1980, October: Peter Jones’ Smoking Problem

In 1995, author Larry Arnold claimed to have interviewed a Peter Lynam Jones and his wife Barbara -- who Arnold tells us lived somewhere in central California, USA -- about two strange incidents that occurred on a day in October 1980.

        On that day, Mr. Jones was sitting on the side of his bed with his wife next to him, when smoke started to billow from his arms. Both of them immediately tried to find what was burning, but nothing was... there was no flame, no heat, and no odor: just smoke coming from Mr. Jones' arms. And then it stopped just as suddenly. Both of them were understandably freaked out, but there was no obvious cause nor anything that could be done about the matter.

        Later that same day, Mr. Jones was in his car and stopped at a railroad crossing, when it happened again. With both hands on the steering wheel, and both sleeves rolled up, pale blue-gray smoke seemingly emerged from his arms, filling the car's interior. This time Mr. Jones noticed the smoke had a 'metallic' taste to it. And, once again, it just stopped suddenly. Mr. Jones didn't tell his wife about this second occurrence until months after.

        Arnold states that he met with the Joneses many times previous to the publication of his 1995 book on spontaneous human combustion, Ablaze!, and says that Mrs. Jones told him that her husband, who was forty-six at the time of the incident, had been a heavy drinker, though on that particular day he had not been drinking prior to either of the two smoking sessions. She also confided that he "harbored 'total hatred' toward her teenage daughter" at the time. Arnold then observed that the couple appeared to have become noticibly more relaxed in the time he'd known them, and that they were looking forward to traveling in their retirement years.

Did It Happen?

        This is a genuine problem to solve.

        Even though Arnold characterizes this account as an event he heard of from the very people involved, and says that he stayed in contact with them, Arnold never actually explains how he'd heard of their strange experience or got in contact with them to begin with. Location-wise, Arnold only says the Joneses live in 'central California,' which is very vague. I have been unable to trace any mention of this event previous to Arnold's book in newspapers or other media.

        It's also suspicious about how specific the information that Arnold shares about the couple is. Among other theories that Arnold puts forth in his book is the idea that strong emotions could be a trigger for a spontaneous human combustion; and after sharing that Mr. Jones was a heavy drinker with a hatred targeted at his wife's daughter, Arnold comments "An incendiary combination, perhaps?" This points to the possibility that Arnold created the whole story with details that would specifically support the theory he was proposing... so it's even more problematic that I cannot find an earlier mention of this incident.

        For all of these reasons, I am marking this account as a "False Lead" -- a story that just never happened -- until I can find evidence that the Joneses exist separate from Arnold's book.

        On a minor side note, it appears a 2007 book created a variation on the story above that claims the event happened in 1944, which many newer websites concerned with spontaneous human combustion have since repeated.

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