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Isolated Body Combustion: New French Cases, Old Worldwide Issues

Quatrehomme, Gérald MD, PhD*; Guinier, David MD; Suply, Benoit MD; Alunni, Véronique MD, PhD*; Pedech, Alain MD

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: June 2013 - Volume 34 - Issue 2 - p 90–94
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e31828873b1
Case Reports

The authors present 2 new cases of so-called spontaneous human combustion. The first observations of isolated body combustion, to use a more appropriate term, date back to the 17th century. Its main features are that some parts of the body (usually the middle third) are badly burnt to the point of being reduced to ashes, contrasting with other well-preserved body parts and the intact or nearly intact immediate vicinity of the body. Usually, combustion occurs postmortem, and a source of heat is found near the body. High concentrations of blood alcohol are frequently found but not mandatory. In all cases, ruling out homicide is a major concern.

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From the *Laboratoire de Médecine Légale et d’Anthropologie médico-légale, Faculté de Médecine, Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis, Nice; and †Unité de Médecine Légale, Centre Hospitalier Bretagne Sud, Lorient, France.

Manuscript received October 1, 2011; accepted February 16, 2012.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Reprints: Gérald Quatrehomme, MD, PhD, Laboratoire de Médecine Légale et d’Anthropologie médico-légale, Faculté de Médecine, CNRS UMR 6235, Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis, 28 Avenue de Valombrose, 06100 Nice, France. E-mail:

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© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.