ROME – With renewed interest in the “Vatican Girl” case, referring to the 1983 disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi, the 15-year-old daughter of a minor employee of the Prefecture of the Papal Household whose family lived in a Vatican apartment, a whole cast of characters has returned to public prominence.

Some are once-prominent figures on the Vatican scene. Others are former members of the Roman mob, all with dubious pasts, some are other victims of other unexplained disappearances or deaths, some are journalists and commentators, some are Italian investigators and public officials.

All have in common that over the forty years since Orlandi vanished, they’ve been linked in one way or another to what remains Italy’s most notorious unsolved mystery.

It’s especially difficult for non-Italians to keep track of who’s who. Just as Americans grew up with the names of Oswald, Ruby, Zapruder and Warren in connection to the Kennedy assassination, an entire generation of Italians has come of age haunted by the Orlandi mystery and its cluster of personalities.

Outsiders, however, don’t have that instinctive command of the cast.

Herewith, a sort of playbill with 20 of the most common characters likely to surface as twin investigations of the Orlandi case unfold, one led by the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice and the other by the Italian parliament.

A strong note of caution is in order: Much like the Kennedy assassination, over the years almost every possible explanation, and its opposite, has been advanced regarding the Orlandi disappearance. Skepticism, therefore, generally is in order before accepting any given claim at face value.

Accetti, Marco

Marco Accetti. (Credit: Screen capture.)

A Roman photographer, Accetti, today 68, rose to prominence in 2013 when he turned over a flute to investigators identified by members of the Orlandi family as the instrument Emanuela was carrying on the evening of June 22, 1983, when she disappeared after a music lesson.

Accetti would go on to claim that he’d played a key role in the kidnapping, saying he was hired by a shadowy group of clergy and laity in and around the Vatican, known by the term “ganglion,” opposed to Pope John Paul II’s strongly anti-Communist stance and who wanted to quietly close the books on the Vatican bank scandals.

Several analysts have said Accetti is a narcissistic personality type who may be driven to inject himself in storylines in order to attract attention, though his credibility did get a boost in 2022 when he correctly predicted that if investigators were to open the tomb of Katy Skerl, a 17-year-old killed in 1984 whose case often has been linked with Orlandi, they’d find her coffin missing.

Accetti was also convicted of manslaughter in the 1983 death of Josè Garramon, the 12-year-old son of an Uruguayan diplomat, another case sometimes tied to that of Orlandi.

Ali Ağca, Mehmet

The Turkish assassin who shot and wounded Pope John Paul II on May 13, 1981, Ali Ağca’s name has been connected to the Orlandi case from the beginning, often by Ali Ağca himself.

Over the years, Ali Ağca repeatedly has asserted, though in a shifting and sometimes self-contradictory fashion, that the Orlandi kidnapping was part of a broader plot to obtain his freedom. He’s also claimed it’s part of the Third Secret of Fatima, that Emanuela was still alive and living in a convent in France or Switzerland, and that “if the Vatican wanted it, she’d be home tomorrow.”

In a January interview with the Adnkronos news agency, Ali Ağca, who today lives in Turkey with his Italian wife, asserted that Emanuela “never suffered any violence and was always treated humanely,” suggesting he has intimate knowledge of her fate. He also claimed to be in possession of “incontrovertible documentary proof” which he’s willing to submit either to the Vatican investigation or that of the Italian parliament.

Capaldo, Giancarlo

Capaldo is a veteran Italian prosecutor who led a district anti-mafia office in Rome until his retirement in 2012. He was also the last Italian official to conduct an investigation of the Orlandi case, which was formally closed without resolution in 2016, and he later published a novel loosely based on Emanuela’s story.

Capaldo has claimed that in 2012, when he was still in office, he was approached by the top two officials of the Vatican gendarmes at the time, Italian laymen Domenico Giani and Costanzo Alessandrini, to negotiate the opening of the tomb of notorious mobster Enrico de Pedis in Rome’s Basilica of Sant’Apollinare. Capaldo has said the two officials suggested that in exchange for his collaboration, they might be able to help in the Orlandi investigation – suggesting, Capaldo inferred, that they knew more than they were saying.

