1965, March 26: Herbert Shinn's Burning Wounds

FATE, an American magazine devoted to paranormal and strange topics, long included a section by Curtis Fuller called "I See By The Papers," which featured news snippets often sent in by readers. In the September 1965 issue of FATE, Fuller made brief note of this strange bit of news:

"Herbert Shinn, 70, of Camp Chaffee Rd., Foster Park, Calif., was found in his kitchen by a friend who happened to drop by Friday night, March 26. Shinn was badly burned on chest, back, and spine. He died 30 minutes later in Ventura General Hospital.

"Shinn was alone when discovered and there was no evidence of fire anywhere in his house or surrounding yard. Nor did questioning of neighbors yield any clues as to how he may have been burned -- or where, if he was not at home."

This short accounting was picked up (and shortened further) by noted authors on paranormal topics Brad Steiger (in the 1970's) and Larry Arnold (in the 1990's), who both attributed the strange matter to 'spontaneous human combustion.' It's absolutely undoubtable that they both got the story from FATE Magazine. This is because Fuller reported the story wrong.

A Slightly Different Story

        This simple account was driving me nuts until I stumbled across one little fact that cleared things up: the victim's name was not 'Herbert Shinn'... it was 'Alfred Shinn.' In a newspaper from Oxnard, California, USA, dated for March 27, 1965, I found the original story.

        Alfred Shinn, 70, lived in a trailer park where he made daily rounds to say hello to everyone... but on March 26, he failed to make this daily walk. Worried, a neighbor went to check on him around 6:30PM, and discovered Shinn on his floor, unclothed and badly burned. Shinn was rushed to the hospital, but died in the emergency room about one hour later.

        Detectives found Shinn's burned clothing on his bed, and there was water on the floor of his trailer. The evidence suggested that Shinn had been lying against the heater in his trailer, awoke to find his clothes on fire, and tried to douse the fire while undressing... the efforts of which led to him collapsing from exhaustion.

        That the death of Alfred Shinn is where the tale of Herbert Shinn originates is undoubtable... but how and why the story changed is not clear. It would seem that either the person who sent the story to Curtis Fuller at FATE -- or Fuller himself -- changed the details of the story to render it both more mysterious, and harder to track down. In either case, I'm marking this story as "Factually Challenged," as having the original story clearly shows this account is not paranormal in nature.