Conspiracy Corner – Where There’s Smoke

Harmon Lanager, Staff Writer

Welcome back, fire-starters, to this week’s Conspiracy Corner. As the old saying goes, it’s better to burn out than fade away. But you may rethink that when you consider the death of one Mary Reeser and the strange phenomena that continues to take lives all around the world. Join us this week as we sift through the ashes to uncover the truth of spontaneous combustion.  

On the night of July 2nd, 1951, a landlord named Pansey Carpenter went to the room of one of her tenants, Mary Reeser, aged 67. Pansey was delivering a telegram marked for Mary but, upon touching the doorknob, found it to be hot. Unable to get into the room and fearing for Mary, Pansey called the police. Several officers arrived and barged into the apartment. What they found has not been explained to this very day.  

Mary Reeser’s body was reduced to utter ash. Black soot stained her armchair and floor; bits of melted, almost candle-like fat had dripped onto the carpet below. Yet, stranger still was what remained of Miss Reeser: her skull, her backbone, and her left foot. The foot was found disembodied and completely undamaged by the fire. Her skull was significantly smaller, described as the “size of a teacup”. This is odd as, typically, the skull enlarges after a fire.   

The last person to see her alive was her son, who testified that Mary had taken a sedative that day and planned to take more before bed. From this, many have drawn the conclusion that Mary, in her sedated state, was smoking as she sat in her chair. The cigarette then dropped from her mouth and, due to her sluggish mental state, she burned alive without much of a struggle. That, however, appears unlikely. It takes around 1400 degrees Fahrenheit to incinerate the human body. It seems impossible for a fire to get that hot and not alert Mary, with or without sedatives. Secondly, the room was found completely undamaged save for the chair she was sitting on. Needless to say, a fire over 1400 degrees would render the room asunder and likely have kept spreading throughout the apartment building.  

Rather, it would appear that Mary Reeser is the victim of a phenomena known as spontaneous human combustion. It is a strange occurrence where people, all over the world, will burst into flame for no discernible reason. Cases go back all the way to 1641, with the first recorded death being that of Polonus Vortstius. A common factor in the cases are that only the target of combustion burns, leaving the surroundings relatively unharmed. Experts have attempted to provide mundane explanations for it, such as alcohol consumption or a buildup of gases inside the victim’s body. More out-there theories include attacks by ghosts or chain lightning. I, however, wish to present a stranger theory.  

In his 1932 book, Wild Talents, Charles Fort proposes the existence of strange abilities he refers to as ‘Wild Talents’. Today known as ‘psychic abilities’, Wild Talents manifest when one has a powerful enough mind to physically affect their surroundings. Abilities included telekinesis or even the ability to psychically curse someone. Yet, most relevant of these Wild Talents is pyrokinesis, the power to light fires with one’s mind.   

How does that relate to the strange death of Mary Reeser? Well, there is a ‘theory’ (underline the word theory about five times) that things such as hauntings are the results of Wild Talents being manifested via the subconscious mind of an unwitting subject. So, what if Reeser was, unknown to her, one of those chosen few possessing a Wild Talent and, in her tired and heavily sedated state, manifested it as a flame that quickly consumed her?  

Be it from the beyond or some hidden fact of human anatomy or buried deep, deep in the inner workings of the brain, the secret behind Mary Reeser’s mysterious death has eluded us for decades and likely always will. But as deaths connected to spontaneous combustion continue, with the most recent case being in September of 2017 in north London, scientists will eventually be forced to research the phenomena. Until then, I advise you watch your drinking and keep a cool head. You never know when things might just go up in smoke.