Discovery of Bentley's remains
Bentley was last seen alive on December 4, 1966, when friends visiting him at his home said goodnight to him at about 9:00 P.M. On the following morning, December 5, Don Gosnell, a meter reader, let himself into Bentley's house and went to the basement to check the meter-since Bentley could only move about with the help of a walker, Mr. Gosnell had permission to enter as necessary.
While in the basement, Gosnell noticed a strange smell and a light blue smoke. Intrigued, he went upstairs to investigate. The bedroom was smoky and in the bathroom he found Bentley's cremated remains.
All that was left intact of the aged doctor was the lower half of his right leg with the slipper still on it. The rest of his body had been reduced to a pile of ashes on the floor in the basement below. His walker lay across the hole in the floor generated by the fire. The rubber tips on it were still intact, and the nearby bathtub was hardly scorched. Gosnell ran from the building to get help, screaming "Doctor Bentley's burned up!"
The first theory put forward was that Bentley had set himself on fire with his pipe, but his pipe was still on its stand by the bed in the next room. Perplexed, the coroner could only record a verdict of 'death by asphyxiation and 90 percent burning of the body.'
Joe Nickell, in his book Secrets of the Supernatural, gives an account of this event he got from Larry E. Arnold's article "The Flaming Fate of Dr. John Irving Bentley," printed in the Pursuit of Fall 1976. Nickell mentions that the hole in the bathroom floor measured 2½ feet by 4 feet, and details the remains as being Bentley's lower leg burned off at the knee.
Nickell mentions that Bentley's robe was found smoldering in the bathtub next to the hole, and that the broken remains of "what was apparently a water pitcher" were found in the toilet; he adds that the doctor had dropped hot ashes from his pipe onto his clothing previously (which "were dotted with burn spots from previous incidents"), and that he kept wooden matches in his pockets which could transform a small ember into a blazing flame.
Nickell believes that Bentley woke up to find his clothes on fire, walked to the bathroom, and passed out before he could extinguish the flames. Then, he suggests that the burning clothes ignited the flammable linoleum floor, and cool air drawn from the basement in what is known as "the stack effect" kept the fire burning hotly.
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