In a recent interview, Capaldo said he found the offer of help with opening the mobster’s tomb strange to begin with, because Sant-Apollinare is not extra-territorial property of the Vatican and sits on Italian soil, hence no permission or collaboration was required.

“I was convinced then, as I am now, that many things are known to the Vatican,” Capaldo said.

Casaroli, Cardinal Agostino

The architect of the Vatican’s Cold War-era policy of Ostpolitik, or outreach to the Soviet sphere, Casaroli was the Secretary of State under John Paul II from 1979 to 1990, and thus was effectively the Vatican’s Prime Minister when Orlandi went missing.

It’s known that Casaroli was involved in the immediate aftermath of Orlandi’s disappearance. recently an audio recording has surfaced of the beginning of a July 19, 1983, phone call to the Vatican switchboard in which the caller cites a code number, 158, which had been agreed upon to establish authenticity of the putative kidnappers. After a brief pause, Casaroli himself picked up the phone.

The first three minutes of that conversation were made public when a recording was delivered anonymously to an Italian broadcaster.

In a 2009 interview that’s also only recently come to light, ex-mobster Marcello Neroni made the shocking allegation that Casaroli had asked the Roman mafia for assistance in covering up a pedophile ring operated with the connivance of John Paul II inside the Vatican, drawing on his connections in the prison system. (During his Vatican service, Casaroli also volunteered as a chaplain at a Roman youth detention center called the Casal del Marmo.)

Those charges have been roundly rejected by Vatican officials. Casaroli died in 1998, at the age of 83.

Celata, Archbishop Pier Luigi

A native of Tuscany, Celata served as an aide to the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Agostino Casaroli before serving as a Vatican diplomat in a series of countries, then as secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and finally as Vice Camerlengo of the Apostolic Chamber until his retirement in 2014.

Several investigators have identified Celata as a potentially important witness, since he was involved in initial Vatican efforts to make contact with whomever had taken Orlandi. The first person to call the Vatican claiming to have knowledge of Orlandi’s whereabouts gave the name “Pierluigi,” which many have seen as a veiled reference to Celata.

In a 1999 autobiography, a renowned Italian political fixer named Francesco Pazienza claimed that Celata had contacts with the Italian secret service, particularly in connection with efforts to reduce the influence of American Archbishop Paul Marcinkus at the Vatican bank.

Marco Accetti, who’s claimed to have played a key role in the Orlandi case, although his testimony has generated considerable skepticism, identified Celata as part of a shadowy network of Vatican figures in the early 1980s devoted to softening Pope John Paul II’s anti-Communist line and to changing the management of the Vatican bank. According to Accetti, this group commissioned the kidnapping of Orlandi in order to pressure the Polish pope.

Cesaroni, Simonetta

A 21-year-old girl killed in an apartment office in Rome’s Della Vittoria neighborhood on August 7, 1990, Simonetta Cesaroni’s murder has never been solved despite more than 30 years of investigations. In Italian journalism it’s known as the “Crime of via Carlo Poma,” after the street where the apartment is located.

Part of the public fascination with the case is the gruesome nature of the murder. An autopsy would later conclude that Cesaroni had been stabbed 29 times, presumably with a letter opener that was never found.

One hypothesis is that the “Italian Agency for Youth Hotels” for which Cesaroni worked had a relationship with the Roman mob, and that perhaps she had learned something of its activities in the kidnapping of underage girls such as Orlandi and was killed to prevent her from talking. Another theory is that Orlandi, Cesaroni and other Italian girls who disappeared between 1982 and 1990 were all the victims of a single serial killer.

De Pedis, Enrico

Enrico De Pedis. (Credit: Screen capture.)

Nicknamed “Renatino,” De Pedis was the boss of Rome’s most infamous mafia group, the Banda della Magliana, named for the city neighborhood in which it took shape. Despite a reputation for ruthlessness with his enemies, De Pedis was always well-dressed and took great care with his appearance, earning the appellation bambolotto, loosely “doll-face.”

