Emanuela Orlandi case: Vatican attempts new search to solve mystery

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Experts open the trapdoor in the Teutonic Cemetery in the latest searchImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Experts open the trapdoor in the Teutonic Cemetery in the latest search

The Vatican made its latest attempt on Saturday to unravel the mystery of the disappearance of a teenage Italian girl 36 years ago.

The first attempt on 11 July exhumed two tombs a tip-off had said might contain Emanuela Orlandi's remains.

But it only deepened the mystery as even the bones of two princesses thought to be there were missing.

Experts on Saturday examined two ossuaries - small chambers where dead are buried - found in the first search.

Bones were unearthed from the ossuaries and analysed at the site. Analysis of the bones would continue next Saturday, the Vatican said.

Ms Orlandi's family hopes the search at the Vatican's Pontifical Teutonic College holds the key to a mystery that has gripped Italy since 1983.

What happened on Saturday?

The search focused on the college, where the first exhumations took place in the cemetery there.

During the first search, the two ossuaries were discovered under a trapdoor in the floor of a nearby building.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Tombs exhumed in the first search turned up no bones at all

Interim director of the Holy See Press, Alessandro Gisotti, told Vatican News that the ossuaries were in "an area adjacent to the princess' tombs'.

He said forensic experts were analysing any remains "according to international protocols" but could not say how long it would take.

The scientists will be able to date any bones within the space of just five hours - although formal identification by DNA would take a lot longer.

One expert appointed by the Orlandi family was present.

The Vatican thinks the bones of the princesses may have been moved during work in the 1960s and 1970s.

What is the Teutonic Cemetery?

Inside the world's smallest state, the Teutonic Cemetery is easy to miss.

Image source, AFP
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Tourists aren't allowed into the Teutonic Cemetery

The plot of land, located on the original site of the Emperor Nero circus, is tucked away behind high walls in the shadow of St Peter's Basilica.

The cemetery is normally used as a burial ground for German-speaking members of Catholic institutions. Tourists aren't allowed along the path which leads towards the graveyard.

The nearest you can get is a gate protected by a single Swiss Guard.

What happened to Emanuela?

On 22 June 1983, Emanuela was on her way back home from a flute lesson. She was seen at a bus stop in the centre of Rome. Then, she simply vanished. No-one has seen her since.

Image source, Alamy
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Emanuela Orlandi was 15 when she disappeared on her way home from a music lesson

Decades of speculation have followed. Was she kidnapped and killed? If so, where is her body?

Emanuela's family have had to chase endless leads and rumours.

"Many people tell me, just let it go, enjoy your life, don't think about it anymore," her older brother Pietro told the BBC. "But I can't let go. I couldn't be at peace if this is not solved."

Attention has always focused on the fact that Emanuela was the daughter of a Vatican City employee.

Why focus moved to cemetery

In March 2019, the Orlandi family received an anonymous letter.

It showed a picture of an angel above a tomb in the Vatican's Teutonic Cemetery.

Was this a clue to where Emanuela was buried?

The family knew that it had to approach the Vatican. But it had had no luck with its previous inquiries.

The family made a general request to the Vatican to open the tomb at the Teutonic Cemetery. A Vatican City state tribunal then granted the request.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Emanuela Orlandi (R) disappeared 40 days after another 15-year-old girl in Rome, Mirella Gregori, portrayed here in a mural (L)