June 22, 1983: The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi


On June 22, 1983, a 15-year-old Vatican City citizen mysteriously disappeared. She has been missing now for 37 years, but no reliable sightings or tips have lead to finding her.


Emanuela was born to Ercole and Maria Orlandi, and was the 4th of their 5 children. Her father worked for the Vatican bank, and the family lived inside of the Vatican City. The kids were free to run around the Vatican gardens, according to Emanuela's older brother, Pietro.

She was in her 2nd year of high school in Rome, but though the school year was out for the summer, she continued to take flute lessons 3 times a week at the school, and was a member of the church coir. She would normally take the bus to her music school, get off a few stops away, and then walk the ~650 feet to the school.

But on June 22, she was late, which was uncommon for her. She had asked her brother to ride on the bus to class with her, but he was unable to due to other commitments. He always wonders if he had gone with her if she would still be here. But later that day, after showing up to class late, she called home and spoke to one of her sisters. Since then, she has never been seen or heard from again.

She had told her sister that she was late for music because she had received a job offer from Avon Cosmetics. Allegedly, she met with the Avon representative before her music lesson, and after the lesson, she went back to the bus stop with a friend to whom she told about the job offer. A witness said that she saw Emanuela getting into a large, dark-colored BMW.

When she didn't come home, her parents called the director of the school to see if perhaps any of her classmates had information about her whereabouts because the police had suspected she may have stayed late to hang out with friends. But later that day, she was declared a missing person.

3 days after her disappearance, on June 25, a 16-year-old by the name of Pierluigi called the family and reported that he had met Emanuela that afternoon. The girl had been seen with a flute and her physical description matched. He said that she had gotten her hair cut and was introducing herself as "Barbarella". She told him she had just run away from home and she was selling Avon products.

On June 28, a man by the name of Mario called and reported a sighting of her, saying she called herself Barbara. She had confided in him about being a fugitive from home, but she planned to return home for her sister's wedding.

On July 3, Pope John Paul II appealed to anyone responsible for Emanuela's disappearance, publicly making the assumption of kidnapping for the first time. The family received the first of a few anonymous phone calls a few days later, claiming Emanuela had been kidnapped by a terrorist group, but no other information. They received a few other calls in which Mario and Pierluigi from the earlier calls were defined as members of the organization. They were allegedly holding her in exchange for the release of Mehmet Ali Agca, who had shot the pope in 1981.

On July 6, an American man informed the press about the demand for Emanuela's exchange for Agca, and asked for the pope's participation. They required proof that Emanuela was actually in their hands. However, the investigators did not believe that there was a credible connection between the kidnapping and the pope shooter. On July 8, a man with a Middle Eastern accent called one of Emanuela's classmates, again demanding the exchange be done in 20 days. However, the exchange never took place.


There are 3 popular, well-accepted theories as to what actually happened to the 15-year-old girl. The most popular is that the callers were not lying, and that the girl was taken to exchange a trade for Agca. Agca himself was interviewed and said that the girl was alive and not in any danger, but was not able to support any of his claims. As far as the actual authorities involved, Judge Ferdinando Imposimato is one of the only ones who still believes in this theory, and believes that an adult Emanuela is safely living somewhere in Paris.

In 2006, Agca again alleged that Emanuela, and another kidnapped girl from 1983, Mirella Gregori, had been kidnapped to secure his release from prison. However, no trades were ever arranged and he was not released until January of 2010, 27 years after the girls were kidnapped.

He claimed in 2010, after his release, that Emanuela was being held in a Central European country as a nun, and that her family could come see her whenever they pleased, but she could not leave her Catholic monastery.

Another theory is that she was kidnapped by the Banda della Magliana gang, who had been striking against the Vatican in order to force restitution for a large amount of money they had lent to the Vatican bank. No clues were found linking the disappearance to organized crime, and had this been the case, they likely would have called for ransom, but some still believe this could be the case.

If you don't believe either of those theories, then one theory that you have to at least consider is that she did leave on her own accord. If the calls made to the families of 2 different men seeing her, being told her new name and being told that she had run away from home were not from members of some sort of organized crime group, they could have just been from 2 concerned citizens who thought they had found the missing girl.

A final theory is that Emanuela could have been kidnapped by a member of the Vatican police for sex parties, and then murdered so she wouldn't tell. This theory was brought up by 85-year-old exorcist Gabriele Amoth, who claimed that officials and unnamed foreign embassy leaders were involved in the abduction and death of Emanuela.

An April 6, 2007 sermon at St. Peter's Basillica with a call from the reverend to make amends to sins before death, asking everyone not to take secrets to their graves, made people believe that someone in the Vatican knew more about Emanuela's disappearance than were letting on.

In early 2016, an audio file of a girl being tortured became public. Emanuela's family immediately recognized her voice, even though it had been 32 years since they had last seen her. (I believe the recording was from years before, and Emanuela would have been closer to the age she was when she was taken.)

Strangely, on July 10, 2019, the Vatican announced that they would be opening 2 tombs inside of the city, the bodies of a Princess and a Duchess. Though this did not lead to the discovery of Emanuela's remains, it did lead to another odd discovery: The bodies of the princess and the duchess were not there, either. The Vatican is currently investigating the missing bodies.

Since then, bones have been found around the grave sites and in various other places, but none have been connected to Emanuela yet.

This one is a pretty strange one. What is interesting that immediately, organized crime was suspected. All of the main theories include some sort of organized kidnapping, either from a group trying to free the pope shooter, a gang with other intentions, or some Vatican sex group. It doesn't appear that any of the main theories have anything to do with a lone perpetrator. A killer or pedophile who saw a girl alone and decided to take her. Or had been watching her and tried to pose as an Avon rep or someone who could hire her to lure her. Perhaps that is my American disappearance stories talking, but it seems at least worth it to look into.

It has now been 37 years since Emanuela Orlandi disappeared, and honestly, not one theory seems more plausible than the other. It seems just as possible that she was taken by an organized crime group, relocated and is living a happy life as a nun or Parisian as an adult or that she was kidnapped by a Vatican official and murdered the same night she was taken. A group of people makes sense, a lone perpetrator makes since. That she was treated well makes sense and that she was tortured makes sense. That she is dead and buried somewhere and that she is alive and well somewhere makes sense.

This case is a real stumper. 37 years ago today, 2 parents and 4 siblings lost their daughter and sister to someone or something that they will probably never know. To not have closure is one thing, but to not have closure and not even have an idea what happened to her is another. I feel terribly for her brother who she had asked to go with her. I wonder... was that common, for someone to accompany her? Or did she ask because she had any odd encounters alone on the bus in the days before her disappearance?

There is not a lot of information about this case, and it does seem like there are some shady happenings and that people know something they aren't willing to share. Hopefully, someone takes the advice of the reverend and chooses to confess, or share what they know, and not take what happened to Emanuela Orlandi to the grave.


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disappearance_of_Emanuela_Orlandi

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