Sheriff Rules Out Homicide, But Not Spontaneous Combustion After Autopsy

Posted on: 4:09 pm, February 18, 2013, by , updated on: 12:05pm, February 20, 2013

The Sequoyah County Sheriff’s Office ruled out homicide in the death of a Muldrow man, but has not ruled out spontaneous human combustion following the state medical examiner’s findings a day later.

“It’s very unusual and it’s bizarre and I can’t explain it,” said Sheriff Ron Lockhart.

Preliminary autopsy results were released to authorities Tuesday (Feb. 19) on the 65-year-old man the sheriff believes may have died from spontaneous human combustion.

“There is some burning I guess in the trachea, so the cause of death is gone be probably heat and smoke inhalation,” Lockhart said.

Lockhart said the victim may have burned for 10 hours. “The body is burned, incinerated, like I’ve never seen before and it’s some kind of chemical reaction or something the way I can see it,” Lockhart said.

Vanzandt’s body was sent Monday to the state medical examiner’s office in Tulsa for an autopsy after emergency crews responded to his home on Bawcon Road on Monday morning.

Fire crews on the scene discovered a badly burned man dead in the kitchen. Lockhart said the signs pointed to spontaneous human combustion as the cause of death, since no nearby items or furniture around the body were burned. There was no other fire damage to the house and no signs of a struggle, Lockhart said.

Vanzandt’s brother, Aaron, tells 5NEWS he and his stepson found the body around 11 a.m. and called 911.

“The body was burned and it was incinerated,” Lockhart said. “This is a case that I’ve never seen before.”

Asked if he was serious that this might be a case of spontaneous human combustion, the sheriff said he is serious, adding, “I think there’s only about 200 cases worldwide, and I’m not saying this happened. I’m just saying that we haven’t ruled it out.”

Family members said they noticed the back window of the man’s pickup truck was busted out. Authorities are still investigating the incident. Lockhart said the victim was an alcoholic and an avid smoker.

“We wasn’t saying the guy just busted into flames, you know there’s gotta have an ignition source and that’s what we’re looking at is an ignition source such as lighting a cigarette and catches himself on fire, sucks the flames down his throat, and falls down,” Lockhart said.

5NEWS conducted a recorded five-minute interview with Lockhart in which the sheriff explains why he believes spontaneous human combustion might have been a factor in the death. Asked whether the victim could have accidentally killed himself by another cause, such as dropping a cigarette onto himself, Lockhart said the body was burned in such a way as to make it inconsistent with such accidents.

PHONE INTERVIEW: Sheriff Says Man’s Death Was Spontaneous Combustion