Forensic scientists have established that the skeleton is made from the bones of three women and two men, all aged between 25 and 55 years old, and who died over a 20 year period from the mid 1980s until 2006.
The bizarre discovery was made by firefighters in July 2007 who had been called to a blaze in waste ground, close to a cycle path, in the Magliana suburb of southern Rome.
Police who were called to the scene found the skeleton and alongside it a wallet and keys belonging to pensioner Libero Ricci, 77, who lived nearby and who disappeared in November 2003.
Initially police believed that he had been the victim of a mugging and that his body had then been burnt but the investigation took a surprise twist when Ricci’s relatives said clothes found near the body were not his.
The remains were examined again by pathologists at Rome’s La Sapienza University who established that the bones were not the missing man and in a further twist discovered that DNA from the woman’s skull was compatible with someone related to Ricci.
Injuries were found on the woman’s skull but because the skull was in such a poor condition it is not clear if they were caused by foul play, the fire or by an animal uncovering the remains.
Vittorio Rizzi, of the murder section of the Rome Flying Squad, said:”The skull is the only item with an apparent injury but it’s not clear how it was caused.
“The other bones do not have injuries but bear in mind we do not have the full body so we don’t know what happened – the skeleton is made up of five different people.
”It’s possible that the bones were gathered by a collector who killed the five people to make up the full skeleton but at this moment we just don’t know – the only fact we know for certain is that the bones are not that of Libero Ricci.”
Pictures of the bones and video were shown on the Italian TV show Chi La Visto, the country’s version of Crimewatch, with police appealing for information.