Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi

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Emanuela Orlandi
Born(1968-01-14)14 January 1968
Disappeared22 June 1983 (aged 15)
Rome, Italy
StatusMissing for 37 years and 4 months
NationalityItalian and Vaticanese
Height160 cm (5.2 ft)
  • Ercole Orlandi m-2002 (father)
  • Maria Orlandi (née Pezzano)[1] (mother)
FamilyPietro Orlandi (brother)
Natalina (sister)
Federica Orlandi (sister)
Maria Cristina Orlandi

Emanuela Orlandi (born 14 January 1968) was a citizen of Vatican City who mysteriously disappeared on 22 June 1983. Sightings of Orlandi in various places have been reported over the years, including inside Vatican City, but all have been unreliable.


Emanuela was the fourth of five children of Ercole and Maria Orlandi (née Pezzano). Her father was an employee of the Vatican Bank according to some reports, or an employee of the papal household according to others. In any event, the family lived inside Vatican City and the children had the free run of the Vatican gardens, according to Pietro Orlandi, Emanuela's older brother.[2][3] Orlandi was in her second year at a liceo scientifico (high school) in Rome. Although the school year had concluded, she continued to take flute lessons three times per week at the Tommaso Ludovico Da Victoria School, connected with the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music. She was also part of the choir of the church of Sant'Anna dei Palafrenieri in the Vatican.

Orlandi usually travelled by bus to the music school. She would get off the bus after a few stops and then walk 180 to 210 metres (590 to 690 feet). On Wednesday 22 June 1983, Orlandi was late to class. She had asked Pietro to ride on the bus to the class, but he had other commitments. "I’ve gone over it so many times, telling myself if only I had accompanied her maybe it wouldn’t have happened," he recalled decades later.[4] Later that day, Emanuela called home, speaking to one of her sisters. Since then, there has been no trace of the teenager, and Italian investigators have been unable to reach a conclusion about what happened to her.

She had explained her tardiness in a telephone conversation with her sister, stating that she said she had received a job offer from a representative of Avon Cosmetics. Her sister suggested she talk it over with their parents before making any decisions. According to some reports, Orlandi allegedly met with the Avon rep shortly before her music lesson. At the end of the lesson, Orlandi spoke of the job offer with a girlfriend, who then left the girl at a bus stop in the company of another girl. Orlandi was allegedly last seen getting into a large, dark-coloured BMW.[5]


At 15:00 on Thursday 23 June, Orlandi's parents called the director of the music school to ask if any of their daughter's classmates had information. The police had suggested waiting because "perhaps the girl was with friends". She was officially declared a missing person that day. Over the next two days, announcements of the disappearance were published with the telephone number of the Orlandi house in the newspapers Il Tempo, Paese Sera and Il Messaggero.

At 18:00 on Saturday 25 June, a phone call was received from a youth who claimed to be a 16-year-old boy named "Pierluigi".[6] He reported that he and his fiancée had met the missing girl in Piazza Navona that afternoon. The young man mentioned Orlandi's flute, her hair, and the glasses that the girl did not like to wear, along with other details that fit the missing girl. According to "Pierluigi", Orlandi had just had a haircut and had introduced herself as "Barbarella". He claimed she stated that she had just run away from home and was selling Avon products.

On 28 June, a man calling himself "Mario" called the family and claimed to own a bar near Ponte Vittorio, between the Vatican and the music school. The man said that a girl called "Barbara", a new customer, had confided to him about being a fugitive from home but said that she would return home for her sister's wedding. On 30 June, Rome was plastered with 3,000 posters displaying Orlandi's photograph.

On Sunday 3 July, Pope John Paul II, during the Angelus, appealed to those responsible for Orlandi's disappearance, making the hypothesis of kidnapping official for the first time. Two days later, the Orlandi family received the first of a number of anonymous phone calls. Emanuela was supposedly the prisoner of a terrorist group demanding the release of Mehmet Ali Ağca, the Turkish man who shot the Pope in May 1981. No other information was given. In the following days, other calls were received, including one from a man identified as "The American", due to his apparent accent, who played a recording of Orlandi's voice over the phone. A few hours later, in another phone call to the Vatican, the same man suggested an exchange, of Orlandi for Ağca. The anonymous interlocutor mentioned the "Mario" and "Pierluigi" of the earlier telephone calls, defining them as "members of the organisation".

On 6 July, a man with a young voice and an American accent informed the ANSA news agency of the demand for an Orlandi-Ağca exchange, asking for the Pope's participation within 20 days and indicating that a basket in the public square near the Parliament would contain proof that Orlandi was indeed in his hands. These were to have been photocopies of her music school ID, a receipt, and a note handwritten by the kidnapped girl. However, the magistrate who was overseeing Orlandi's case did not believe that there was a credible connection between Orlandi's abduction and the Pope's assailant.

On 8 July, a man with an alleged Middle Eastern accent phoned one of Orlandi's classmates saying Orlandi was in his hands and that they had 20 days to make the exchange with Ağca. The man also asked for a direct telephone line with then-Secretary of State Agostino Casaroli. The line was installed on 18 July. A total of 16 telephone calls were made by "The American" from different public telephone booths.

