Friday, 18 October 2013

The Countess who caught fire

Perhaps the earliest known case of Spontaneous Human Combustion is that of the Countess Cornelia Bandi who met a grisly end in Verona on 4 April 1731. The details of the case were recorded by the local magistrate, Bianchini, who ruled out foul play but was unable to explain what had killed the countess.

On the evening of 3 April Countess Bandi had retired to bed as usual. Her maid had helped her to undress and put her jewellry back in its boxes. She had then sat chatting to the countess for some time before leaving for her own chamber. Nothing had appeared to be amiss. Next morning the maid returned to awaken her mistress. Even before entering the room she could small the pungent stench of burned clothing, but it was not until she opened the door that she realised the full horror of the situation.

The bedclothes where turned back and rumpled as if the countess had thrown them off in a hurry. Four feet from the bed lay what was left of the countess’s body. “There was a heap of ashes, two legs untouched with stockings on, between which lay the head, the brains half of the back part of the skull and of the whole chin burned to ashes, among which were found three fingers, blackened but intact. All the rest was ashes which had this quality, that they left in the hand a greasy and stinking moisture.”

Nor was that all. A thin layer of soot was spread across the chamber, like several days worth of dust in an abandoned room. The floor had pools of a a thick goo which stank and had the texture of glue. Another patch of the same offensive liquid was smeared down one wall underneath a window.

Unsurprisingly the maid fled to call the forces of law and order. They arrived promptly, but very quickly found that the lady’s jewels and money were untouched, ruling out the theory that she had been murdered by robbers and the body then burned. There was, in fact, no sign of a forced entry and no indication of how the body had been set alight. The mystery was abandoned as being inexplicable.

from Encyclopedia of the Paranormal by Rupert Matthews

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