A search for the daughter of a Vatican clerk who mysteriously vanished in 1983 has left officials bewildered after discovering that the human remains of two German princesses have vanished from their burial ground.
Experts had hoped to solve one of Italy’s most enduring mysteries after the family of 15-year-old Emanuela Orlandi requested the tombs of Princess Sophie von Hohenlohebe and Princess Carlotta Federica of Mecklenburg to be searched after receiving an anonymous tip-off.
Instead, they ran into a new mystery. Searchers not only didn’t find Emanuela’s bones but were perplexed when not even the princesses’ remains were found inside their respective tombs.
Orlandi’s family has determinedly continued the search for their missing daughter who failed to return home following a music lesson some 36 years ago.
After many false leads, anonymous letters, conspiracy theories and supposed sightings, Orlandi’s family clung to a glimmer of hope after they received a letter in March which said that the girl’s remains were located in a Vatican cemetery ”where an angel was pointing”.
The unnamed people who tipped the family off had been referring to the Teutonic Cemetery where an angel is holding an open book with the inscription “Requiescat in pace”— Latin for “Rest in Peace”.
The tombs of the 19th-century princesses were exhumed on Thursday but nothing was found inside them.
“The result of the search was negative. No human remains or funeral urns were found,” Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said in a statement.
The Orlandi family’s forensic expert, Giorgio Portera, said it “appears strange… that there are no documents that tells us why there graves are empty”.
The burial ground just inside the Vatican walls has been used over the centuries mainly for church figures or members of noble families of German or Austrian origin.
Mr Pietro said this would not mark the end of the search for his sister.
“I could have expected everything — except empty graves,” Mr Pietro told CNN.
“On one hand I felt a sense of relief, on the other I know that this is not the end. Emanuela deserves the truth and justice,” he said.
“I thought that today we could finally make a step forward, even if painful. Instead we are at a starting point.”
Over the years, Orlandi’s brother Pietro has repeatedly insisted that the Vatican could do more to help find his sister.
But Vatican officials have always denied any involvement with the disappearance of Orlandi.
They have launched an investigation to “verify structural works that took place in the Teutonic Cemetery at the beginning of the 1800s, and also during the 1960s and 1970s.”