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Now in our third calendar year
PCR #96 (Vol. 3, No. 4) This edition is for the week of January 21--27, 2002.

Will Moriaty La Floridiana by Will Moriaty

The Strange Case of Mary Reeser

Sometimes the Sunshine State is too hot to handle!
Mrs. Mary Hardy Reeser was a 67-year-old widow who lived alone in an apartment in St. Petersburg, Florida until she was claimed by what many have called "spontaneous human combustion."

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On July 1, 1951, Mrs. Reeser had a luncheon with her son, Dr. Richard Reeser. Dr. Reeser had last seen his mother that evening at 8:30 P.M. when she told him that she was going to take two sleeping pills and go to bed. The last person to see her alive was her landlady at 9:00 P.M. She said that Mrs. Reeser was seen sitting in an overstuffed easy chair, wearing a rayon nightgown and housecoat with black satin bedroom slippers, and smoking a cigarette.

A most grisly discovery
Eleven hours after the landlady last would see Mrs. Reeser alive, the landlady had a telegram for Mrs. Reeser. When she went to open Mrs. Reeser's door to deliver the telegram, the doorknob was hot. She called two painters who were working nearby, and they entered the apartment where they found a wooden beam on fire, but no trace of Mrs. Reeser. The St. Petersburg Fire Department was called to the scene--it was they who discovered that a pile of ashes was all that remained of Mrs. Reeser, all that is with the exception of one of her feet still in a slipper, a charred liver attached to a piece of backbone, and a shrunken skull about the size of baseball. The chair was burned away, as well as everything within a circle of 4' around it, with smoke damaging the apartment only above a height of 4'. Plastic items close by had melted, but the linen in a daybed 5 feet away was untouched. A pile of newspapers 1' outside of the 4' circle were left unharmed. Everyone was at a loss to explain how Mrs. Reeser's body could've burned away to mere ashes.

What happened?
Forensic analysts Joe Nickell and John F. Fischer believe that Mrs. Reeser, who was drowsy after having taken sleeping pills, dropped her cigarette which ignited her clothing, and she could not react in time to save herself. As the fire took hold, her body fat melted and helped fuel the flames--a sort of "candling effect". A coating of grease was found around the floor around the fire supports this theory.
   Dr. Wilton M. Krogman had worked on many fire investigations and said he saw a body burn in a crematorium for over 8 hours at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and still leave recognizable bones. Only at over 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit did Dr. Krogman see bone fuse and melt. Temperatures of this type would undoubtedly scorch or burn objects anywhere within a considerable radius, and possibly have burned down the apartment building itself.
   An explanation not involving spontaneous human combustion may be valid in the Mary Reeser case, as we have already determined that Mrs. Reeser was seen smoking prior to the fire being discovered. But that still comes shy of explaining the limited scorching and burning found on that fateful day in 1951. Others have even theorized that Mrs. Reeser was struck by lightning that may have found its way through an open window, although there was no evidence to prove that. Regardless of the cause, let this be a reminder to you why you don't want to get "too hot under the collar" here in sunny Florida!

Next Week, the NCPCR will feature's Will's No-Miss Places to Sightsee in the Sunshine State ("Ladies-- hit him in head with a shoe if he won't go").

"La Floridiana" is ©2002 by William Moriaty. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova. Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of Nolan B. Canova