People disappear all the time. Sometimes it's voluntary, other times it's a question of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. But how could the wrong place be the Vatican, one of the world's holiest cities? Precisely because of its pious reputation, a series of unexplained disappearances that have occurred throughout the years, leads one to believe that dark deeds have indeed taken place.
The most well-known of the Vatican City disappearances occurred in 1983, when a 15 year-old second year student of a high school in Rome by the name of Emanuela Orlandi went missing without a trace. Orlandi was a citizen of Vatican City, and the daughter of a lay official in the Vatican, whose job was organizing papal functions.
On June 22, 1983, Emanuela was late for a music class at a music school she attended three times a week in Rome. Emanuela’s worried sister reported that she had received a call from the girl explaining that she was late because she had made an appointment to meet with a representative of Avon Cosmetics to talk about a job offer to sell cosmetics. Emanuela then allegedly met with the Avon representative before a music lesson and afterwards told her friend about it, after which she said farewell to the friend and allegedly climbed into a dark green colored BMW at a bus stop. She was never seen again.
When she did not return home from school as expected, Emanuela’s concerned parents contacted authorities but were told that the girl had probably just gone off with friends, as teenagers are wont to do. When the girl had still not come home the following day, her parents called the director of the music school, who informed them that the girl had never shown up for her class and was unable to provide any information on where she might be. Over the following two days, ads were placed in several newspapers begging for any information anyone might have on the girl’s whereabouts, and the family home phone number was listed. This would be where things got a fair bit more bizarre.
The Orlandi family began to receive several strange phone calls from various people with wildly varying accents. The first such call was on June 25, from a male who identified himself as a 16 year-old boy named Pierluigi. The young man told them that he had been with his fiancée at the Piazza Navona when they had met the missing girl. The man claimed that Emanuela had introduced herself as “Barbarella” and had said that she had run away from home after selling Avon cosmetics.
The call at first sounded a little too bizarre to be true, but “Pierluigi” knew a lot of details about the girl, stating that she had been carrying her flute and was wearing glasses that she claimed she did not like, which was true. The young man also stated that Emanuela had had her hair cut. Another odd call came on June 28, when a man calling himself “Mario” called the home. He claimed to be the owner of a bar near the music school Emanuela had attended and said that a new customer resembling the missing girl had been to his establishment, introducing herself as “Barbara.” Mario claimed that “Barbara” had told him that she had run away from home but planned to return for her sister’s wedding.
By this time, the search for the girl had become desperate. Thousands of posters with Emanuela’s face on them had been put up all over the city and the Pope himself even came forward on many occasions, pleading to those responsible to let her go. It was around this time that the anonymous phone calls started to become at once more frequent and also more menacing.
A series of calls to the family said that the girl had been captured by terrorists who intended to exchange her for the release of a man by the name of Mehmet Ali Ağca, a Turkish man who had been detained after attempting to assassinate Pope John Paul II at St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981.
One of the more persistent of these callers was a man with an American accent who came to be known as l’Americano, or “The American.” The American was an eloquent sounding man who suggested that an exchange could be made for Ali Ağca and demanded that the negotiation be approved by the Pope and carried out within 20 days. The American was extremely persuasive, as in one call he produced a recording of a voice that highly resembled Emanuela’s and he would offer more evidence of having the girl as well, such as photocopies of her music school ID, sheets of music that she had been studying, and even a handwritten note from the girl. The man also claimed that the previous callers, including “Pierluigi” and “Mario,” were all part of the same terrorist organization and were in on the kidnapping.
In total, The American would make 16 phone calls, all traced to public telephone booths. As promising a lead as these sounded, things all fell through when the authorities in charge of handling the kidnapping case denied that there was any evidence to link the abduction and the attempted assassination of the Pope.
On July 8, yet another strange call came, this time from a man with a Middle Eastern accent. In this case, the call was much more ominous than the others, with the man claiming that he had the girl and planned to kill her if demands were not met. The unidentified man demanded the release of Ağca within 20 days or the girl would be killed. The demand was refused and after this the case went cold and has gone unsolved to this day, remaining one of history’s most inexplicable, mysterious disappearances. For years authorities have followed numerous tips, leads, and alleged sightings of the missing girl, all of which have invariably led to nowhere.
