61 year old Jeannie Saffin, with a mental age of 6 years old, was terrified of open flames. In 1982, at her home in England while sitting in the kitchen at about 4pm she suddenly bust into flames with her father, Jack, sitting nearby at the table.
He saw a sudden flash and when he turned to ask Jeannie if she had seen it he noticed she was surrounded by flames, mostly around her face and hands. According to Mr Saffin. his daughter did not move or cry, but simply sat there with her hands in her lap.
In an effort to save Jeannie's life, her father disfigured his own hands while pulling her to the kitchen sink. Putting out the flames surrounding Jeannie, her father began calling for his son-in-law Donald to help, screaming “Jeannie's burning!” Donald stated that he ran into the kitchen seeing Jeannie with roaring flames around her face and abdomen while contacting EMS.
When the flames were extinguished, Jeannie began to whimper. Upon an inquest, it was found that due to her mental condition, shock, and endorphins that resulted from the incident her pain was minimized. The EMS personnel who escorted Jeannie to the hospital testified that the kitchen and its contents were unharmed. Both Donald and Jack testified that the flames coming from Jeannie displayed a roaring sound.
In the reports from the incident, Jeannie's injuries were listed as facial burns as well as burns to the chest, neck, shoulders, left arm, abdomen, thighs and left buttock along with both sides of both hands. Some of these were full thickness burns in which the skin is destroyed down to fat tissue. Jeannie's face afterward was described as horribly disfigured. Soon after, she went into a coma and died from pneumonia due to burns.
PC Marsden from the Edmonton Police Station, in a report to the coroner's office, stated that no cause for the flames had been found. This report also states that the chair and walls of the kitchen were undamaged by fire and smoke, that the closest source of ignition (a gas stove) was at least 5 feet away and that Jeannie was still burning when he got to the residence. He helped put out the flames with a towel. In conclusion of his report, which was accepted by the coroner, Jeannie was a victim of spontaneous human combustion.
In 1995, Marsden reiterated his belief in the cause of death and that years after the incident he had been questioned by a senior officer. In John E. Heymer's 1996 book titled “The Entrancing Flame”, Jeannie Saffin's case is discussed among others who may have been victims of spontaneous human combustion. Upon examining these cases, familiarities include that the victims do not seem to struggle, show no signs of awareness, do not cry out and survivors such as Jack Angel and Wilfred Gowthorp, have no memory of the event which leads researchers to believe they are not conscious while they are burning.
Heymer alleges that defective mitochondria are to blame, insisting that they allow hydrogen to build in the cell. This allows the cell to burst into flames due to the 0.225 volts of electricity that is generated across the inner membrane which sets off a chain reaction in other cells of the body.
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