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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Two tombs in the Vatican will be opened next week in the hopes of finding the remains of a girl missing for decades.
Emanuela Orlandi was 15 years old when she went missing in central Rome in the summer of 1983. Her father, Ercole Orlandi, was a lay official at the Vatican. She remains missing to this day.
In March, a lawyer for the family received an anonymous letter indicating that Emanuela's remains can be found at the Teutonic Cemetery — a small graveyard on the grounds of Vatican City, so named because German and Austrian priests and religious have been buried there for centuries.
"Last summer, I received an envelope," the lawyer, Laura Sgrò, told NBC News. "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 Vatican announced on Tuesday that two tombs in the Teutonic Cemetery will be opened, in response to the anonymous tip. Members of the Orlandi family will be present for the opening, as will relatives of the people who were known to have been buried in those spots.
Remains found in the two tombs will be subject to DNA testing, as well as tests determining their age.
Pietro Orlandi, Emanuela's brother, believes that the lead about the Teutonic Cemetery seems plausible. He said recently, "It's a rumor that has been circulating within the Vatican for a while now."
"If it turns out she really is buried there, there will be many people inside the Vatican who will have to be held accountable and answer difficult questions," Pietro added.
Emanuela would be 51 years old if she was alive today.
Some believe she was kidnapped as a warning to her father, who in his job at the Vatican might have come across damning evidence of corruption at the Vatican Bank.
Her 1983 disappearance remains shrouded in mystery, as are the current whereabouts of either her or her corpse. False, contradictory and misleading tips have haunted the investigation for years, beginning just a few days after she went missing.
Soon after Emanuela vanished, there were anonymous phone tips by two young men, "Pietroluigi" and "Mario." Each of them claimed to have spoken recently with a young woman whose appearance fit law enforcement's description.
A few days later, Pope St. John Paul II publicly appealed for the girl's release, as there were suspicions that she had been kidnapped.
After that, there was a series of phone messages claiming Emanuela was taken hostage as a bargaining chip for the release of Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who had tried to assassinate the Pope in St. Peter's Square in 1981. The men giving these phone messages further claimed that "Mario" and "Pietroluigi" were fellow members of their terrorist group and had planted false leads.
In 2012, Italian officials investigated an anonymous tip saying that Emanuela's body had been placed near the corpse of Enrico de Pedis, a murdered Italian gangster who headed a criminal gang called the Banda della Magliana. Police opened up de Pedis' coffin — in the crypt of the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in central Rome — but they did not find the girl's body. An unidentified body found in the crypt was determined to be from over a century ago.
That same year, Italian journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi claimed he obtained a five-page memo from a locked cabinet inside the Vatican that implicated Church leaders for hiding information about the teenage girl's kidnapping. However, even Fittipaldi had his doubts about the document's authenticity.
Speculation swirled in 2013 when Pope Francis told the missing girl's family members, "Emanuela is in Heaven."
Emanuela's brother, Pietro, told the Pope that he hoped his sister was still alive. After the encounter, Pietro started wondering whether Pope Francis secretly knew his sister's fate and accidentally let the cat out of the bag. But many thought Pope Francis simply made a bad choice of words because he was speaking off-the-cuff, potentially without fully understanding the situation.
In late October of 2018, human remains were found at the Vatican's nunciature, or embassy, to the Italian government — a building outside the walls of Vatican City, but still owned by the Vatican. Even more bones were discovered there in early November.
There was a lot of speculation that at least some of the bones were those of Emanuela, or perhaps Mirella Gregori — another girl who mysteriously went missing in Rome in 1983. But scientific testing indicated that the skeletal remains were male, and dated to about 90–230 A.D.
There are many theories about Emanuela's disappearance. Among those thought to be responsible for her kidnapping and likely death are Communists, Freemasons and Italian gangsters.
In 2012, Rome's chief exorcist Fr. Gabriele Amorth (who died in 2016) posited that she was kidnapped and killed in connection to a sex abuse ring. Father Amorth told Italian newspaper La Stampa, "This was a crime with a sexual motive. Parties were organized, with a Vatican gendarme acting as the 'recruiter' of the girls."
Father Amorth continued, "The network involved diplomatic personnel from a foreign embassy to the Holy See. I believe Emanuela ended up a victim of this circle."
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