On July 2, 1951, in Saint Petersburg, Florida, Dr. Richard Reeser visited her mother Mary Reeser in the evening at her apartment. Mary Reeser told his son that she had taken two sectional tablets, and was possibly planning of taking 2 more before going to bed.

Mary Reeser
Mary Reeser, Wikimedia Commons

Mary after taking the pills slept in her upholstered chair for the last time as she would become a victim of an apparent house fire. The next morning Mary’s landlady reported smelling smoke at 5 A.M. She didn’t pay much attention to the smoke. It was when she went to deliver her telegram she noticed the smell of smoke again.

When she touched the handle it was too hot for her to grab so she called the nearby neighbors to at least get in and see what is going on.

What they found inside was shocking! When the door was opened they found the cremated remains of Mary Reeser, her skull had reportedly shrunk to the size of a cup, her spine was left but the gruesome was her left foot unburnt and still in perfect shape.

What makes Mary Reeser’s death not a normal case?

Mary Reeser’s body was the first clue and second, being her surroundings. For a body to be cremated, the body must burn at 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit for 3-4 hours and everything except her chair was unaffected by fire which must have at least 3000 degrees Fahrenheit hot.


The walls were intact showing no sign of scorching or cracked paint, the upper walls and ceiling were blackened from the smoke. Light switches were melted but were functioning. A stack of newspapers in the close proximity was undamaged. The neighbors had no clue of the fire.

Mary Reeser human combustion
Only her leg was left intact from fire.

The fireman who arrived at the scene described the fire as “Couldn’t stand it” but also found no sign of smoldering. The detective on the scene Cass Burgess described the case as “Perplexing”. Many were amazed and baffled by the incident seeing no damage to the apartment, and no one had ever seen a skull shrink like Mary’s head, the skulls would normally become swollen or explode.

The remains of the chair were sent to the FBI, however, they did not find any combustibles but what they find was melted fat in the rug. As Mary was reported to smoking cigarettes earlier that night, the FBI believed that Mary Reeser felt asleep while smoking cigarettes which started the fire and claimed that her nightgown caught fire from the cigarettes and as the body ignited almost complete destruction occurred from its own fatty tissues.

Investigation Mary Reeser
No walls were damaged due to the fire not even a little bit

Theory #1 Mary Reeser’s death

The first theory is just ridiculous, the chield detective Cass Burgess received a letter which said: “A ball of fire came through the open window and hit her. I have seen it happen.”

Theory #2 — Mary Reeser killed by an outsider

The second theory is more plausible one that the fire was started purposefully using thermite bombs and kerosene but the coroner’s office denied the possibility by saying that all the items would leave a distinct odor. None of which were detected at the scene.

Theory #3 — Mary Reeser a Human Combustion

There have been roughly 200 recorded cases of human combustion throughout history. The first such case dates back to 1470 in Milan, Italy when Polonus Vorstius died by bursting into flames after a night of drinking.

Similar to Mary Reeser is the case of Countess Cornelia Bandi who was found burnt to a pile of ashes with only her legs intact in 1745.

Jean Saffin, in 1982 was seen bursting into flames by her family. In 2010 Michael Faherty was claimed to be dead because of human combustion.

What is the science behind Human Combustion?

Human combustion involved internal fluids turning into gas and the melted fat of the body further burning organs and bones, which was found on the chair of Mary Reeser. While the body is made up of 70% of water, human combustion is made questionable.

Body fat and methane gas are flammable despite having 70% of water inside the body. Static Electricity, Becterica, Stress, Obesity, and alcohol consumption could lead to sudden combustion of the human body.

Biologist, Brian J. Ford said in a new scientist magazine that a Large concentration of Acetate in the body may contribute to spontaneous combustion.

This might explain why the surroundings of the fire were not damaged and there was no visible source of fire and some parts of the body are left intact while Mary Reeser turned into flames.

But if the body burnt why no one tried to escape or even called someone for help by screaming. Doctors were baffled by the case.

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