La vieille dame brûlait d'un feu tout intérieur. Vraiment. Mardi (26/01/99) matin, les sapeurs-pompiers ont eu en effet la surprise de découvrir le cadavre à moitié carbonisé d'une octogénaire... sans constater la moindre trace d'incendie dans son appartement parisien. Alors que son thorax et ses bras portaient les stigmates d'un feu très violent, ni les tapis, ni les tapisseries, ni même un tas de papiers posé à côté d'elle n'avaient brûlé.
Il n'en a pas fallu plus pour qu'en l'absence d'un quelconque signe de malveillance, on reparle d'autocombustion humaine. Un ou deux cas sont signalés chaque année en France : le 17 novembre dernier, les cendres d'une femme de 67 ans étaient découvertes près d'une chaussure contenant un bout de tibia dans une ferme, près de Honfleur (Calvados). Mystère supplémentaire, les experts imputent souvent ce genre de phénomène à une trop forte concentration d'alcool dans les tissus. Or la victime ne buvait jamais une goutte ...
A case of apparent spontaneous human combustion has occured in Co. Kerry in the Irish Republic. On 24 March, 76-year-old John O'Connor was found dead in his living room at Gortaleen, near Tralee, by the community nurse who regularly visited him. She notified the Gardai, who discovered Mr O'Connor's charred remains in a chair positioned some distance from the hearth. The body had been severely damaged by an intense and localised fire; only his head and upper torso and his feet remained unburnt. There was little smoke damage to the room or furniture.
Local priest Fr Patrick McCarthey, who attended the scene, said it looked "as if somebody had poured petrol into his lap". Both a telephone and a community alert device were within reach, which suggests that either the fire took hold with great speed, or that Mr O'Connor was already dead when it started. He had last been seen late on the evening of the 23rd.
Initial reports suggested that the Gardai were keeping an open mind. However, Superintendent Tom Conway at Tralee Gardai Station, which covers the Castlemaine area, was sanguine about finding a cause. "Mr O'Connor was a heavy smoker, and we know that he had suffered from blackouts in the past. We also know that he had burned himself badly in the past. As far as we're concerned, he blacked out in the chair and set himself on fire with a cigarette," he told Fortean Times. An inquest is planned.