ROME—There is perhaps no more mysterious and hotly debated cold case in Italy than the 1983 disappearance of 15-year-old Emanuela Orlandi.
Was the daughter of a Vatican employee nabbed as a sex slave for priests? Was she taken by Turkish terrorists in exchange for the man who shot Pope John Paul II? Was she buried in a mobster’s tomb or a Vatican cemetery? Or was she taken by the son of a gangster in exchange for a Suzuki 1100 motorbike, as the latest “confession” in the case would have conspiracy theorists believe.
Salvatore Sarnataro, a convicted gang member tied to the Band of Magliana of whom the mobster Enrico De Pedis in the Opus Dei church was a one-time leader, says his son Marco kidnapped Orlandi in exchange for the bike. Sarnataro made the astonishing confession in 2008, though it has only now been made public for reasons not entirely clear. Upon hearing from Sarnataro, police corroborated the few photos from the area on the day Orlandi disappeared, and say several could be the gangster’s son.
The Band of Magliana was angry with the Vatican after the Vatican-linked Banco Ambrosiano collapsed in a debacle that lost the criminal group a lot of cash and led to the death of the chairman Roberto Calvi, who was found hanging with bricks in his pocket from Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982.
De Pedis reportedly gave the command to nab the girl and Sarnataro says his son and two others did just that and took her to the artificial lake in Rome’s leafy EUR district. There they handed her to another boss who took her away.
“I later learned that my son, for this courtesy, had a Suzuki 1100 motorcycle as a gift,” Sarnataro said, according to transcripts published in La Republica newspaper.
Sarnataro says his son was tasked with tailing the teen in the days before she was nabbed, coming so close to her as to even tough her hand on one occasion, which lines up with testimony from Orlandi’s friend who described a “creep” following them around the week the girl disappeared.
Orlandi was last seen alive on June 22, 1983, near Piazza Navona where she had finished her flute lesson inside the Sant’Apollinare Church run by the super secretive Catholic sect Opus Dei. Some witnesses say they saw her get into a green BMW.
Others say she got on the city bus and was chatting up a red-haired lady who was trying to convince her to sell Avon cosmetics door-t0-door.
Her family, who lived inside the highly protective walls of Vatican City, received countless calls and tips—including several from the group tied to Mehmet Ali Ağca, a Turk who was in prison for shooting Pope John Paul II in 1981. But none led them to their beloved daughter.
Two tombs have been exhumed in the search for her body—one belonging to a mobster inside the Opus Dei church and the other belonging to two princess sisters in the German church inside Vatican City. Plenty of bones were found in the mobster’s tomb—but none belonged to Orlandi. There were no bones at all in the German tomb—not even the princesses.
Still, the latest tip is promising and ties together several of the conspiracy theories floating around, including the mobster’s tomb, the green BMW, and location where she was last seen. All that’s still missing, of course, is the girl.