Various theories have been put forth over the years as to what happened to Emanuela Orlandi, ranging from the somewhat plausible to the truly bizarre, all with varying degrees of evidence to back them up. One is that the girl had actually in fact been kidnapped by a terrorist organization in a bid to free Mehmet Ali Ağca, just as had been claimed by the various mysterious phone calls. The main suspect in this scenario is a Turkish ultra-nationalist, neo-fascist youth organization called the Grey Wolves, to whom Ağca belonged. Ağca himself would go on record as saying as much in a prison interview with an Italian news program. In the interview, Ağca claimed that Emanuela Orlandi had been captured by the group and that she had eventually been moved to a cloistered convent where she remained alive and well, although there was no credible evidence to back up these claims.
Up until recent years Ağca would go on to continue to make such statements. In 2006, he published a letter in which he claimed that both Orlandi and yet another young woman who had also vanished in 1983 by the name of Mirella Gregori had both been abducted by the Grey Wolves to exchange for his release and had subsequently been brought to an unspecified “royal palace” in Liechtenstein.
Ağca was released from prison in 2010, after which he gave a televised interview in which he made even more bizarre, paranoid claims. In addition to stating that the Vatican itself had hired him to assassinate the Pope, he also said that in fact Orlandi had been kept prisoner by the Vatican and was currently alive and well, living in a Catholic monastery as a nun in a Central European country.
None of Ağca’s increasingly bold claims have ever been supported by any strong evidence, and seem perhaps more like the ravings of a madman.
A common sentiment that underlies many of the theories is that the Vatican itself had a hand in the disappearances, or that it at least made efforts to stall the investigation at every turn. One theory is that Orlandi was kidnapped under the orders of Paul Marcinkus, who was an Archbishop at the time and ran the Vatican’s bank, after evidence of criminal activities was uncovered by the girl’s father, Ercole Orlandi. Marcinkus consistently used his standing and connections to avoid answering any questions on the matter and perhaps took the truth with him to his grave when he died in 2006.
The bank connection would get even deeper and more bizarre in 2011, when Antonio Mancini, a member of the Italian organized crime syndicate Banda della Magliana, claimed that the kidnapping of Orlandi had been an attempt by the mafia to get the Vatican to repay large amounts of money that had been borrowed from them. The claims show links to the death of the banker Roberto Calvi, also known as “God’s Banker” due to his Vatican connections. Calvi was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London in June 1982, his corpse’s pockets stuffed with cash and precious stones, after what is believed to have been from a falling out with the mafia after a botched money laundering operation.
The mafia connection is perhaps most noticeable in one of the weirdest, yet intriguing leads that has come in the case over the years. In 2005, an anonymous caller to the Italian crime show Who Has Seen? suggested that the secret to solving the case lay in opening the tomb of the infamous gangster Enrico de Pedis, who allegedly had killed the girl as a favor to the vicar general of Rome at the time, Cardinal Ugo Poletti. The mysterious claim was imbued with a bit of renewed credibility when the mobster’s former girlfriend admitted that he had told her he had killed Orlandi. Various anonymous callers would go on to bolster the claims that there was some clue to be found within De Pedis’ tomb.
Enrico De Pedis, also known as Renatino, was known as a rather charismatic gangster who was the leader of a gang called Banda della Magliana, a vicious group known to have had a hand in a lucrative drug trade in Rome, the very same gang that had been plying the Vatican for money, had been linked to the death of the banker Roberto Calvi, and who reportedly had the police in their pocket. The gangster De Pedis was brutally gunned down in an ambush by rival gang members in 1990 in the picturesque cobbled streets of an area known as Campo de’ Fiori. After the anonymous calls, it was believed that the mobster’s tomb might actually hold the body of Orlandi, which had never been found.
The tomb of the gangster De Pedis is in itself a bit of an anomaly. Despite his checkered criminal past, the burial was made at the Opus Dei Basilica of Sant’Apollinare, close to Piazza Navona in the centre of Rome, a sacred burial site mostly reserved for only the most senior and prestigious of church officials. The burial of such a notorious and ruthless criminal here was unheard of and a clear violation of cardinal law, and was oddly sanctioned by Poletti himself, reportedly because the criminal had repented for his crimes in prison and had made large donations to the church, as well as actively participated in charity work helping the poor.
Oddly, the Vatican resisted any attempts to open the tomb for seven years, during which time, in 2008, the former girlfriend of De Pedis came forth with the information that the late Archbishop Paul Marcinkus had had a hand in hiring the gangster, which along with the lack of cooperation in opening the tomb bolstered rumors of a church cover-up. Since Poletti had died in 1997, and so was unable to give any say in the matter, no one knew what they would find in the mysterious tomb. Finally, after much pressure from the public and Orlandi’s family, the Vatican finally agreed to open up the tomb to see what clues may lie within. Many expected that Orlandi’s body would be found right there next to that of the gangster De Pedis, or that De Pedis’ body would be absent altogether.