De Pedis was killed while aboard his scooter by two gunmen in a street near Rome’s Campo dei Fiori in 1990.

In life, De Pedis had been a major benefactor of various Catholic causes, including the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare, where he had been married in 1988 to his wife, Carla Di Giovanni, and where he was entombed until a public scandal erupted in 2012 and his remains were removed.

It’s long been alleged that De Pedis may have played a role in Orlandi’s disappearance, perhaps at the request of some personalities in the Vatican.

An ex-lover named Sabrina Minardi made such a claim in 2006, and various other former confederates of De Pedis have made similar suggestions. It was even rumored for a time that Orlandi’s remains might be in De Pedis’s tomb, though that idea was dropped after the tomb was opened and no trace of Orlandi was found.

Diddi, Alessandro

An Italian lawyer with more than 30 years of experience, Diddi is an expert in financial crime who was named the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice in 2022. Currently he’s the lead prosecutor in the Vatican’s “trial of the century,” featuring charges of financial crime against ten defendants, including Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu.

Prior to his Vatican appointment, Diddi was famous for defending another alleged Roman mobster named Salvatore Buzzi, who was charged with using a host of small-scale civic organizations to launder his illicit profits. Buzzi was convicted in 2015, but Diddi succeeded in persuading Italy’s highest court to set aside the charge of “mafia associations” and thus won a significantly reduced sentence.

Ironically, Diddi’s opposing counsel in the case was Rome’s top prosecutor at the time, Giuseppe Pignatone, who today is the president of the Vatican tribunal.

It was Diddi who announced last December that he was opening an investigation of the Orlandi case at the direction of Pope Francis. In early April, Diddi told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that “in just a few months, checks have been carried out that have not been done in 40 years,” and that “we’ve found some old, very old dusty papers, and we’re looking for more.”

On April 11, Diddi held an eight-hour meeting with Pietro Orlandi to hear directly from him the leads Orlandi believes the investigation should pursue.

Fittipaldi, Emiliano

For years Fittipaldi was a correspondent for the Italian newsmagazine L’Espresso, and today he’s the editor of the daily newspaper Domani. In 2015 Fittipaldi was one of two journalists charged in the “Vatileaks 2.0” trial for publishing confidential Vatican financial documents, though both were eventually acquitted by a Vatican court for lack of jurisdiction.

In 2015 Fittipaldi claimed to have come into possession of a purportedly secret Vatican memorandum outlining a half-billion Italian lira (roughly the equivalent of $300,000) the Vatican is supposed to have spent on keeping Orlandi hidden between 1983 and 1997, including costs for a residence in London and occasional medical expenses, plus investigations and “throwing things off track.”

The five-page memorandum supposedly was written by Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Antonetti, at the time the head of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA), and addressed to now-Cardinals Gianbattista Re and Jean-Louis Tauran, both at the time senior officials in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

A Vatican spokesman at the time called the document “false and ridiculous,” among other things noting that it employs a form of address for Re and Tauran, Sua Riverita, which is not part of Vatican parlance. The document is also written on plain white letterhead, with no signature and no official protocol number. In addition, Tauran’s first name is misspelled.

Fittipaldi himself has said repeatedly that he has no way of knowing if the document is genuine. He has hinted, however, that the mistakes could be intentional, as a way of providing plausible deniability should the document ever come to light, claiming it’s a technique known to be employed by the Italian secret service.

Garramon, Josè

Josè Garramon was the 12-year-old son of Carlos Juan Garramon, a veteran Uruguayan diplomat who, at the time, was an official of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome. The child was killed by a car in a pine forest south of Rome in 1983, the same year Orlandi disappeared, and the driver was Marco Accetti, who would later claim to have played a key role in the Orlandi kidnapping.

Last December, the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera carried an interview with Maria Laura Bulanti, mother to Josè and the widow of Carlos Juan Garramon, who died of cancer last year at the age of 76.

