The skeleton of a man found on isolated moorland near Doncaster had lain undisturbed for 12 years because he lived rough and avoided contact with health workers.
But how Russell Gordon Denton died on Thorne Moor in 2001 will ‘forever remain shrouded in mystery’, said a coroner, because experts who had only his bones to work on could not establish a medical cause of death.
The most likely possibilities are he died from a drugs overdose or exposure while sleeping in the open.
However, at a Doncaster inquest, assistant coroner Mark Beresford was forced to record an open conclusion.
Mr Denton would have been 42 when he died, but it was not until May 2013 that his remains were discovered by Natural England workers cutting back rhododendrons on Thorne Moor, at least 150 yards from the nearest track.
Most of the skeleton was intact and the torso was covered by a fleece as though he had placed it over him before going to sleep.
There was no evidence of suspicious circumstances.
DNA and dental records were used to prove the bones belonged to Mr Denton, who had been known to the mental health services in Doncaster for many years.
Police held a DNA sample on their database because he had been arrested for drugs possession a few weeks before he disappeared.
His family did not report him missing because of his itinerant lifestyle and they assumed he had gone to live in another part of the country.
Home Office pathologist Dr Philip Lumb said the cause of death could not be ascertained but he may have died from hypothermia.
Mr Denton’s mother, Madge, said he had been badly affected by the death of his father in a colliery accident at the age of eight.
He had been married only a year when he began to show signs of mental illness and became paranoid because he ‘believed someone was after him’.
Mr Denton married again in 1989 and had a daughter, Rachel.
However, his wife left him because she could not cope with his disturbed behaviour, which included writing on the walls of their house and talking nonsense.
His younger brother, Keith Denton, said he was aware Russell took amphetamines and his behaviour became increasingly erratic, especially when he chose not to take his medication.
He said: “He would sit for hours writing for himself and would make no sense whatsoever. He would only travel by night on foot because he was paranoid that people were watching him.
“He was convinced gas was coming out the grates in the road so would walk in fields and avoid roads.”
Consultant psychiatrist David Goodhead said Mr Denton had been known to the mental health services since 1992 and at various times was ‘very disturbed and agitated’ and said ‘everyone was against him’.
The last contact was in April 2001 when he was brought into hospital by the police, saying he was a psychic ‘who could see the future’, and he was unwilling to accept medication before he stormed off the ward.
PC William McLean, who was commended by the coroner for his thorough investigation, said: “Although we will never know, we believe he died as a result of the elements.
“It was an extremely remote position. There is a strong possibility drugs were involved in his death.”