Handcuffed to a tree... artist died trying to get free; Remains found three years after he vanished.
A TALENTED but troubled artist tried in vain to break free after handcuffing himself to a tree in a secluded North Wales forest, an inquest heard yesterday.
Richard Sumner's remains, along with a pair of boots and only a few items of clothing, were found in April this year - three years after he went missing from home.
The 47-year-old schizophrenic had carried out the same procedure three times before - eventually having second thoughts and freeing himself.
Yesterday's hearing at Denbigh heard that deep scuff marks on the tree pointed to a desperate struggle to break free. The key to the handcuffs was found nearby but out of reach.
Mr Sumner's body was discovered in Clocaenog Forest, near Clawddnewydd, between Ruthin and Cerrigydrudion.
It was 200 yards into the dense woodland and was found by local resident Jennifer Houston, as she walked her dogs.
When Home Office pathologist Dr Brian Rodgers found the handcuffs attached to one of the hands it was immediately treated as a suspicious death.
Detective Inspector Mike Gallienne told the inquest officers initially believed it could have been an escaped prisoner or a third party may have been involved.
But Mr Sumner was identified through a key fob traced to his mother, who told officers his death was no surprise.
Her son had visited North Wales previously with the intention of killing himself.
His sister, Patricia Jones, of Sale, said that only a week before he disappeared in March, 2002, he went to the same area, handcuffed himself to a tree but then managed to release himself because he did not want to upset his family.
Mr Sumner, who was from Crosby, Merseyside, was a scenic artist but developed schizophrenia in 1984. As his illness deepened he gave up work but was upset by having to rely on benefits.
"He hated to be thought of as a parasite," said Mrs Jones.
Det Insp Gallienne said Mr Sumner first tried to kill himself in 1996 when he managed to free himself after being tied to a tree for four days. The second occasion was in 1999 and the third a week before he disappeared.
Dr Rodgers told North Wales Central Coroner John Hughes only skeletal remains were found and it was impossible to give a cause of death or to say how long Mr Sumner took to die.
But he said the handcuff was quite high up his hand instead of around the wrist and there were deep scuff marks on the tree, clearly indicating Mr Sumner tried hard to free himself.
Recording an open verdict, the coroner described it as "a curious state of affairs". "There is evidence that he may have changed his mind," he said.
"It is clear he was a very troubled man because of his schizophrenia, but there is not enough evidence of suicide, particularly in the absence of any cause of death
Police forensic teams searching Clocaenog Forest after the remains of Richard Sumner (inset) were found