On the morning of 14 May 2001, the parish priest of the Gregory VII Church near the Vatican discovered a human skull of small dimensions and lacking a jaw in a bag with an image of Padre Pio in a confessional. It has not been officially identified as Orlandi's skull. Emanuela's father, Ercole, died in 2004, a month after giving his last interview.[3]


Over the years a number of theories regarding the motives for the crime have been broached in the Italian press.

Orlandi-Ağca connection theory[edit]

Ağca, who once declared that Orlandi had been kidnapped by Bulgarian agents of the Grey Wolves, a Turkish ultra-nationalist, neo-fascist youth organization of which Ağca was a member, spoke about Orlandi during a prison interview with Italy's RAI state television, telling the interviewer that the girl was alive, not in danger, and living in a cloistered convent. He denied any direct knowledge of the girl's fate, though, saying that he had made "some logical deductions". With no evidence to support these claims, the case was closed in July 1997.

In mid-2000, Judge Ferdinando Imposimato, based on what he had learned about the Grey Wolves, declared that Orlandi, by then an adult, was living a perfectly integrated life in the Muslim community and that she had probably lived for a long time in Paris. He remains the only supporter of this idea and of the Orlandi-Ağca connection.

In a letter published in 2006, Ağca claimed that Emanuela Orlandi and another girl, Mirella Gregori, both of whom vanished in 1983, were abducted as part of a plan to secure his release from prison. He claimed that the girls were whisked away to a royal palace in Liechtenstein. Ağca was temporarily released from an Istanbul prison after serving 25 years in Italy and Turkey for the murder of Abdi İpekçi, a prominent Turkish journalist. However, he was quickly imprisoned again, the release seemingly a "mistake". Ağca was permanently released from a Turkish prison in January 2010.

On 9 November 2010, Ağca was interviewed by state television in Turkey-TRT's Kozmik Oda Program for the first time since his release the preceding January. In that interview, as well as declaring that the Vatican organized the assassination attempt, he claimed that Orlandi was kept as a prisoner by the Vatican (for Ağca) and was then living in a Central European country as a nun in a Catholic monastery. He added that Orlandi's family could see their daughter whenever they liked, but that she was not allowed to leave the monastery.

Organised crime theory[edit]

In 2011, the former Banda della Magliana member Antonio Mancini implied that Orlandi's kidnapping was one of a number of strikes that the gang was making against the Vatican in order to force the restitution of large amounts of money they had lent to the Vatican Bank through Roberto Calvi's Banco Ambrosiano.[7] On 14 May 2012, Italian police opened the tomb of gangster Enrico De Pedis (1954-1990) and took DNA samples, according to some reports at that time.[8] An anonymous call to an Italian television programme in 2005 said it contained evidence that would help the police explain Orlandi's disappearance, and in 2008 a former girlfriend of De Pedis said that De Pedis had once confessed to her that he had kidnapped Orlandi.[9] No clues were found in the tomb linking De Pedis to Emanuela.[10][11]

Vatican sex scandal theory[edit]

In May 2012, when interest in the case was renewed, leading police to search the De Pedis tomb, 85-year-old exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth claimed that Orlandi was kidnapped by a member of the Vatican police for sex parties and then murdered. Amorth claimed that officials of an unnamed foreign embassy were involved as well.[12][13]

Other public activity[edit]

On 6 April 2007, in a Good Friday sermon in St. Peter's Basilica, Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa advised the congregation to make amends for sins before dying. He said: "Don't carry your secret to the grave with you!" This provoked speculation that he was suggesting someone at the Vatican held information about Orlandi's disappearance. Vatican spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi issued a statement that detailed Vatican cooperation with civil investigators over the years and said the Church had no objection to the opening of the De Pedis tomb, which was then being discussed. It said: ""As far as we know, there is nothing hidden, nor are there 'secrets' in the Vatican to reveal on the subject. To continue to assert it is completely unjustified; also, we reiterate, yet again, all the material from the Vatican was handed over, in its time, to the investigating magistrates and to police authorities."[14][15]

In October 2018, remains found during renovation work on the Holy See's Embassy to Italy in Rome were the subject of speculation related to the Orlandi affair. An attorney for the Orlandi family objected to the media attention. She said: "We have no idea why the association with Emanuela was made.... We’re still asking ourselves why you’d find some bones and immediately assume they were Emanuela’s."[16] Test results released on 1 February 2019 showed they were the remains of a Roman man who died between 190 and 230 AD.[17][18]

On 10 July 2019, It was announced that the Vatican would be opening two tombs inside Vatican City which would then be examined by forensic anthropologist Giovanni Arcudi. The tombs were the "Tomb of the Angel" meant to contain the remains of Princess Sophie of Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Bartenstein and the adjacent one which was meant to contain the remains of Duchess Charlotte Frederica of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. The exhumations took place on 11 July 2019. Neither Emanuela's body nor the bodies of the two princesses said to be buried there were found. The Vatican is currently conducting an investigation into the whereabouts of the princesses' remains.[19]

According to a report on 13 July 2019, the Vatican announced that two sets of bones had been found near the tombs of the two princesses, raising speculation that one might be the remains of Orlandi. The bones were discovered as staff probed other locations to which the princesses’ remains may have been moved within the cemetery of the Pontifical Teutonic College. Further inspection of the site revealed two ossuaries placed beneath the floor of an area inside the college, closed by a trap door.

