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Friday 7 March 2014

Smoke Billowing from the Newspaper

     In my last post, I detailed John Heymer's research proving that people do, in fact, burst into flame for no obvious reason - and in front of others, as well. Mr Heymer insists, nevertheless, that he does not believe in the supernatural; everything that happens must be the result of natural laws. Well, yes. We can't argue with that. Unless we are talking about miracles ie the Divine Programmer applying the manual override function to the universe, then everything must be the result of some law. It begs the question, however, whether we know enough of the laws, by-laws, and regulations of the universe to explain everything.
     There was, for example, one incident which really puzzled him. In December 1994, he had appeared on a TV program, "Schofield's Quest" to discuss spontaneous human combustion, and requested feedback. That inspired an elderly couple to come forth with an account of what had happened to them three years before.
     Bob and Beryl Smith, who were in their sixties, lived at Burnley, Lancashire, and one of their inviolate rules was that they never smoked in the bedroom; they wanted it free of tobacco smell. It was about midnight one Sunday, when Beryl had vacated the bedroom briefly to make a pot of tea, while Bob was sitting up in bed with a Sunday paper - he thinks it was the News of the World - spread out in front of him, while he read an article about the murders involving the Charles Manson "family". It was a pity Mr Heymer didn't check the back issues to confirm the presence of this article; perhaps one of my British readers can do so. In any case, he got to the point where the reporter visited the former Manson ranch, and happened to see a gravestone with the following inscription:
Here lies the body of [name forgotten].
We burnt her bones
To rid the world of
Her evil flesh.
     At that point, a mass of thick grey smoke began billowing out of the pages of the newspaper. "Oh my God! Beryl!" he cried, and she rushed back into the room just as he was flinging the paper down on to the floor. The room was full of foul smelling smoke. They threw the windows wide open. Right after that, he took the paper out to the dustbin, clamped the lid back on, and moved the bin right down to the bottom of the garden.
     Contrary to the proverb, there was smoke without fire. The newspaper wasn't even scorched. Also, the horrible smell was nothing like what that of burning paper. They said they never got the News of the World again.
     In my previous post, I mentioned Mr Heymer's opinion that spontaneous human combustion is much more common than you might think. An unusual phenomenon, although not rare, can be completely overlooked by society if it never gets reported. That is one of the reasons for this blog: to rescue stories which would otherwise be overlooked. And the fact is, this bizarre event would never have seen the light of day except for the "Schofield's Quest" programme.
    Ben Smith added: "I have only told about two people about it and even they listened to me with a rather sceptical smile." So I shall leave you with the thought: if it happened to you, whom would you tell? And do you think they would believe you?

Reference: John E. Heymer (1996), The Entrancing Flame, Little, Brown & Co, London, pp 234-7

Addendum, 24.3.16: I have just got around to reading It Happened to Me!, volume 4. This is a compendium of stories told by readers of the Fortean Times. I have reviewed another volume elsewhere. On page 102 is a tale by a certain Jackson Davies about what happened to him the previous year. He and some friends had been mucking around with a ouija board, after which they sat around watching TV. He wasn't smoking, there were no matches or lighter near him, and the nearest candle was four feet away, but suddenly he felt a burning sensation on his thigh. His pants were on fire! Unable to put it out by beating it with his hand, he managed to pull off his jeans, which were of heavy denim, and discovered an oval hole two inches wide burnt in them. Was this the beginning of a "spontaneous human combustion"?

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