Inquest told spontaneous human combustion 'probably urban myth'


A DONEGAL coroner has described spontaneous human combustion as “probably an urban myth” at the inquest into the death of a 50-year-old woman in Carndonagh last year.

Dr John Madden was addressing the case of Elizabeth McLaughlin, Close Padraig, Carndonagh, who died on December 31st last. A garda described finding the charred remains on the floor of the sitting room with damage confined to the remains and immediate vicinity.

The inquest heard from Harry Masterson, partner of the deceased, who had stayed with her over Christmas and returned to his home in Moville on December 30th to collect medication.

Normally Ms McLaughlin would have called him at about 7am each day, but this did not happen. He became concerned and took the bus to Carndonagh onDecember 31st at 9.30am.

Mr Masterson gained access to the house with the help of a nephew. The Garda and fire service attended. “Inside the sitting room on the floor were the charred remains of a person,” Sgt John McLaughlin told the inquest. “An unusual aspect was that the actual burning and fire damage were confined to the human remains on the floor and the immediate vicinity,” he said.

Deputy State Pathologist Dr Michael Curtis conducted the autopsy on Ms McLaughlin.

“There was a high level of cyanide in the blood stream and carbon monoxide in the atmosphere, which is not normally there. There was no antemortem damage,” the coroner said.

“Death was caused by fire. There was talk of spontaneous human combustion at the time. I did a little research and that probably is an urban myth but when I did see the remains, it did come to mind . . . I believe the clothes acted like a wick on a candle”.

The jury returned a verdict of death by fire.