Vatican Opens 2 Tombs to Find Long-Missing Teen Emanuela Orlandi

Cheryl Sanders
July 13, 2019

The mystery behind the disappearance of an Italian teen 36 years ago intensified Thursday as the tombs of two 19th-century princesses buried at the Vatican were unsealed.

The Vatican authorized the opening of the graves after a request by Orlandi's family, which had previous year received an anonymous letter suggesting a clue could be found near a large statue of an angel in the Teutonic College cemetery. "No human remains or funeral urns were found", the Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said.

The tombs opened were those of Princess Sophie von Hohenlohe, who died in 1836, and Duchess Charlotte Frederica of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, who died in 1840.

The family braced for a possible breakthrough previous year when human remains were found at a Vatican property in Rome.

Ms Orlandi's family had hoped the Vatican graveyard held the key to a mystery that has gripped Italy since 1983.

Orlandi's family has been chasing clues on her disappearance for decades, and conspiracy theories abound.

Exhumation work began this morning on the two tombs, but officials were left bewildered to find the two tombs empty.

Vatican workers, supervised by Vatican police and a forensic anthropologist, opened the tombs July 11 after a short prayer was recited by the graves. The siblings' father worked as a messenger for the Vatican, and the family lived in Vatican City State.

The Vatican dig followed an anonymous tip-off that the cemetery may be the last resting place of Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican employee, who was last seen leaving a music class aged 15.

Another claim often repeated in the press was that she was taken to force the release from prison of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk who attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981.

"Much depends on the environmental conditions, on the microclimate in which they are found, on the humidity, on the presence of infiltrations, on possible actions of microfauna", he said.

Orlandi's mother still lives in Vatican City, close to the Teutonic Cemetery.

"Last summer, I received an envelope", family lawyer Laura Sgro told NBC News. Opening the tombs at the family's request was another sign of that concern.

"They went down and found a room measuring 4 meters by 3 meters (13 feet by 10 feet), which was the first surprise ..."

Both graves were opened due to their proximity to one another and to "avoid possible misunderstandings about which grave is the indicated grave", a Vatican tribunal said. As in, they didn't find the remains of Emanuela, but nor did they find the remains of either princess. There was speculation that the youngster may have been buried alongside him - but DNA tests failed to find a match.

The Vatican's next step following the discovery, Gisotti explained, will be to look into documentation about structural renovations that took place in the cemetery at the end of the 1800s and in the 1960s and '70s.

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