A father of two set a trailer of his belongings on fire, then decapitated himself just blocks from where his wife and children lived in Yorktown, Va., about 15 miles from Williamsburg.
The 46-year-old man has not been identified by police because his death has been ruled a suicide, but police told ABCNews.com he had recently moved from Chicago to join his wife, teenage daughter and son, who is in middle school. York County Sheriff Danny Diggs said the couple had separated, but he didn't know if they had divorced.
"She had moved down here and had been settled for some amount of time," Diggs told ABCNews.com.
The man had stayed with the mother of his children Monday night, Diggs said, but "she told him that was unacceptable -- he would have to find his own place."
"That could have led to his distress," Diggs said.
When police responded Tuesday morning to a domestic dispute at the Willow Lakes housing development, where the man's wife and children live, they spotted a car and trailer near the busy intersection of Holmes Boulevard and Wolf Trapp Road. The trailer was on fire.
The fire department, located about two blocks away, arrived around the same time the police deputy did, and the firefighter asked the man to exit the vehicle.
"At this time we didn't know it was the same guy," Diggs said.
"He refused to get out," Diggs said, noting the man had been "difficult with on-scene personnel."
Then he said he was going to kill himself, said Diggs.
That's when one of the firefighters noticed a wire cable around the man's neck. That cable was looped through the back window of his white Ford Explorer and attached to a tree about 10 feet away.
"They tried to convince him to get out. He then accelerated the vehicle, which pulled him out of the vehicle and eventually decapitated him," said Diggs. "This is one of the most bizarre cases that any of us had ever seen or heard of."
Both children were at their nearby home at the time, although neither the children nor their mother saw the decapitation, Diggs said.
After the man's body catapulted through the car's rear window, the car and the trailer (which was filled with his belongings) kept rolling down the street until it stopped just short of neighbor David Holmes' house around 11 a.m.
"There was some kind of accelerant involved, I'm sure," said Holmes, 73. "Those flames were … I don't know they must have been 15 or 20 feet in the air at least."
"[The police] started hollering to me, 'Get back, sir! Get back!'"
Holmes, and his 72-year-old wife, Peggy, both former volunteer firefighters, still listen to the firefighters talking to one another on their scanner. So before the trailer even rolled in front of their yard, they had already heard the news about the fire, and the suicide too.
"I heard one of the guys out there say the driver is still in the vehicle, and then a few seconds later I heard him say he committed suicide," Peggy Holmes said.
When she saw the flames shooting "almost as high as the trees" she ran inside to grab her camera, but by the time she came back outside, the trailer fire had gone out.
The couple said the trailer appeared to be "a homemade device" constucted from plywood, built on a flatbed trailer, which is probably why it burned out so quickly.
Several other neighbors who spoke to ABCNews.com said they either hadn't been home at the time of the suicide or had only heard about it on the news.
"I'm almost glad I wasn't here, that's for sure," said 71-year-old Kathleen Cherry who lives on Dorothy Drive, her backyard a few houses away from the intersection where the suicide occurred. "I would have been real upset."
The Willow Lakes housing development has a lot of military families (Yorktown is located near a naval base), and young couples with children, she said. There are also several older residents.
"I was just shocked. Why would people do such stuff," said Merlyn Keefer, another neighbor. "We can't ask him what really went through his head."