The Vatican has agreed to open a pair of tombs in hopes of locating the remains of an Italian teenage girl who vanished without a trace more than three decades ago, according to church officials.
Emanuela Orlandi, the 15-year-old daughter of a Vatican bank employee who lived inside Vatican City, disappeared on June 22, 1983. According to authorities at the time, Orlandi was last seen leaving her flute lesson in front of Sant’ Apollinare, a church near the Piazza Navona in Rome.
On Tuesday, Gian Piero Milano, the Vatican’s promoter of justice, authorized two exhumations after a petition by Orlandi’s family, who believe that her body is in a “tiny cemetery inside the Vatican State territory.” The two crypts inside Teutonic Cemetery will be opened on July 11, according to a Vatican spokesman.
This case is “a long and painful one,” Vatican spokesman Allessandro Gisotti said Tuesday, adding that any remains found inside the tombs will immediately undergo DNA analysis. The extraction process, he added, will be “a complex organization of personnel and machinery” that will include Vatican gendarmerie and construction workers.
The decision is the latest twist in a cold case that yielded little information over the last 30 years, but has long gripped Italy. Last summer, however, the Orlandi family lawyer received an anonymous tip indicating he should search for the missing 15-year-old “where the angel looks.”
“Last summer I received an envelope," the lawyer, Laura Sgrò, told NBC News on Wednesday about the 2018 message. “I opened it and there was a picture of the statue of an angel in the Teutonic Cemetery inside the Vatican. And a letter that simply said, ‘If you want to find Emanuela, search where the angel looks.’”
The tip led the Orlandi family to the Teutonic Cemetery, which is next to Saint Peter's Basilica and not accessible to the general public. Inside the small cemetery—where Germans with ties to the Holy See are buried and the once favorite spot of the retired Pope Benedict XVI—there’s a marble statue angel pointing to the ground. The family requested the Vatican look into the new lead.
Gisotti added that the decision to exhume the tombs is the only part the Vatican will handle in the investigation, as the case into Orlandi’s disappearance has been handled by Italian authorities because she vanished in Italian territory and not in the Holy See.
“I wish so much that this whole story was a hoax. I really wish Emanuela was not here,” Pietro Orlandi, the missing teen’s brother who still lives inside the Vatican’s walls with his mother, previously told The Daily Beast. “I do it for my mother, for my sisters, for my father who is dead. I do it for me, of course. Even if it means I am going to be met with the pain, with the doors slammed in the face, with disappointments.”
If the 15-year-old’s body is buried inside the cemetery, however, it may only fuel the slew of conspiracy theories that about her disappearance, which range from Mafia ties to the teenager’s abduction to become a Vatican sex slave.
In 2005, after a segment of a popular missing-persons television show aired, an anonymous caller told Italian police Orlandi was kidnapped as a “favor to Cardinal Ugo Poletti” and “the secret to the mystery lies in a tomb in Sant’Apollinare basilica” alongside Mafia boss Enrico “Renatino” De Pendis. Police opened his tomb inside the Rome basilica in 2012, but came up empty-handed.
The Vatican's top exorcist, Father Gabriele Amorth, was the first to endorse the theory that Orlandi had been kidnapped for sexual reasons. Months before his death in 2012, Amorth told CNN the investigation “should be carried out inside the Vatican and not outside.”
“Parties were organized in which a gendarme of the Holy See was involved as a recruiter of women,” said Amorth, as previously reported by The Daily Beast. “I believe Emanuela is a victim of that racket.... I have reason to believe that it was a case of sexual exploitation resulting in murder shortly after the disappearance, and [then] concealment of the corpse.”
Four years later, a Vatician archivist, Monsignor Simeone Duca, backed up the exorcist’s claims, claiming to have found “credible information” that “certain factions” inside the Vatican’s diplomatic corps procured young girls to become sex slaves. Duca also added he believed that Orlandi was abducted in 1983 to become a slave, but was later killed.
Italitan authorities state that since her body has not yet been found, there is no evidence to prove these theories.