On July 2, 1951, Mary Reeser was found dead in her apartment. After an investigation, police concluded that her death was caused by falling asleep while smoking. While that conclusion may seem plausible, there were some bizarre factors about her death that led to other theories:
The night of her death, Mary's son, Dr. Richard Reeser, visited her. She told him that she had taken two Seconal tablets and was planning on taking two more before bed.
Later that night, she fell asleep and died in a mysterious house fire.
The next morning, Mary's landlord reported smelling smoke in the hallway at 5 A.M. It wasn't until 8 A.M. that she discovered soot in the hallway that led to Mary's apartment. When Reeser's landlord went to touch her door handle, she reported that it was too hot, and asked nearby house painters to help her open it. When they finally got the door open, they discovered the cremated remains of Reeser’s body.
Mary's skull had shrunk to the size of a cup, parts of her spine were also found, and her left foot (still in it's black slipper) was also found, unburned.
There are a few factors that make this case bizarre:
According to a cremation expert, Reeser's body would've had to burn at 3,000 degrees fahrenheit for up to four hours and there would have been house damage. However, Reeser’s surrounding area were unaffected by the fire.
Another bizarre fact was that Reeser's skull had shrunk. Dr. Krogman, a Professor of Physical Anthropology, stated that when someone dies in a fire normally the skull becomes swollen or explodes.
And when the FBI sent over a few pieces of evidence to a laboratory for chemical analysis, there were no traces of combustibles but melted fat in the rug.
It was reported that Reeser had been smoking the night of her death, which lead the FBI to believe that she accidentally fell asleep and lit her nightgown on fire.
But here are some alternate theories on how she died:
Detective Cass Burgess received a letter from an unknown person stating they saw a ball of fire thrown into her window and hit her.
Another theory was that the fire was started purposefully. Some suggested that it was caused by thermite bombs, kerosene, etc. But according to the coroner those would have left a distinct odor which was not detected.
The last theory is that she died of human combustion.
Before we get into various cases of people dying from human combustion, here are three theories on what can cause it:
Theory 1: When internal fluids turn into gas, melted fat burn the organs and bones.
Theory 2: Biologist, Brian J. Ford stated in New Scientist Magazine that things like change of diet and diabetes can create cells to be vulnerable causing them to ignite.
And theory 3: Some people believe that human combustion can occur from things like static electricity, bacteria, and stress.
Now, let's get into cases where people have reportedly died from human combustion:
The earliest dates back to 1470 in Milan, Italy. When Polonus Vorstius died by bursting into flames after a night of drinking.
Another case occurred in 1745, when Countess Cornelia Bandi was found burnt with only her legs still intact.
The third was in 1982, when the family of Jean Saffin witnessed her burst into flames.
And the most recent record of human combustion was in 2010:
But despite various theories of Mary Reeser’s tragic death, it will remain unsolved.