1966, December 4: Dr. John Irving Bentley’s Fiery Death

The last time 92-year-old Dr. John Irving Bentley was seen alive was on the evening of December 4, 1966, when friends visiting him at his home in Coudersport, Pennsylvania, said goodnight to him at about 9:00PM. On the following morning, December 5, Mr. Gosnell, a meter reader, let himself into Bentley's house and went to the basement to check the meter -- since Dr. Bentley could only move about with the help of a walker, Mr. Gosnell had permission to enter as necessary.

        In the basement Mr. Gosnell noticed a strange smell and a light blue smoke, so he went upstairs to investigate. The bedroom was smokey... and in the bathroom he found Bentley's cremated remains.

Dr. Bently's Remains
The remains. [Larger version here]

        All that was left intact of the aged doctor was the lower half of his right leg with the slipper still on it, lying next to a blackened hole in the floor; apart from that, all that was left of Bentley was a pile of ashes on the floor in the basement below. His walker lay across the hole; inexplicably, the rubber tips on it were still intact, and the nearby bathtub was hardly scorched. Gosnell ran from the building to get help. 

        The first theory put forward was that Bentley had set himself on fire with his pipe, but his pipe was still on its stand by the bed in the next room. Perplexed, the coroner could only record a verdit of "death by asphyxiation and 90 per cent burning of the body."


        Joe Nickell, in his book Secrets of the Supernatural, gives an account of this event he got from Larry E. Arnold's article "The Flaming Fate of Dr. John Irving Bentley," printed in the Pursuit of Fall 1976; I will find a copy of this article.

         Nickell mentions that the hole in the bathroom floor measured 2-1/2 feet by 4, and details the remains as being the unburnt leg, the pile of ashes, a kneecap found on top of a basement post, and Bentley's skull. Nickell also adds that Bentley's robe was found smoldering in the bathtub next to the hole, and that the broken remains of "what was apparently a water pitcher" were found in the toilet; he adds to this that the doctor had "many times before" dropped hot ashes from his pipe onto his clothing (which "were dotted with burn spots from previous incidents"), and that burns were found on the bedroom rug that seemed to indicate Bentley had set his clothes afire and made his way to the bathroom with his walker. Nickell believes that Bentley set his clothes on fire, walked to the bathroom, removed his robe, and passed out before he could extinguish the flames.