The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

An Italian teen disappeared in 1983. The Vatican just exhumed two tombs to look for her.

The Vatican emptied two tombs on July 11, looking for the body of a missing 15-year-old girl who disappeared in 1983. (Video: Reuters)
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Emanuela Orlandi was 15 when she vanished on her way home from a music lesson. The 30-year-old mystery of her disappearance still stumps Italian authorities, though her brother, Pietro Orlandi, has never stopped searching.

Pietro, now 60, encountered many fruitless leads and red herrings over the years, but on Thursday, he had hoped to learn the truth about what happened to his sister on June 22, 1983, or, at the very least, find a trace of her.

The most recent tip received by Emanuela’s family suggested that her remains were buried inside a Vatican burial site. The cryptic clue — a photograph with a message: “Look where the angel is pointing” — led Orlandi to two graves in the Teutonic Cemetery, near St. Peter’s Basilica.

The angel-topped tomb and the one adjacent to it belonged to two princesses who died in the early 1800s.

Last month, the Vatican granted Orlandi’s request to open the tomb.

“Even if nothing was to be found, it cannot be the end of the story,” Orlandi told CNN ahead of the exhumation. “Until I find Emanuela’s body, for me it’s a duty to look for her alive.”

With the Vatican’s blessing, Giovanni Arcudi, a professor of forensic medicine at the University of Rome, exhumed the tombs of Princess Sophie of Hohenlohe and Princess Carlotta Frederica of Mecklenburg on Thursday morning, the New York Times reported.

The exhumation and planned DNA testing of the bones would have been complex, according to the Associated Press, but in an odd twist, both graves were empty — neither Emanuela nor the two princesses’ remains were inside.

Thursday’s quest was just the newest addition to a long list of false reports, anonymous letters and conspiracy theories.

The child’s disappearance has been linked to Italian mobster Enrico “Renatino” De Pedis, whose tomb was searched in 2012. Another story that circulated: The 15-year-old was abducted to secure the release of a Turkish national who attempted to kill Pope John Paul II in 1981.

For 36 years, every tip has proved fruitless. Yet, Orlandi told CNN, there has always been one common thread: the Vatican.

“Every type of clue has always led to the Vatican,” he said, but “they have always denied the possibility that there may be responsibilities within the Vatican.”

The Vatican for years has distanced itself from Emanuela’s disappearance and declined to participate in the ongoing investigation. Thursday’s failed undertaking was a first and, perhaps, a last.

The venture “yielded a negative outcome. No human remains nor funereal urns were found,” the Vatican said in a statement Thursday.

It’s true, the exhumation did not solve the mystery of the missing girl. But it did uncover another: Where are the remains of Sophie and Carlotta Frederica?

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