1982, August 5: Chicago Woman's Combustion

The Legend:

On August 5, 1982, an unidentified Chicago woman was seen to burst into flames for no apparent reason as she was walking down a street. An eyewitness was quoted as saying they "saw her burning and then she fell."

The Known Facts

       On August 6, 1982, a news story was released through the City News Bureau to the effect that a woman in Chicago had burst into flames for unknown reasons. A witness in a parked car with his girlfriend a "block or a block and a half" away said he saw the woman walking down the street one minute, then looked away... and when he looked back he saw her burning and then she fell (an officer then noted that the witness wasn't paying too much attention). By the time authorities arrived, the body had been burned beyond recognition... it required two hours just to determine the body's gender. The body was small enough to be a child's, but had gold fillings that implied it belonged to an older individual. All clothing was destroyed, and police on the scene claimed they didn't smell accelerants. The body was taken to Mercy Hospital for an autopsy to be performed later in the week.

        By the afternoon of August 6, City News Bureau re-released the same article with a new detail... a brief history of spontaneous human combustion, and a quote from a public official doubting the possibility in this case.

        On Sunday, August 8, new details were released. The initial information in the case had been released on Thursday, August 5, at 9:32AM from the City News Bureau. The woman had been walking in the 4000 block of South Wells, Chicago, sometime Thursday morning before the release, when she burst into flames. So the event happened sometime between midnight and 9:32AM.

        On Friday, August 6, Cook County Medical Examiner Dr. Robert Stein stated that the woman was dead before she burned, and that traces of hydrocarbon accelerants had been found on her clothing... in short, she'd been doused with chemicals to make her burn better; also, apparently, not all her clothing was destroyed, as previously reported. Stein still didn't know what had actually killed the woman, but the evidence as it stood suggested murder.

        Though I need to dig further to see what the final results of the investigation were, Stein's examination was the end of the spontaneous combustion theory for this event.

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