When 15-year-old Emanuela Orlandi from Vatican City went missing without a trace in 1983, numerous police searches failed to find her. The young flute player showed so much potential and her parents had high hopes for her future.
When human remains were uncovered recently, one Italian journalist went to the Vatican to see if they could belong to Orlandi. But, as with so many things in Vatican City, there seems to have been some kind of cover-up here, and people now want to know the truth.
Orlandi had four siblings, while her father Ercole was employed at the Institute for the Works of Religion. The family lived inside Vatican City itself, and at the time when she went missing, Orlandi was in her second year at a liceo scientifico (a scientific high school) in Rome. The family was simple types living a simple life, and Orlandi was a budding flute player who was passionate about music.
Even though the school year had come to a close, Orlandi continued to take flute lessons three times a week. She traveled to the Tommaso Ludovico Da Victoria School regularly by bus and was also a member of the choir of the church of Sant’Anna dei Palafrenieri in the Vatican. She would take the bus close to her destination and then walk a few hundred meters. But on June 22, Orlandi was late for class.
Orlandi later explained why she was late to that class to her sister. She told her that she had received an exciting job offer from Avon Cosmetics and wanted to take the job. Her sister recommended that she talk it over with her parents first. At the end of another flute lesson, Orlandi also spoke about the job offer with a friend who was the last person to see her alive. That night, Orlandi got into a dark BMW and was never seen again.
When Orlandi failed to make it home from class on June 23rd, her parents made a call to the director of the music school to ask where she was. But no one knew, and no one had any information about the missing girl. Over the next few days, announcements of Orlandi’s disappearance were plastered all over the Italian media, including in the newspapers Il Tempo, Paese Sera and Il Messaggero.
No one thought Orlandi had issues at home, but apparently she did. On June 25, a boy called Pierluigi told police that he had met the missing girl in the Piazza Navona in the afternoon that day. He said that Orlandi just had a haircut, said her name was Barabella and claimed that she had just run away from home and was now selling Avon products to make ends meet.
Just a few days later, on June 28, a man calling himself Mario who owned a bar near Ponte Vittorio called the Orlandi family. He said that a girl calling herself Barbara, a new customer, had confided in him about leaving home. She also told him that she planned to return for her sister’s wedding and that fact made his story legitimate. But Orlandi never showed up, and thousands of posters with her photograph were then plastered around Rome.
On July 3, Pope John Paul II made a plea for the safe return of Orlandi. Just two days later and the Orlandi family received an anonymous phone call from a man who claimed to have Orlandi. He said he was part of a terrorist group in Turkey and that he was holding Orlandi ransom. But that call was a red herring, and nothing ever came of it. Other calls came in too, but no solid leads to the missing girl were ever found.
Over the years, some different theories have been raised about what happened to Orlandi. One theory was that she was kidnapped by Bulgarian agents called the Grey Wolves as a bargaining tool to free terrorists from prison. In the mid-2000s, a Judge in Italy claimed that Orlandi was likely living as an adult in Muslim community in Paris, but he had no conclusive proof of that.
De Pedis Theory
Another theory which surfaced in 2011 was made by former Banda della Magliana member Antonio Mancini. He claimed that the kidnapping of Orlandi was one of a few strikes directed against the Vatican to force the restitution of large amounts of money they had lent to the Vatican Bank through Roberto Calvi’s Banco Ambrosiano. This theory also went nowhere, and no one found Orlandi either dead or alive.
Fast forward a few years until the present day and renovations inside the walls of the Vatican would reveal something that would revive this cold case. When human bones were discovered inside the walls of the holy city, the Vatican had no choice but to admit it to the press, while many asked if the remains could be those of the missing girl, Emanuela Orlandi.
As talk of Orlandi resurfaced, the Vatican’s chief exorcist, Gabriele Amorth claimed that she had been kept inside Vatican City as a sex slave, although he never brought proof of this. When the bones were found, everyone knew it could be those of Orlandi but no one was sure. “This was a crime with a sexual motive,” Amorth told La Stampa newspaper in 2012. Amorth claimed there was a foreign connection, too.
According to the allegations made by Amorth, “Parties were organized with a member of the Vatican gendarmerie 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 a victim of this circle,” he said. But that didn’t explain all the anonymous calls from people claiming to have kidnapped Orlandi for ransom.
In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI ordered that the tomb of local mobster Enrico “Renatino” De Pedis be exhumed. Having been buried in the prominent Sant’Apollinare church near where Orlandi was last seen, his cask was opened, and bones not belonging to him were found inside. However, after DNA testers got involved, the bones turned out not to be those of Orlandi.
Orlandi’s brother Pietro is convinced that his sister is still alive to this day. He has even written books and a regular blog online about the subject. He has mounted pressure on the Vatican for years to work harder to locate his missing sister, but so far his efforts have been in vain. Pietro spoke to the Daily Beast last year about his missing sister.
In the interview with The Daily Beast in 2017, Pietro Orlandi said, “I am sure she is alive somewhere and that the last three popes know the truth,” he said. Referring to an expense report which was uncovered from secret archives, Pietro claimed that it suggested his sister could have been buried inside the walls of Vatican City.
Right to Know
In a letter to the Pope, Pietro implored him: “We have the right to know the truth contained in those documents and if the Pontifical Secret was placed on the disappearance of Emanuela. … Please take off the seals that are creating barriers in obtaining Truth and Justice.”
For their part, the Vatican is taking the discovery of the bones seriously, and the investigation has been handed over to Rome’s chief prosecutor, Giuseppe Pignatone. He is treating the case as a homicide for now, as experts carry out DNA tests on the remains to ascertain who they belong to.
The testing of the bones which were found in the Vatican is so far shrouded in mystery. One anonymous police source told Italian reporters recently that the find consists of a skull and some teeth but that further excavations are required at the site to see if more bones are there. For now, no one is speculating too much as those remains could belong to almost anyone.
When the Vatican was contacted by The Daily Beast for clarity on the bones which were found in the city, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke responded. He said that DNA testing on the remains is taking place and that the results should come back soon. “We have to wait for the forensics,” he said. But so many people want answers to this cold case, even after all these years that the Vatican finds itself under some pressure.
The main thing for the Orlandi family at this stage is closure. Their daughter has been missing for so many years that the family has all but given up hope of ever finding Emanuela alive. However, they do understandably want to know what happened to this poor 15-year-old girl all those decades ago and will stop at nothing until they have some clarity on the matter.