By Michael Winter
Oklahoma authorities say it may be two months before they determine whether a 65-year-old man's mysterious death was the result of spontaneous combustion or some other cause.
Family members said they found the burned remains of 65-year-old Danny VanZandt on Monday morning in his home near Muldrow, in eastern Oklahoma, near the Arkansas border. His body was incinerated except for his head, hands and feet.
The only structural damage was to the kitchen floor where VanZandt lay, said Sequoyah County Sheriff Ron Lockhart.
"This house is intact. There is a stove and ice box within 3 feet from where the body's burning and the handles are not melted," he told The Tulsa World. "You could pour gasoline on somebody and he wouldn't be as badly incinerated."
Homicide has been ruled out because there was no evidence of foul play.
VanZandt was an alcoholic and a smoker, the sheriff told KFSM-TV. A lighter was found nearby, but there was no evidence of any accelerant on the body.
VanZandt may have burned for 10 hours, Lockart said.
"We wasn't saying the guy just busted into flames," he told KFSM. He said perhaps VanZandt lighted a cigarette "and catches himself on fire, sucks the flames down his throat, and falls down."
Burn marks were found in his windpipe, indicating he inhaled smoke and carbon monoxide.
Lockart, a former arson investigator, said the way the body burned was inconsistent with a lighted cigarette being dropped.
"This is a case that I've never seen before," Lockhart said. "I think there's only about 200 cases worldwide and I'm not saying that this has happened, I'm just saying that we haven't ruled it out."
The state medical examiner is conducting additional toxicology tests.
Spontaneous human combustion is a rare and controversial phenomenon. In September 2011, a coroner in Ireland ruled that a 76-year-old man's death in December 2010 was the result of spontaneous human combustion.