover the remains of his widowed mother lying in front of the coal furnace in the basement of her West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, home. Mrs. Anna Martin, age 69, had been burned beyond recognition. Her torso was found laying face down in front of the furnace, burned horribly; the coal furnace had no fire in it, and the metal was cold. Martin's lower limbs were entirely consumed. All that was left of her clothing were her shoes. Newspapers and cardboard just two feet away from Martin's body were not even scorched.

        Chief medical examiner Dr. Joseph W. Spelman stated the fire would have to burn at about 1,700 to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit to render the body as it was found. Floor joists overhead were covered in oily soot, but uncharred. A stain about four feet square lay under the body; it was initially though to be the remains of an oil used to help burn Martin's body by an unknown assailent, but was later identified as residue from Martin's body. Nothing in the house had been stolen, and the idea that an unknown assailent had been in the house was soon abandoned.


        Researcher Joe Nickell points out that any fire in the furnace may have died previous to the discovery of the body, or Martin may have set herself on fire while trying (unsuccessfully) to light the furnace.