ROME — Miriam Wuolou was not just any hotel receptionist. The 34-year-old Eritrean, who had Italian citizenship through marriage, was the receptionist at the Domus Santa Marta, the small hotel inside the walls of Vatican City where Pope Francis lives.
She was the smiling face he saw morning and night, the one who greeted him with his key and handed him his personal messages. He congratulated her when he found out she was pregnant, and he is said to be terribly upset about the news that she is now dead.
Wuolou’s body was found in her private apartment in the Pisana suburb of Rome in an advanced state of decomposition after her brother alerted the police that she hadn’t been answering her phone. The military police went to the scene and forced open her door.
Woulou, who was seven months pregnant, was reported to be clothed with no apparent signs of violence. Her medical records show that she was diabetic, which, during pregnancy, can be especially dangerous, and even fatal, but police clearly aren’t satisfied that an Insulin error caused her death.
The Vatican also weighed in, asking for a complete autopsy and criminal investigation, according to Il Messaggero newspaper, which broke the story of the receptionist’s death on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Woulou’s house was still sealed off and neighbors told The Daily Beast that forensic teams had combed it for clues for many hours after her body was found, even removing some of her personal effects for further examination. Neighbors assumed that they were investigating a homicide based on the level of scrutiny.
Police sources also tell The Daily Beast that the inquest will cover ample ground. One of the theories being floated involves Woulou’s husband, who did not live with her at the time of her death, nor, it seems, maybe ever.
They suspect the husband, whose name has not been released, may have married Woulou under a business arrangement to provide her with Italian citizenship, which is a costly service sought all too often by those applying for asylum or permission to stay. Those who want a passport generally pay up to €10,000 ($11,000) for the marriage of convenience. That may or may not be the case with Woulou, but police confirm they are looking into how her citizenship was granted.
Police questioned the husband at length to determine whether he was hoping to marry someone else or if he, in any way, contributed to her death. Woulou’s brother was also questioned about the details of his sister’s life, including whether or not anyone would want to harm her. Neither the husband nor brother is a suspect in any crime, but they are considered persons of interest and, as such, are banned from talking to reporters.
The autopsy, which will be carried out this week, will also include thorough toxicology exams to rule out homicide or any form of foul play. Those who knew Woulou from the Santa Marta say she had been on sick leave for more than a week, but no one appeared to have checked in on her, including other family members who live in the area.
Investigators are also wondering just who, if not Woulou’s legal husband, might be the father of her unborn child and have ordered a DNA test on the fetus. Local media reported that Pope Francis, who knew the woman well, took the news of her death especially hard, though the Vatican has not made any official comment on the mysterious case.
Last month, Pope Francis used the homily of one of his daily masses to mourn the loss of another woman from Santa Marta who passed away. According to Alessandro Notarnicola, who writes the blog Inside the Walls about life in Vatican City, the pope described the people who work inside Santa Marta as his family. “This group of men and women are part of our family,” he said, before offering a special prayer for the woman, who died after a long illness. “They form a family, they are not just employees.”