Crime Scene Photography · Pennsylvania

John Irving Bentley’s spontaneous combustion (graphic)

December 5, 1966
Coudersport, Pennsylvania
Dr. John Irving Bentley dies in the bathroom of his home, allegedly from spontaneous human combustion

On the morning of December 5, a meter reader named Don Gosnell let himself in Dr. Bentley’s home to read the meter as he was allowed to do owing to Dr. Bentley’s infirmity. While in the basement, Gosnell noticed a “sweet (smell), like starting up a new oil-burning central heating system” and a light blue smoke. Investigating the area, he found a pile of ashes on the ground then moved upstairs to find Dr. Bentley’s cremated remains in his bathroom, only his slippered foot and portion of his leg remaining untouched.

Dr. Bentley’s death has been attributed to various means. One being spontaneous human combustion, a phenomena in which a person is consumed in flames with no apparent external means of ignition. Another, a freak accident involving hot ashes from his pipe lighting his bathrobe on fire, igniting a pack of wooden matches in the robe’s pocket. The doctor attempted to douse the flames in the bathroom but collapsed from his injuries. The fire from his body burned a hole in the linoleum floor, dropping the pile of ashes Gosnell discovered, and the hole created a stack effect, a process of ventilation of cooler air resulting in a hotter, longer burning flame, which would explain the total destruction of Dr. Bentley’s body while his leg, farthest from the hole in the floor, was relatively untouched.

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