Police in Sicily are investigating whether human remains found in a secluded cave on Mount Etna are those of a journalist who disappeared more than 50 years ago.
The remains found on Tuesday night are of a man believed to have died between the 1970s and early 1990s. Police said the man was believed to have been at least 50, was 1.7 metres (5ft 7ins) tall and had “congenital malformations to his nose and mouth”.
He had been wearing long dark trousers, a woollen jumper, a striped shirt and black tie. A bobbled woollen hat and dark green raincoat were found alongside the remains, as were some coins in the old Italian currency, lira, an Omega watch, a comb with its case and size 41 Pivetta shoes.
The discovery was made by an officer with Catania’s finance police and his alpine rescue dog during a training exercise in the area.
“The area is very isolated, we go there periodically to do our training,” Lt Col Massimiliano Pacetto said. “It was thanks to the sniffer dog that the remains were found.”
Pacetto compared the mystery – which the Italian press have nicknamed “the man of Etna” – to something one might read in a book by the late Inspector Montalbano author, Andrea Camilleri.
“I’ve never experienced anything of the kind,” he said. “At the moment all theories are valid and nothing is being excluded.”
Pacetto said the cave on Europe’s tallest active volcano was extremely difficult to access, and whether the man entered it voluntarily or by force, he may not have been able to escape. According to initial investigations, it did not appear that the man had suffered a violent death.
Police have received several calls from the public since the discovery, including from the daughter of Mauro De Mauro, a 49-year-old investigative journalist who disappeared in Palermo in September 1970 and whose body has never been found. Franca De Mauro contacted police after reading that the remains had malformations to the mouth and nose, which her father had because of an injury sustained during the second world war.
Investigations into his disappearance followed several different leads, one being that De Mauro was kidnapped and killed by the Cosa Nostra mafia owing to him knowing the truth about the alleged assassination of ENI boss, Enrico Mattei.
“De Mauro is one of the theories we are looking into, and also other people who are missing for reasons that might be linked to criminality,” said Pacetto. “But I repeat, nothing at this stage is being excluded.”