2010, December 30~31: Elizabeth McLaughlin's Fiery Death

Initial reports of the matter were very straight forward.

        On December 31, 2011, fifty year old Elizabeth McLaughlin of Carndonagh, Ireland, was found dead from fire in her home around 11:00AM. A full forensic examination was conducted at the home, though authorities stated it would take at least a week before detail from McLaughlin's postmotem would be released... but they also said they suspected she had died from smoke inhalation. The death was not being treated "as suspicious." Mrs. McLaughlin was living alone. Most of the damage in the house was from smoke. County officials commented on how tragic it was for a family to experience a death right at New Year's.

        The event was soon forgotten by newspapers, as ther didn't appeasr to be much to follow up on other than an obituary and funeral.

        But almost a year later, the real story started.

        On November 12, 2011, the results of the inquest into McLaughlin's death was released... and it included a reference to three words that guaranteed it would get more attention this time: 'spontaneous human combustion.'

The Unknown Details of Mrs. McLaughlin's Death

        Dr. John Madden, Donegal coroner, felt the need to state that spontaneous human combustion was "probably an urban myth." The reason he said this was because Harry Masterson, who was the boyfriend of Elizabeth McLaughlin and also one of the two people who discovered her remains, had stated at the inquest "It seems to me that it was spontaneous human combustion, which I know is unusual. It was just terrible, I would not wish it on anyone."

        Masterson had stayed with McLaughlin over the Christmas holiday. On December 30th, he traveled to his own home in Moville to retrieve medication, staying the night there. McLaughlin was in the habit of calling Masterson each morning at 7:00AM... and on the day after, December 31st, Masterson didn't get the usual call from her, which worried him.

        He caught the 9:30AM bus back to Carndonagh. Masterson apparently didn't have a key to McLaughlin's home, because he eventually got entrance with the help of one of her nephews, Kevin Loftus. The house smelled of smoke, and Loftus found three dead cats inside... then he saw what he thought was a burned Christmas tree lying on the sitting room floor.

        The "Christmas tree" was not recognized until a niece, Dolores, arrived... she saw the shoe in the mess; then she started to recognize the bits of clothing as belonging to her aunt. Loftus relaized he was looking at a leg in the burned mass. Once this was realized, they called in the Garda (Police).

        One of the Garda, a Sgt. John McLaughlin (presumably not related to the victim), described the scene at the inquest. “Inside the sitting room on the floor were the charred remains of a person,” he said. “An unusual aspect was that the actual burning and fire damage were confined to the human remains on the floor and the immediate vicinity.

        McLaughlin's autopsy showed a high level of cyanide in her blood stream, and a high level of carbon monoxide in the air when she died; it was clear she had burned to death. In short, she was not dead when the fire started. Some papers reported that McLoghlin had been burned so badly that the official identification of the corpse had to use dental records.

        The county coroner, Madden, stated: “Death was caused by fire. There was talk of spontaneous human combustion at the time. I did a little research and that probably is an urban myth but when I did see the remains, it did come to mind . . . I believe the clothes acted like a wick on a candle.” The jury agreed, and returned a verdict of death by fire.