Vatican authorities opened two centuries-old tombs in the hopes of solving one mystery — but ended up uncovering another one altogether.
Vatican authorities unsealed the tombs of two 19th-century princesses Thursday, July 11, as the family of Emanuela Orlandi, a teen who disappeared in 1983, looked on in the hopes they’d finally solve the 36-year-old mystery of what happened to the 15-year-old after she failed to return home from her music lesson. But while the authorities didn't find her remains, they uncovered something just as eerie: The tombs were empty, containing no bones at all.
“The last thing I expected was to find empty tombs,” Orlandi’s brother, Pietro Orlandi, said according to The New York Post.
The Vatican had granted the Orlandi family’s request to unseal the tombs after they received an anonymous letter last year, suggesting the teen’s remains may be hidden in the Teutonic Cemetery.
“If you want to find Emanuela, search where the angel looks,” the sender wrote, according to NBC News.
After receiving the letter, the family went to the cemetery and noticed the “Tomb of the Angel” appeared to have been recently opened.
“The tomb had obviously been recently opened, there was new cement on it, but we didn’t know why or when, we were given no information,” the family’s lawyer Laura Sgro told CBS News.
The family petitioned the Vatican Secretary of State to open the tombs in February and was granted the request last week, but when authorities unsealed the tomb, as well as a nearby one to avoid confusion, Thursday, they not only didn’t find any evidence of Orlandi, they also didn’t find the remains of the two women who were believed to be buried there.
“We are all amazed,” Sgro said after the shocking discovery.
The two tombs belonged to 19th-century princesses. The first, known as the “Tomb of the Angel,” was believed to be the final resting place of Princess Sophie von Hohenlohe, who died in 1836. The second was the tomb of Princess Carlotta Federica of Mecklemburg, who died just a few years later in 1840.
In a statement released by the Vatican, spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said the search “produced negative results: no human findings or funerary urns were found” in either tomb.
After opening the tomb belonging to Princess Sophie von Hohenlohe, authorities discovered an underground chamber measuring roughly 13 by 12 feet but it was “completely empty,” The Associated Press reports. No human remains were discovered in the tomb of Princess Carlotta Federica as well.
The families of both princesses were notified of the discovery, according to the Vatican.
The Vatican is now searching through records on two structural projects that occurred in the cemetery in the past that may provide some clues as to why the two princesses were no longer there. One of the projects took place in the late 1800s, while the second took place sometime around the 1960s or 1970s.
Pietro Orlandi said the discovery was “personally a relief” to him, because it may have been difficult for him to see his sister’s remains, the AP reports.
The family is now no closer to answers about what may have happened to the 15-year-old all those years ago. The teen’s family had lived inside the Vatican walls and her father had worked as a Vatican bank employee when she disappeared.
Theories have surrounded the disappearance for decades, with some speculating her disappearance may have been related to the Vatican bank scandals at the time or that she was kidnapped because of a sex slavery ring. Others have speculated that she may have been kidnapped as part of a failed bid to release a Turkish gunman who had tried to kill Pope John Paul II.
Another anonymous letter in the case was received in 2005. It claimed the teen’s body was buried in the tomb of a criminal gangster named Enrico de Pedis. His tomb was opened in 2012, but Orlandi’s remains were not inside.
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