Another SHC Death That Wasn’t

November 26, 2013

The caller identified himself as “a longtime fan” and had a case for me to look into, he said. A New Jersey man had been found inexplicably incinerated on a state park path. He wondered if it might be an instance of spontaneous human combustion. I explained that the scientific evidence for that possibility was non-existent, but that I would have a look anyway.

Indeed, a passerby on Route 29 in central New Jersey had seen someone “on fire” on a nearby bike path in the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park about 9:45 a.m. on Monday, November 4, 2013. But when police, fire, and rescue personnel arrived, they discovered a man “burned to death”—no further explanation given at the time.

It was soon learned that the victim was a 63-year-old navy veteran of over 22 years, William “Bill” Murphy. He had been the lead ROTC instructor at Linden High School since September 2006, according to Newark’s The Star-Ledger of November 5. (See Jeff Goldman, _teacher_found_burned_to_death_in_hunterdon_state_park.html; accessed November 19, 2013.)

By Wednesday, the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office was referring to Murphy’s death as an apparent suicide. According to that office’s investigator on the case, Detective Edmund J. De Flilippis, Murphy had, apparently, set himself on fire.

On November 8, the county medical examiner ruled that William Murphy had in fact committed suicide (according to a press report of November 9), having “died from self-immolation, the act of setting oneself on fire” (See Everett Merrill, online at; accessed November 19, 2013.)

Details were not given. However the news media reported—and a source I spoke with, who was close to the case, confirmed—that the prosecutor’s office was not releasing further information because of the sensitive nature of Murphy’s death, a suicide.