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The body, dubbed "Soap Lady," has been on display for more than a century at the Mutter Museum, a former haven for medical students but now a Philadelphia tourist attraction featuring thousands of medical oddities.
In Lake Crescent, Washington, a murdered woman's body came to the surface of the lake three years after her death in 1937, and a witness said, "She had the consistency of... Ivory soap."
But how could a body, submerged in water, be acted upon by anaerobic bacteria? One would think the oxygen in the water would preclude it. A very likely answer is that there is a thermocline, a layering effect where the upper, changeable parts of a body of water separate out from the deeper, colder, temperature-stable areas; these remain undisturbed for long periods of time. This means the oxygen mixing that goes on at the upper reaches of the water doesn't make its way to the lower reaches. I suspect the cold environment and the stillness, also mean that any aerobic bacteria use up extra oxygen until there isn't enough to support more oxygen-thirsty life forms.
So when Hallie Illingworth's body was pulled out of that cold Washington lake, she looked almost perfect. "She was full formed as in life; what had been an attractive woman; even her mass of auburn hair seemed strangely natural, almost untouched in appearance by the watery grave from which she had just been removed." She was white as marble, almost shiny in her perfection. If she were a saint, it would be safe that she would be designated incorruptible.
Grave wax (adipocere) tends to be a strange substance, smooth and, when it's had time, relatively hard and brittle (not always; it depends on the conditions). The Soap Lady is considered so fragile that they don't dare move her unless absolutely necessary. It tends to begin on the outside of the corpse - the longer the body has been interred, the deeper the saponification penetrates.
a woman whose body's fat turned into soap after a reaction with chemicals in the soil.