De Pedis was apparently not a subtle or humble man, as his name was emblazoned upon the tomb with an estimated £12,000 of diamonds. When the tomb was finally opened to a breathless public, De Pedis’ corpse was found to indeed be in the tomb, dressed in a dark suit and tie and in rather remarkably good condition. No other bodies were found to be in the tomb. At least, not intact ones. Scattered around the crypt, investigators made the macabre discovery of over 200 boxes of assorted, unidentified human bones. The find was so shocking that authorities went about checking for more hidden vaults before getting down to analyzing the remains. It was found that they all seemed to date back to pre-Napoleonic times, but an in-depth DNA analysis was planned. So far, the results are inconclusive, the promise of an answer elusive, and the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi remains as mysterious as ever.
2017 Update to the Orlandi Case
The latest Vatican scandal is one you couldn’t make up, unless perhaps you were Dan Brown. The disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi is one of the strangest of the many Italian mysteries that resurface every now and again, never to be solved. Now Repubblica journalist Emiliano Fittipaldi has published a document that, if genuine, would throw shocking light on the affair.
Every now and again there are fresh rumours. Apart from Ali Agca, they cite the usual suspects, the CIA, the KGB and Cosa Nostra. The name of Bishop Paul Marcinkus, then head of the Vatican Bank, comes up, as does Enrico de Pedis, the sharp-dressing, smooth-talking head of the “Banda della Magliana”, a Roman gang of the 70s and 80s that has achieved almost legendary status. And, inevitably, Roberto Calvi, the head of the Banco Ambrosiano found hanging under London’s Blackfriar’s Bridge in 1982. In 2011, a former Banda della Magliana member hinted that Orlandi's kidnapping was an attempt to force the Vatican Bank to repay a large sum of money lent by the Mafia through Calvi’s bank. In May 2012, another colorful figure, Father Gabriele Amorth, the self-promoting exorcist who died in 2016, came up with an alternative explanation, claiming that Emanuela was kidnapped by a member of the Vatican gendarmerie and foreign diplomats and forced to take part in sex parties.
Pietro Orlandi, Emanuela’s brother, claims that Pope Frances told him, “Emanuela is in heaven”, but he has never given up trying to find out exactly what happened, petitioning in vain for access to a dossier believed to be held by the Vatican. The prolific author of two previous books on the Vatican, Avarizio (Avarice) and Lussuria (Lust), Fittipaldi was one of two
Italian journalists charged in the Vatileaks 2 trial. In his latest book, Gli Impostori (The Imposters), he publishes what may or may not be those documents: “Summary account of the expenses paid by the Vatican City State for activities relative to the citizen Emanuela Orlandi (Rome, January 14, 1968".) The date is that of Emanuela's birth.
The 197-page dossier gives the impression that Emanuela was alive until 1997 and that the Vatican not only knew this but was paying for her keep. Supposedly written by Cardinal Antonetti, then head of APSA, the Administratioon of the Assets of the Apostolic See, it details the Vatican’s expenses for “the activities carried out following the change of accommodation and successive phases of citizen Emanuela Orlandi”. It contains a number of bills and other documents for lodgings between 1983 and 1997. There is even an address, that of the headquarters of the Scalabrinian Missionaries, who ran a hostel for young people in London. It lists journeys to London by top-level Vatican dignitaries, money invested in "investigative activities to lay false trails", medical expenses in hospitals and bills for "gynecology" specialists. And so on. And then the last, chilling, entry: "General activity and transfer to Vatican City, with completion of final procedures."
On Monday, Vatican spokesperson Greg Burke described Fittipaldi’s claims as "false and ridiculous". Fittipaldi does not claim that the document is genuine, but is convinced that it came from the Vatican, although it is not signed and there are no official stamps. If he is right, there are two possibilities: either it is a fake and someone has gone to an enormous effort to lay a false trail and create further discord within the Vatican, “a new season of blackmail and poison”, as the journalist describes it. Or it is real, in which case, as in all the best thrillers, it is not the solution to the mystery but merely a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter that raises more questions than it answers.
November 2018 Update
More skulduggery at the Vatican, a complete skeleton and bones were found while renovating a building on Vatican grounds. READ MORE ABOUT IT
source - mysterious universe & LA repubblica
Marlene at Miami Ghost Chronicles is a freelance paranormal investigator and writer.
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