Did Mary Clues receive a nocturnal visitation from the Devil or was her bizarre death an early case of Spontaneous Human Combustion?
The Wick Effect took the starch out of Spontaneous Human Combustion for me. Whereas before documented cases of supposed SHC seriously creeped me out—the idea that a person can just burst into flame for no reason is unsettling, to say the least—now the mystery has been solved to my satisfaction, and I’m a little disappointed by that. To briefly explain, the Wick Effect is when a human body burns slowly but at an incredibly high temperature, akin to the wick on a candle. A body can be reduced to ashes while surrounding materials are left barely singed. The real nail in the coffin for SHC, though, for me, anyway, was the fact that almost all the suspected victims were known smokers and were of advanced age. An old lady falls asleep smoking, the Wick Effect occurs, and voila. No paranormal agency necessary—unfortunately.
Looking backwards in time, though, can the Wick Effect explain ALL the supposed cases of SHC? The mysterious death of one Mary Clues of Coventry, England, in fact left few clues at the time. It is a textbook case of SHC: female victim, elderly (for that time), alone at the time of the “incident.” And yes, Mrs. Clues was a known alcoholic—and a smoker. If people today can’t fully understand the mechanics behind the Wick Effect and purported cases of SHC, how can we expect them to have figured it out in the 1700s? Much easier to blame diabolic forces. Easier, and more fun.