Mystery over missing teen in Vatican deepens as graves thought to hold her remains discovered to be empty

Vatican City: The mystery surrounding the disappearance of an Italian teenager deepened on Thursday after two graves at the Vatican thought to possibly hold her remains were discovered to be empty.

The Vatican said in a statement that not only were Emanuela Orlandi's remains missing, but the tombs also did not even hold the remains of the two princesses supposed to be buried there in the Teutonic Cemetery in 1836 and 1840 in the tiny city-state.

 Mystery over missing teen in Vatican deepens as graves thought to hold her remains discovered to be empty

This picture taken shows the view of the Teutonic Cemetery inside the Vatican. AP

Who is she?

The Vatican began digging up two graves on Thursday after an anonymous tip-off that they might contain the remains of an Italian teenager who went missing 36 years ago.

Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican employee, was last seen leaving a music class aged 15, and theories have circulated for decades about who took her and where her body may lie.

Orlandi's 60-year-old brother Pietro, who has never given up hope of finding her alive, arrived early on Thursday at the site as a small group of forensic scientists, tomb curators and an expert appointed by the family began to open the graves at the Teutonic Cemetery.

The exhumation comes after the family's lawyer received a tip-off with a picture of an angel-topped grave in the cemetery and a message which simply read, "Look where the angel is pointing".

The Vatican said it would be opening both the "angel" tomb and a similar-looking one next to it "in order to avoid any possible misunderstandings about which tomb was indicated".

The small, leafy plot, located on the original site of the Emperor Nero circus, is usually the last resting place for German-speaking members of Catholic institutions. Beyond St Peter's Basilica, in an area off-limits to tourists, neat rows of tombstones lie behind a wrought-iron gate, some shaded by palm trees, others bordered by pink roses.

According to some theories widely circulated in Italian media, the teen was snatched by a mobster gang to put pressure on the Vatican to recover a loan. Another claim often repeated in the press was that she was abducted to force the release of Mehmet Ali Agca from prison, who was the Turk who attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981.

The family braced for a possible breakthrough last year when human remains were found at a Vatican property in Rome. In 2017, conspiracy specialists were driven into a frenzy by a leaked — but apparently falsified — document, purportedly written by a cardinal and pointing to a Vatican cover-up.

Five years earlier, forensic experts exhuming the tomb of a notorious crime boss at a Vatican church uncovered some 400 boxes of bones. Enrico De Pedis, head of the Magliana gang, was suspected of involvement in her kidnapping and some speculated the youngster may be buried alongside him — but DNA tests failed to find a match.

Vatican 'knows something'

Pietro and his mother had met the current pope, Francis, shortly after his election in 2013. "He said just one thing, first to my mother, then to me, 'Emanuela is in heaven'," Orlandi said. "I said, 'I hope she's still alive and that you are going to help me find the truth'. He repeated 'Emanuela is in heaven'".

"That sentence hurt me. An investigation is ongoing, we don't know if Emanuela is alive or dead. In that moment I told myself, 'he knows something, more than us'," he said. "How did she die? Where are her remains? If she is in heaven, where are her remains?"

Pietro grew up inside the walled Vatican City. Now retired, he spends some of his time helping families with missing relatives. His father died in 2005 without knowing what happened to his daughter.

Updated Date: Jul 11, 2019 18:01:58 IST