Here’s everything we know about the 1983 disappearance of 15-year-old Emanuela Orlandi — the cold case that is being revived after bones were found beneath a Vatican building

Pietro Orlandi, brother of Emanuela Orlandi (L) and others gather in St. Peter’s Square to mark the 30th anniversary of the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi, on June 22, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Franco Origlia/Getty Images
  • Bones were found underneath the flooring of the Vatican’s embassy to Italy on Monday.
  • Investigators are now looking into whether they may be connected to the 1983 disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi.
  • Here’s what we know about the case so far.

On Monday, workers renovating an annex of the Vatican’s embassy to Italy in Rome discovered bones underneath the flooring, sparking immediate questions about whether they may be connected to one of the Holy See’s most puzzling cold cases.

For more than 35 years, Italians have been obsessed with the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi, the 15-year-old daughter of a Vatican employee who went missing after venturing into Rome for a music lesson.

Over the years many rumours have swirled about what happened to her – including conspiracies tied to the Mafia and the plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II.

While there’s no known link between the remains found on Monday and Emanuela’s disappearance so far, the Italian media has jumped to connect the cases based on several details leaking out about the discovery.

Here’s what we know about the story so far:

Emanuela Orlandi disappeared on June 22, 1983

Emanuela Orlandi was the fourth of five children to Ercole and Maria Orlandi. Her father worked as a Vatican clerk, organising papal audiences, according to HuffPost Italy. At the time of her disappearance, the teen had just finished her second year of high school.

On June 22, 1983, Emanuela left the family’s apartment in Vatican City and travelled to the Sant’Apollinare complex in Rome for a flute lesson. On the way to the flute lesson, a man in a green BMW stopped her on the street and offered her money to sell Avon cosmetics, an incident which left her troubled, according to The Spectator. She called her sister, who told her to speak to their parents about it.

Once she arrived at the lesson, she was distracted and asked to leave early, around 6:50 p.m. Friends saw her get on her bus home and start talking to a red-haired female passenger. But she never returned home.

Three days after her disappearance, her family started getting suspicious calls

In the following days, the Orlandi family started receiving calls with tips about their daughter’s whereabouts. The first came from a man who called himself Pierluigi and claimed his girlfriend saw a girl matching Emanuela’s description playing the flute in the Campo dei Fiori, going by the name of Barbara and selling cosmetics.

Another man, Mario, phoned up the family with a similar story. He said a girl who looked like Emanuela was calling herself Barbara and selling cosmetics with another woman.

The family then started receicing hundreds of prank and cryptic messages about their daughter, none of them leading anywhere.

A soldier stands in front of the Vatican Nunciature-Embassy to Italy in Rome on October 31, 2018. ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

Pope John Paul II pleaded for her return

Hoping to help the situation, Pope John Paul II waded into the case on July 3, 1983, when he made a public appeal for her safe return after a public prayer, saying “I am close to the Orlandi family.” He went on to speak about her at least eight times, according to The Telegraph.

Shortly after, a group demanded the release of the pope’s would-be assassin

About two days after the pope first addressed Emanuela’s disappearance, someone called both the Orlandi family and the Vatican, saying that a group had taken the teen to secure the release of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish man who tried to shoot the pope in 1981.

Authorities nicknamed this man L’Americano, due to his accent, and he tried to back up his claim by leading agents to a photocopy of Emanuela’s registration card for her music school, and sending a letter containing photo copies of the sheet music she was studying at the time. But the American went silent on October 27, 1983.

Similar letters came in from other similar groups, claiming they had Emanuela and that they would only release her if Agca was released as well.

No such exchange happened. Agca was released from Italian prison in 2006, after receiving a pardon for his life sentence.

Remains were found Monday at the Vatican’s embassy to Italy in Rome

Remains were found by four workers doing repairs to floors damaged during flooding to an embassy (also called the Nunciature) annex where the caretaker used to live, according to The Guardian. The workers first found a larger set of bones – including a pelvis and part of the skull – and then smaller fragments of bones just a short distance away, according to HuffPost Italy.

Forensic experts have been called in to determine the age and gender of the bones, and approximately how long ago the deceased person or people died. Results from those tests should take three to four days.

Read more: Fragments of bone found at a Vatican embassy could be a crucial clue in solving the mystery of 2 teen girls who went missing in 1983

Several theories about Emanuela’s disappearance have developed over the years

The results of the initial investigation into Emanuela’s disappearance were that she was lured away for sexual motives and then murdered. But with no body, speculation has run rampant over the years.

Journalist Pino Nicotri came up with one of the more sensational theories, writing a book that claims Emanuela was the victim of a satanic sexual orgy organised by certain priests who then confused investigators be sending in endless tips, according to the Spectator.

And just last year, another journalist published a document that had been stolen from the Vatican, which appears to show that the church knew where the teen was and had been paying her expenses for years, according to The New York Times. The Vatican called the document “false and ridiculous.”

One of the strongest theories is that she was kidnapped by a gangster

The biggest break in the case came in 2008, when the former mistress of a gangster named Enrico De Pedis told authorities that he organised Emanuela’s kidnapping at the behest of the controversial American archbishop, Paul C. Marcinkus, the former president of the Vatican Bank (who died in 2006).

What’s more – a traffic warden who had seen Emanuela speaking to the man with the green BMW the night she disappeared worked to produce a sketch of the man, who looked very similar to De Pedis.

Some have theorised that Emanuela’s father had evidence of wrongdoing committed by Marcinkus, and that he asked De Pedis to kidnap the girl to keep the clerk quiet, according to The Telegraph.

Another theory is that De Pedis’ group, the Banda della Magliana, took Emanuela as a way to try to restore some of the money they lost in the crash of the Banco Ambrosiano, which Marcinkus was involved in, the Spectator reports.


There’s also another suspicious connection to De Pedis, which has become relevant with the discovery of the bones in the Nunciature, and that is the Monsignor Piero Vergari. Vergari was the only person investigated in Emanuela’s disappearance, as the former rector of Sant’Apollinare where she went missing. Vergari also knew De Pedis and petitioned to let his body be buried at the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare, a place usually reserved for senior clerics and not career criminals. Sometime after Emanuela’s disappearance, Vergari is reported to have worked at the Nunciature (though the Vatican refutes these reports).

In 2012, De Pedis’s grave was exhumed to see whether Emanuela’s remains might be hidden inside with his, but nothing matched the missing teen.

Her family wants more answers from the Vatican

After the discovery of the bones on Monday, and when the Italian media started speculating about a possible connection to Emanuela, the Orlandi family’s lawyer called on the Vatican to release more information.

Family lawyer Laura Sgro also told The New York Times that she has “no idea why the association with Emanuela was made.”

“We’re still asking ourselves why you’d find some bones and immediately assume they were Emanuela’s,” she said.

Meanwhile, Emanuela’s brother, Pietro Orlandi, spoke out to NBC News, saying he believes Pope Francis knows what happened to his sister.

“If Emanuela’s bones really were found here at the Vatican Embassy, the truth needs to come out after 35 years of silence and cover-ups,” he said. “Clearly these 35 years weighed heavily on the Vatican’s image, because there must be something unspeakable in this story.”