The 'Exorcist' Case / Spontaneous Human Combustion

Hosted byGeorge Noory

The 'Exorcist' Case / Spontaneous Human Combustion

About the show

Author and founder of American Hauntings, Troy Taylor, is an expert in ghosts, haunted houses, and the supernatural. He talked about his latest work as a contributor in the Discovery+ "Shock Docs: The Exorcism of Roland Doe" (trailer), about the case that the "The Exorcist" film and book were based on. The family of Roland Doe (a pseudonym) was living in Maryland when odd poltergeist-like events started occurring with their 13-year-old son, including bed shaking and objects flying around. Priests refer to this stage as the "infestation," Taylor noted. Roland's condition worsened to includes seizures, trances, screaming, and marks on his body.

After the parents suggested returning to their hometown of St. Louis, a red welt appeared on the boy's body, spelling the letters "Louis," and they took that as a sign to move back, Taylor recounted. The exorcisms eventually took place in St. Louis in 1949, and the Catholic Church kept it private. Taylor concluded that it was unlikely that Roland's behaviors were due to a hoax or mental illness but rather "a physical presence of some kind inhabited this boy and caused these things to happen." One of the priests was said to suffer weight loss and physical ailments during the repeated exorcisms, he reported, and after the ritual was declared a success, the boy seemed to have no memories of his possession. As part of his research, Taylor interviewed "Roland" about ten years ago, who was then 75 years old and still wanted to remain anonymous.


Electrical engineer Larry Arnold combines his scientific background with the world of Forteana and strange events. In the latter half, he shared his pioneering research in spontaneous human combustion (SHC) and cases of people who have inexplicably burst into flames. He defined SHC as the "blistering, smoking, or burning of flesh in the absence of a known nearby external conventional burn agent." This includes ruling out caustic chemicals, high amperage electricity, radioactive materials, and radiant heat sources from the fire scene, he added. As to what would cause a human body to suddenly catch on fire, such as in classic cases like Mary Reeser and Dr. Bentley (related image), there are many theories he has researched and investigated. Arnold has ruled out the popular "human wick" explanation.

Known cases go back to the 1400s, when a knight named Polonus, who was drinking strong liquor with friends, suddenly exhaled flames and was consumed into powder. Arnold has looked at some 500 possible SHC incidents that have occurred since then, with the most recent being the 2013 case of Danny Vanzandt of Oklahoma. His brother discovered Danny's lifeless body, still burning, but there was a lack of heat and flame damage to the areas surrounding him. Arnold reviewed the 1986 George Mott case who "burned through his bed through the floor plankings...and into the earthen crawl space below. He was a 180 lb. man...but was reduced to basically 3½ lbs. of powder." Arnold also talked about intriguing incidents where people recovered from the beginning stages of SHC, such as Peter Jones, who witnessed smoke spontaneously coming out of his arm on two separate occasions in 1980.

News segment guests: Howard Bloom, Mish Shedlock

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