In the interview, Bulanti claimed that Accetti had been put up to killing her son by Italy’s infamous Masonic lodge P2, acting in league with Operation Condor, a U.S.-backed campaign of intimidation and state terror to suppress critics of right-wing police states on the continent. According to Bulanti, she and her husband had been targeted for their advocacy of human rights and democracy, and the killing of their son was meant as a warning.

For what it’s worth, Corriere also reported that Aldo Accetti, the father of Marco, was indeed a member of the Masons. Bulanti did not specify what evidence she may possess to support her allegations.

Gregori, Mirella

(Credit: Crux Photo.)

Mirella Gregori was another 15-year-old Italian girl who went missing in 1983, just 40 days before Orlandi’s disappearance. She was the daughter of a bar owner whose establishment was located near Rome’s main train station, and studied at a technical high school.

In 1985, during a visit by Pope John Paul II to the family’s Roman parish of San Giuseppe, her mother claimed that she recognized a Vatican gendarme, Raoul Bonarelli, who was part of the pope’s escort, as a young man who used to spend time with her daughter and a friend in a bar near their home. In 1993, the mother met Bonarelli and said at that point she couldn’t be sure he was the young man in question.

Despite that, many observers over the years have connected the two cases, suggesting that just as Orlandi was taken to put pressure on John Paul II, so Gregori was kidnapped to influence the Italian government under President Sandro Pertini.

For a time it was considered possible that Gregori’s remains might be found together with those of Orlandi, either in the tomb of De Pedis at Sant’Apollinare or among bones discovered on the property of the Vatican embassy to Italy. Testing in both cases, however, found no trace of either girl.

Marcinkus, Archbishop Paul

Born in Cicero, Illinois, once home to Al Capone’s criminal empire, Archbishop Paul Marcinkus was a longtime friend and aide to Pope Paul VI who served as president of the “Institute for the Works of Religion,” popularly known as the “Vatican bank,” from 1971 to 1989.

It was during Marcinkus’s tenure that the Vatican bank purchased a stake in Italy’s Banco Ambrosiano, led by financier Roberto Calvi. Allegedly, Marcinkus would park money in various accounts at the Ambrosiano just long enough for the bank to pass inspections by regulators, then withdraw the funds with a bonus.

The Banco Ambrosiano collapsed in spectacular fashion in 1982, and Calvi himself fled the county and was eventually found dead hanging from Blackfriars Bridge in London. The Vatican eventually agreed to pay $240 million to help settle accounts with creditors, without admitting any wrongdoing.

Over the years, it’s sometimes been alleged that Orlandi’s disappearance had a connection to Marcinkus and the banking scandals. Some have suggested that she was taken by the Roman mob to pressure Marcinkus into refunding mob money last amid the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano. Sabrina Minardi, an ex-lover of Enrico De Pedis, alleged that Marcinkus had actually ordered the kidnapping, though to what end was unclear.

Minardi also claimed to have delivered young girls to Marcinkus at an apartment on the via Porta Angelica, just outside the Vatican, four or five times on De Pedis’s instructions, claiming that he would meet them at the door dressed in ordinary layman’s clothing.

At the time of Minardi’s claims, the Vatican denounced what it called a “baseless defamation against Monsignor Marcinkus,” who, the statement noted, died in 2006 and thus was unable to defend himself.

Minardi, Sabrina

Born in 1960, Sabrina Minardi married a soccer player for the Lazio club in 1979 and had a daughter before beginning an affair with Enrico De Pedis in 1982. Their relationship lasted for two years, until De Pedis was arrested in 1984, overlapping precisely with the disappearance of Orlandi.

In 2006, Minardi testified as part of the investigation conducted by Giancarlo Capaldo on behalf on the Procurator of Rome.

Minardi claimed Orlandi passed the first ten days after her disappearance in a house owned by Minardi’s family in Torvajanica, a small beachside town about 30 miles south of Rome. Later, she said, Orlandi was moved to another apartment in the Roman neighborhood of Monteverde, a dwelling which she said had a vast basement that extended to the nearby hospital of San Camillo.

