Vatican tomb may hold key to 35-year-old murder mystery as family told 'look where the angel is pointing'

Nick Squires
A poster asking for information on Italian teenager Emanuela Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican employee, believed to have been kidnapped after a music lesson in Rome on June 22, 1983 when she was 15-years-old - AP

The mystery surrounding a teenage girl who went missing from the streets of Rome more than 35 years ago has taken a new twist with her family saying they believe she may have been secretly buried in a cemetery inside the Vatican.

The case of Emanuela Orlandi, whose father was a Vatican employee, has intrigued Italy ever since she vanished on her way home from a flute lesson in June 1983.

Her disappearance has prompted countless conspiracy theories involving claims of corruption, financial skulduggery by the Vatican, mafia involvement and sex rings.

Her family have received an anonymous tip-off that claims that the 15-year-old is buried in a tomb within the Teutonic Cemetery, an area reserved for Germans, Austrians, Dutch and Flemish people inside the walls of the tiny city state.

Above the tomb is the statue of a marble angel whose hand points to the ground. “Look where the angel is pointing,” the anonymous letter sent to the family said.

Protesters in St Peter's Square call on the Vatican to release documents relating to Emanuela Orlandi, who vanished in Rome in 1983 Credit: Andrew Medichini/AP

The Orlandi family have asked the Vatican to scrutinise all records relating to the burial plot and to open the tomb to see if Emanuela’s remains are inside.

The tombstone bears an inscription dedicated to a German prince, Gustavo von Hohenlohe, who was made an archbishop by Pope Pio IX in 1857.

Tests carried out on the tomb indicated that it has been opened at least once in the past, according to Italian daily Corriere della Sera, which broke the story this week.

“Some people knew there was a chance Emanuela Orlandi’s body had been hidden in the German cemetery," Laura Sgrò, the family’s lawyer, wrote in a letter to the Vatican.

She said that someone had been regularly leaving flowers on the burial spot “for some years”.

The Vatican said it was actively considering the request.

"I can confirm that the letter from Emanuela Orlandi's family has been received by Cardinal Pietro Parolin," said Alessandro Gisotti, Vatican spokesman, referring to the Secretary of State. The family’s request to have the tomb reopened “will be studied”, he said.

The existence of the tip-off, and the family’s request to the Vatican, came as Pope Francis announced that he will open up archives relating to the controversial wartime papacy of Pius XII, who has been accused of failing to speak out against the persecution of the Jews and Hitler’s Final Solution.

“Seeing as the Pope has decided to open the Vatican archives for the pontificate of Pius XII in 2020, we make an appeal to the pontiff to give us access to the dossier that regards the investigation into the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi,” said Ms Sgrò, the family’s lawyer. “Francis must clarify this deeply shadowy story as well.”

The teenager was the daughter of a Vatican employee and lived inside the city state, the world’s smallest sovereign nation. She was also a Vatican citizen.

The Vatican is under pressure to open the tomb in the Teutonic Cemetery  Credit: Max Rossi/Reuters

There have been multiple theories as to what happened to her. It has been suggested that she was kidnapped to force the release from jail of Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk who tried to assassinate Pope Jean Paul II in 1981.

It has also been suggested that she was taken by an organised crime group in an attempt to recover a loan made to the Vatican.

Her family have campaigned tirelessly to find out the truth about what happened to her.

Hopes were raised in October when workmen stumbled on human remains beneath the foundations of the Vatican’s embassy to Italy in Rome.

But tests later proved that the skeleton was not that of a teenage girl.

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