Vanished From The Vatican: The Disturbing Story Of 15-Year-Old Emanuela Orlandi

Published March 5, 2019
Updated July 12, 2019
Published March 5, 2019
Updated July 12, 2019

Whether it was the Mafia or a Vatican pedophile ring, the suspected culprits behind the Emanuela Orlandi disappearance make for a truly chilling tale.

Poster About Emanuela Orlandi's Disappearance

Mondadori Portfolio via Getty ImagesA poster raising awareness about the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi. June 1983.

Emanuela Orlandi has been missing since June 22, 1983, when the 15-year-old daughter of a Vatican official was last seen after a music class in Rome.

Theories surrounding Orlandi’s disappearance, particularly in connection with her father and the Vatican’s criminal underworld, have spun a decades-long yarn that has gained renewed attention recently.

Orlandi’s body has never been found, Daily Mail reported, but a promising new lead seemed to point authorities in the right direction for the first time in nearly 40 years as an anonymous tip caused the case to be reopened — though hopes have quickly been dashed again.

An NBC News report on the new lead in the Emanuela Orlandi case.

New Evidence In The Disappearance Of Emanuela Orlandi

Orlandi family lawyer Laura Sgro received an incredibly ominous note last year which contained a photograph of a tomb beneath the Vatican — and directions to “look where the angel is pointing,” in reference to the marble angel guarding the crypt in question.

The anonymous tip garnered the attention of the Vatican’s highest members, with spokesman Alessandro Gisotti — who recently contributed the city-state’s official statements and opinions regarding a cardinal’s child sexual abuse crimes — chiming in to diplomatically address the situation.

Emanuela Orlandi 30th Anniversary Vigil

FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty ImagesCrowds participate in a vigil on the 30th anniversary of the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi in Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican City. June 22, 2013.

“I can confirm that the letter by Emanuela Orlandi’s family has been received,” said Gisotti, “and the requests it contains will be studied.”

The angel mentioned in the letter is reportedly situated above the tombstone of a German prince who was named archbishop by Pope Pio IX in 1857, who was buried there alongside his wife. This is beneath the Vatican, in a German cemetery — with the angelic figure purportedly holding a tablet that reads “Rest in Peace” in Latin.

What makes the vivid Vatican mystery even more intriguing is that scientific tests on the tomb following this unexpected tip-off have suggested that the tomb has been opened — at least once — and that the date on the tablet being held by the angel is different than the date on the tombstone.

In other words, it certainly appeared as though somebody was actively and purposefully leading investigators along.

In a letter to the Vatican, Sgro said she had been able to “verify that some people knew there was a chance Emanuela Orlandi’s body had been hidden in the German cemetery.”

Furthermore, there’s been additional evidence that unidentified visitors have been frequenting this particular tomb — as flowers have been left behind as a potential sign to keep forging ahead with the letter’s recommendations.

However, a search of the area in question in July 2019 came up empty-handed. The case of the Emanuela Orlandi disappearance has become cloudy once again.

Theories About Emanuela Orlandi’s Disappearance

Vatican City

Wikimedia CommonsThe view of St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City from the top of Michelangelo’s Dome. April 2007.

There are, of course, a few notable theories surrounding Emanuela Orlandi’s 1983 disappearance and presumed death, as well as suggested motives to substantiate those speculative narratives. With the Vatican and the surrounding area a hub of both religious power and Mafia power, theories about Orlandi’s disappearance are fueled by both notions.

Some speculate that Emanuela Orlandi was merely the victim of a high-level criminal element that kidnapped her — the young daughter of a member of the Vatican police — to use her as leverage for financial gain. The theory suggests this gang was loaned money by the Vatican and used Orlandi as blackmail, and a pawn to retrieve it.

Alternatively, some say the girl was taken as a strategy to force officials to release Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk who tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981, from prison.

This isn’t the first time that promising information regarding Emanuela Orlandi’s disappearance was anonymously divulged to authorities, either.

An unidentified person called in to an Italian television show in 2005, claiming the clues to Orlandi’s location were in the tomb of Enrico De Pedis — a renowned gangster and serious figure in Rome’s underworld at the time, BBC reported.

De Pedis was killed in 1990 and was buried in one of Rome’s most prestigious churches, the Saint Apollinare. This church is home to numerous cardinals and senior members of the Vatican. Officials took note of the televised tipster and exhumed the mobster’s body. Nothing of note was found or divulged.

John Paul II

Wikimedia CommonsThe late Pope John Paul II, who has been involved in at least two of the predominant theories surrounding the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi. June 2004.