Reports by numerous news media outlets stated on 20 July 2019 that the tombs had actually found to be empty. According to the BBC for example,[20] that first July 2019 search "only deepened the mystery as even the bones of two princesses thought to be there were missing." The same finding was reported by other news outlets too, including The Guardian. [21][22]

Thousands of human bones belonging to dozens of bodies were, however, found on 20 July, in the underground ossuaries at the Teutonic College. Forensic investigators were to analyse the remains and were expected to use carbon-14 methods to obtain a rough estimate of their age.[23][24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nicotri, Pino (7 July 2016). "Emanuela Orlandi, DNA diverso da mamma Maria...ma di quale Emanuela?". Blitz quotidiano (in Italian).
  2. ^ "'We had a row, she left. It was the last time I saw her': anguish of Emanuela Orlandi's brother". The Guardian. 20 July 2019. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  3. ^ a b Contenta, Sandro (22 October 2014). "The Orlandi Code The Mafia, communist spies, the Pope and the twisted mystery of a kidnapped Vatican girl". Toronto Star. Retrieved 8 May 2015.
  4. ^ "'We had a row, she left. It was the last time I saw her': anguish of Emanuela Orlandi's brother". The Guardian. 20 July 2019. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  5. ^ Collman, Ashley (4 November 2018). "Here's everything we know about the 1983 disappearance of 15-year-old Emanuela Orlandi — the cold case that is being revived after bones were found beneath a Vatican building". Insider.
  6. ^ "10. THE DISAPPEARANCE OF EMANUELA ORLANDI". comayala.es. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
  7. ^ Galeazzi, Giacomo (27 July 2011). "L'ex della Magliana: "Sì, siamo stati noi a rapire la Orlandi"". La Stampa (in Italian). Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  8. ^ Vogt, Andrea (14 May 2012). "Italian mafia boss's tomb opened in search for missing girl". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  9. ^ "Mobster Enrico De Pedis' body exhumed in Rome". BBC News. 14 May 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  10. ^ "The Orlandi Code". Toronto Star. 22 October 2014. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  11. ^ "'We had a row, she left. It was the last time I saw her': anguish of Emanuela Orlandi's brother". The Guardian. 20 July 2019. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  12. ^ Squires, Nick (22 May 2012). "Emanuela Orlandi was kidnapped for sex parties for Vatican police". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  13. ^ "Emanuela Orlandi Was 'Kidnapped For Vatican Sex Parties,' Claims Father Gabriele Amorth". Huffington Post. 22 May 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  14. ^ "Vatican: no secrets in girl's '83 disappearance". Fox News. Associated Press. 14 April 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  16. ^ Povoledo, Elisabetta (31 October 2018). "Bones Are Found in Rome, Renewing Speculation in 1983 Disappearance". The New York Times.
  17. ^ Giuffrida, Angela (1 February 2019). "Vatican remains not those of two girls who disappeared in 1983". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
  18. ^ Lavanga, Claudio; Smith, Saphora (3 July 2019). "Vatican tombs to be opened in search for remains of Emanuela Orlandi, teen missing since 1983". NBC News.
  19. ^ Bordoni, Linda (10 July 2019). "Emanuela Orlandi: the opening of the tombs inside Vatican City". Vatican News.
  20. ^ "Emanuela Orlandi case: Vatican attempts new search to solve mystery". BBC News. 20 July 2019.
  21. ^ Gearty, Robert (13 July 2019). "Vatican finds bones, deepening mystery in search for girl who disappeared 36 years ago". Fox News.
  22. ^ "'We had a row, she left. It was the last time I saw her': anguish of Emanuela Orlandi's brother". The Guardian. 20 July 2019. Retrieved 21 July 2019. But the tombs were empty – not only of Emanuela’s remains but also those of two 19th-century German princesses who had been buried there. ... "I told Pietro the tombs would be empty."
  23. ^ "Search for Missing Teenager in Vatican Cemetery Unearths Thousands of Bones". New York Times. 20 July 2019. Retrieved 21 July 2019.
  24. ^ "'We had a row, she left. It was the last time I saw her': anguish of Emanuela Orlandi's brother". The Guardian. 20 July 2019. Retrieved 21 July 2019. But the tombs were empty – not only of Emanuela’s remains but also those of two 19th-century German princesses who had been buried there. ... "I told Pietro the tombs would be empty."
Additional sources
  • Cenciarelli, Gaja (2006). Extra Omnes. L'infinita scomparsa di Emanuela Orlandi (in Italian). Editrice Zona.

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