After another few days, Minarrdi claimed, De Pedis instructed her to accompany Orlandi in a car to a gas station near the Vatican, where she said they were met by a man in a dark Mercedes sedan with Vatican license plates, who “seemed a priest,” to whom she turned over Orlandi.

Since that initial testimony, Minardi has given shifting and, at times, contradictory versions of events. She’s also acknowledged a pattern of drug use that began in the 1980s and eventually resulted in her arrest and conviction, causing what she’s described as occasional confusion and memory loss. Nevertheless, she recently appeared in the Netflix “Vatican Girl” series to restate her claims about De Pedis’s role.

Neroni, Marcello

A former associate of De Pedis, Neroni, today in his 80s, spent time in a reformatory with the future mob boss as a young man and later ran a slot machine and video poker operation for De Pedis’s organization in the Roman neighborhood of Prati.

In 2009, Neroni agreed to an interview with Italian journalist Alessandro Ambrosini, who today runs a blog called “Criminal Nights,” which was recorded in a small villa on the outskirts of Rome. The contents of that recording have become public only recently.

In effect, Neroni claimed that at the time Orlandi disappeared, there was a pedophile ring inside the Vatican operating with the knowledge and permission of Pope John Paul II. At a certain point, Neroni said, the situation became intolerable, and Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, turned to contacts within the prison system to cover it up, who in turn asked De Pedis to eliminate the young girls involved.

Once the recording became public, a retired Italian judge named Otello Lupacchini claimed that Neroni had been an informant on mafia activities on behalf of the Italian secret service.

In a recent appearance on Italian television, Ambrosini said that while Negroni clearly was a close associate of De Pedis, one nevertheless has to use caution with such testimony, since ex-mobsters often want “to make themselves seem bigger than they really are.” He also said that based on what he knows, Neroni is still alive and living in Italy.

Pietro Orlandi has called for Neroni to be interrogated as part of the new investigations.

Orlandi, Pietro

Pietro Orlandi is the older brother of Emanuela Orlandi, as well as her three sisters: Natalina, Federica and Maria Cristina. Their father, Ercole, was an official in the Prefecture of the Papal Household, and the family lived in an apartment within the Vatican walls adjacent to the Apostolic Palace.

Pietro has acknowledged that on the night Emanuela disappeared she asked him to accompany her to her music lesson but he refused, leaving him with a sense of guilt. Ever since, he’s dedicated his life to the search for the truth about his sister’s disappearance.

In 2012, Orlandi published a book entitled My Sister Emanuela. The Orlandi Kidnapping: I Want the Whole Truth. In 2017-18, he became the host of a television series for the Sky network titled Scomparsi (“The Disappeared”), focusing not only on his sister but other cases in which Italians have vanished without explanation.

Orlandi organizes two annual sit-ins to keep the memory of his sister’s disappearance alive, one on January 14, her birthday, and another on June 22, the anniversary of her disappearance.

Over the years, his attitude towards the Vatican and the three popes he’s known, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, has become steadily more negative. Initially expressing gratitude for the support of the papacy, Orlandi has come increasingly to believe they’re part of the problem; in January, for instance, he displayed a photo of the three popes with the slogan, “Silence has made them complicit.”

Recently, however, Orlandi has expressed gratitude to Pope Francis for authorizing an investigation and said that his impression is that it’s a serious effort.

Pignatone, Giuseppe

A veteran Italian jurist who today serves as President of the Vatican Tribunal, and therefore as the presiding judge in its “trial of the century,” Pignatone is a former Procurator of Rome, making him more or less the District Attorney for the capital city.

It was Pignatone who closed an investigation of the Orlandi case by the procurator’s office which had been led by Giancarlo Capaldo. Their conflict dates to at least 2012, when Pignatone faulted Capaldo for leaks from the procurator’s office suggesting that the Vatican knew more than it was saying about the Orlandi case.