The most disturbing theory revolves around a concerted effort on behalf of the Vatican, local police, and regional lawmakers to kidnap young girls like Emanuela Orlandi and force them into sexual servitude. These sex parties, the theory claims, also involved foreign diplomats, The Telegraph reported.

The allegation isn’t entirely dismissible, as the one who came forth with it was Father Gabriele Amorth — the Vatican’s chief exorcist, who was appointed by John Paul II himself. Amorth said Orlandi was sexually abused and eventually killed and disposed of.

“This was a crime with a sexual motive,” he said. “Parties were organized, with a Vatican gendarme acting as the ‘recruiter’ of the girls. The network involved diplomatic personnel from a foreign embassy to the Holy See. I believe Emanuela ended up as a victim of this circle.”

The Future Of The Investigation

Ultimately, nobody has yet come forth with tangible proof of any of these narratives, and as such, the fate of Emanuela Orlandi and her remains are still a mystery. It has been nearly 36 years since she was last seen. The family has been plagued by hints and disturbing claims ever since.

Most recently, the Orlandi family collectively held its breath when the Vatican discovered human remains on its property in October 2018 but sighed in frustrated disappointment when these turned out to belong unrelated victims. Though confirmation that these remains were indeed their daughter would surely be hard to bear — the absence of any sign is surely worse.

And this is precisely what happened once again in July as the search of the tomb turned up no remains.

The Tombs Are Finally Opened

According to The New York Times, the latest clue on this oddly mysterious trail has led the Orlandi’s to the tombs of two princesses beneath the Vatican.

With a Vatican-appointed forensic expert, the family made their way below to unseal them on Thursday. With bated breath — and the hopes that at the very least, they would finally find Emanuela’s remains — they opened them.

Unfortunately, this was yet another dead end. It was Emanuela’s brother, Pietro Orlandi, who was told by a secretive source in 2017 that he should look inside the Teutonic Cemetery. An angel pointing the way would show him where to look.

Pope John Paul II And Emanuela Orlandi's Family

Pietro OrlandiThe family of Emanuela Orlandi with Pope John Paul II.

The Germanic tombs of Princess Sophie of Hohenlohe (d. 1836) and Princess Carlotta Federica of Mecklenburg (d. 1840) provided no closure. Giovanni Arcudi, a professor of forensic medicine at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, exhumed Hohenlohe’s tomb and found nothing.

The Orlandi family, embattled by the bureaucracies and difficulties of garnering such access to the Vatican’s cemeteries, finally received approval to do so in June.

“There were no human remains nor funerary urns,” said Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti. The tomb led to an expansive underground space that was “completely empty,” and “had no human remains.”

For the Orlandi family, searching for Emanuela with so much dedication and patience for nearly four decades, it was a huge blow.

“We expected everything today, but not to find two empty tombs,” said Sgro on behalf of the family. “We want to know why we were sent there, and why there was nothing.”

Emanuela Orlandi As A Child

Pietro OrlandiA photo Emanuela Orlandi as a young child.

Pietro Orlandi had a more nuanced, complex reaction, himself.

“Part of me was relieved that Emanuela was not there,” he said, adding that his family has gotten used to the “illusions and disillusions” of this wild goose chase that merely wants to find a relative’s remains. Not gold, riches, or fortune — but closure and dignity.

“Still, I was surprised that there was nothing at all,” he said.

Perhaps most interesting was the sudden change of heart regarding the Vatican’s cooperation in this matter. Pietro Orlandi said he asked the Vatican multiple times to assist in the search, as his sources indicated his sister might be buried on its premises.

He said he was ‘positively surprised’ when they finally gave in.

“For the first time in 36 years, the Vatican has concretely donor something important,” which “signals a change of position.” He explained that when he asked Pope Francis for help in 2013, he was merely told that his sister was ‘in heaven,’ and that was that.

Pietro Orlandi added that this shift in attitude was a relief since the refusal of offering help seemed like “an admission that there is a possibility of internal responsibility” on the Vatican’s behalf.

As it stands, with the tomb proven to not to contain her remains, authorities are at a loss. Nevertheless, officials are well aware of the public pressure to put this chilling case to rest after decades of heartache and mystery.

After learning about the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi and the ongoing quest to determine what happened to her, read about the mysterious disappearances of Maura Murray and Jennifer Kesse.

Marco Margaritoff
Marco Margaritoff is a Staff Writer at All That Is Interesting.