Cops last night were investigating the bizarre discovery of a disfigured mummified body of “elephant man” found in an isolated cave on a volcano.
Officers said the man’s corpse was well dressed in his fifties and had significant “nasal and facial deformities” but no other obvious injuries.
An actively followed theory was that he entered the cave voluntarily as he was embarrassed by his appearance and simply let himself die in a bizarre suicide.
The body was found by a German shepherd named Halma during a joint police and mountain rescue exercise on the slopes of Mount Etna in Zafferana, Sicily.
Coins found at the scene suggest that the man may have been there since the late 1970s or early 1990s.
He was said to be “well dressed” wearing a plaid shirt, tie, sweater and raincoat, as well as dark size 41 shoes and an Omega watch.
Police said Halma had descended into the cave and returned to “an agitated state” and when officers investigated they were shocked to find the remains.
A police source said: “The body was well preserved and dressed with no obvious injuries other than severe deformities to the face and nose.
“From the objects found on the scene we are looking at a span of time that spans decades from the late 70’s to the early 90’s.
“His clothes were well preserved and he was dressed very elegantly and we are working on the theory that he entered the cave voluntarily to die as it is virtually inaccessible and remote.
“The remains were only found because the dog got agitated during a training exercise after descending into the cave.
“We have been checking missing persons reports from the 1970s to the 1990s, but we think he may have gone there of his own free will, possibly because of his appearance.”
In Victorian London Joseph Merrick, who was also significantly deformed, gained notoriety as The Elephant Man where he appeared in traveling shows until he was placed in the care of Professor Frederick Treves.
He later died in hospital in 1890 with the cause of his death explained as suffocation from the weight of his head and the story was made into a film with John Hurt.