BOMBSHELL new evidence in the decades-old disappearance of a schoolgirl claims a mafia boss ordered her kidnapping to blackmail the Vatican.
The mystery of Emanuela Orlandi, 15, the daughter of a Vatican employee, has gripped Italy ever since she vanished on the way home from a flute lesson in 1983.
The case has embarrassed the Holy See for almost 40 years with claims officials knew what happened to Emanuela and covered it up.
Various theories have linked her disappearance to international crime gangs, a Vatican banking scandal, a plot to kill Pope John Paul II, and the intelligence services.
At one time it was suggested she was being held by Turkish terrorists seeking the release of Mehmet Ali Agca, the gunman who shot and wounded the Pontiff two years earlier.
Later investigators looked at the possibility that she may have been snatched by mafia gangs hoping to recover money lost in the collapse of Banco Ambrosiano.
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The Vatican-linked bank's chairman Roberto Calvi had been found hanging from scaffolding under London's Blackfriars Bridge in 1982 in what was later ruled a mafia murder.
Now new evidence directly points the finger at Enrico “Renatino” De Pedis, boss of the Rome criminal gang the Magliana Band.
Salvatore Sarnataro said his mafioso son Marco had confessed to taking part in an operation to follow and kidnap Emanuela on De Pedis' orders.
Salvatore said his son was living in "terror" and spilled the beans while they were both in jail on drugs charges.
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He said Marco had told him he was rewarded for the “courtesy” with a Suzuki motorcycle.
“I really don’t know why Marco decided to tell me about his role in the Orlandi kidnap,” Salvatore told police.
“I understood immediately that he was living through a period of great fear.”
His testimony was given in 2008 – a year after Marco died – but was reported publicly for the first time this week by La Repubblica.
It also revealed witness accounts from two of Emanuela's friends identifying Marco Sarnataro from a police photograph as the man who followed her in the days before her kidnapping.
On the first occasion, a man sitting in the passenger seat of a car had reached out of the window and touched Emanuela’s arm, saying to his companion: “That’s her.”
On the second, the same man had trailed the group through Rome until Emanuela had walked through the gates of the Vatican.
Her father worked for the Catholic Church as a clerk and lived with his family in an apartment in Vatican City.
She was last seen at a bus stop talking to a woman with red hair.
On her way to her music lesson she was stopped by a man in a green BMW who tried to sell her Avon cosmetics.
Emanuela was so troubled by that encounter that she called one of her sisters and she was due to meet another sister after her lesson but never turned up.
In the run-up to the 39th anniversary of her disappearance in June, Emanuela's brother Pietro Orlandi said he had received new evidence that convinced him that people in the Vatican knew what had happened to her.
The Magliana Band has been implicated before in the long-running mystery.
Maurizio Abbatino, another former gangster who has collaborated with the police, has previously said De Pedis ordered the kidnapping to blackmail the Vatican.
He said De Pedis was seeking to recover money lost in Banco Ambrosiano.
The Vatican's banking arm was the biggest shareholder, and its collapse in 1982 was Italy's biggest political scandal of the era.
Abbatino said Emanual's kidnapping was linked to the murder of Calvi – known as "God's banker" for his close ties with the Vatican.
In 2005, an anonymous caller on a TV crime show suggested investigators should search for Emanuela's remains in De Pedis’ tomb.
Last December, a former chief prosecutor in Rome shockingly accused the Vatican of a cover-up over its role in the search.
Giancarlo Capaldo told a TV documentary two senior Vatican officials approached him in 2012 offering to help find Emanuela's body.
In return, they wanted the prosecutor's help removing the mafia don's body from the crypt of a Roman basilica when he was buried after being shot in 1990.
Pope Benedict agreed to open the tomb but the schoolgirl was not there.
Capaldo was then swiftly replaced as chief prosecutor and the case was dropped, it is claimed.
Emanuela's brother Pietro, a tireless campaigner for truth on her behalf, said Capaldo’s revelations were an important step forward.
The Vatican’s readiness to return the body was an implicit admission of guilt, he added.
He told The Times: “Their willingness to return the body means they know everything.
"They wanted the prosecutors to find a way to keep the Vatican out of it, to concoct a story that eliminated any responsibility on the part of the Vatican.”
He added Capaldo's successor as chief prosecutor – who shelved gthe inquiry – was rewarded by Pope Francis with an appointment as head of the Vatican tribunal when he retired in 2019.
Emanuela's exact fate remains unknown.
In 2018, bone fragments were found in the foundations of a Vatican embassy, but tests showed they were not hers.
A year later the family received an anonymous, cryptic letter claiming the schoolgirl was buried in the Vatican's Teutonic Cemetery.
It claimed she was in a tomb beneath a statue of an angel with its hands downwards, adding: “Look where the angel is pointing.”
Two sets of remains were found by police, but they were not connected to the schoolgirl.
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