Pigantone has rejected suggestions, however, that he intentionally tried to block Capaldo’s efforts, noting that he was allowed to continue to play a role in the investigation for three years after his retirement. Pignatone was named by Pope Francis to head the Vatican tribunal in October 2019, shortly after his resignation as Procurator of Rome.

Poletti, Cardinal Ugo

Cardinal Ugo Poletti. (Credit: Screen capture.)

Considered among the most powerful Catholic prelates in the world during his day, Poletti served as the Vicar of Rome under Popes Paul VI and John Paul II and as president of CEI, the Italian bishops’ conference, from 1985 until his retirement in 1991. He died of a heart attack in 1997 and is buried at the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

Poletti’s connection to the Orlandi case runs through Enrico De Pedis, the infamous Roman mob boss, since it was Poletti in March 1990 who conceded the nulla osta, meaning the permission, for De Pedis to be entombed at Rome’s Basilica of Sant’Apollinare.

In a letter at the time, Poletti wrote that De Pedis “was generous in helping the poor, and in his suffrage the family will continue carrying out good works.” Some pundits have suggested over the years that perhaps permission for the burial was a form of compensation for De Pedis’s role in the Orlandi case.

Recently, Pietro Orlandi has claimed to be in possession of a 1993 letter from Archbishop George Carey, at the time the Archbishop of Canterbury, to Poletti at a London address, suggesting that the two prelates meet in person to discuss “the question of Emanuela Orlandi.” Orlandi has said he’ll turn the letter over to the Vatican investigation, while some commentators have raised questions about its legitimacy.

Sgrò, Laura

Born in 1975, Sgrò obtained her law degree from the University of Messina with a thesis on sexual crimes against minors, focusing on the famous English case of Sarah Payne which gave rise to “Sarah’s Law,” which created a national register of sexual offenders.

Sgrò also holds a doctorate in canon law from Rome’s Dominican-run University of St. Thomas Aquinas, popularly known as the Angelicum.

Today, Sgrò is the lawyer representing the Orlandi family. She’s become something of a specialist in Vatican mysteries; last year she published a book, Sangue in Vaticano (“Blood in the Vatican”) about a 1998 murder/suicide in the Swiss Guard, in which a young member of the corps named Cédric Tornay allegedly killed his commander, Alois Estermann, as well as Estermann’s wife, before taking his own life.

Recently Sgrò came in for criticism from Vatican media outlets for allegedly citing attorney/client privilege as a basis for refusing to provide information to the Vatican’s Promoter of Justice as part of his probe of the Orlandi case. In response she insisted that Pietro Orlandi is ready to cooperate at any time, while also expressing hope for the inquest.

“This is an historic occasion,” she told the Italian network La7. “We can write a new page of history together. The search for the truth about Emanuela doesn’t just belong to the Orlandi family, but to all the honest people of this country.”

Skerl, Katy

The daughter of an enigmatic director and screenwriter who spent part of his career in Italy, Katherine “Katy” Skerl was found strangled to death at the age of 17 in the countryside outside Grottaferrata, a small community southeast of Rome, on Jan. 22, 1984. To this day, her murder remains unsolved.

Over the years, some theorists have linked Skerl’s murder to the Orlandi case, noting, among other things, that Skerl was a classmate in a Roman high school of Snejna Vassilev, the daughter of one of three Bulgarian functionaries in Rome initially accused of complicity in the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II.

In 2022, Roman police, acting on instructions from the procurator’s office, attempted to exhume Skerl’s body in order to perform tests for a new investigation. When they did so, however, her coffin was missing.

Marco Accetti has claimed that Skerl was killed on the order of a faction in the Vatican, opposed to the group which orchestrated the kidnapping of Orlandi, as part of an internal power struggle. To date, however, no proof has emerged to support that assertion.

Vergari, Monsignor Piero

During the period in which Orlandi went missing, Monsignor Piero Vergari was the rector of the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Rome, a position he held until 1991. He was also a friend of Roman mobster Enrico De Pedis, whom he’d met while serving as a prison chaplain.

At one point, Vergari wrote to then-Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti requesting a favor for De Pedis’s brother, Marco, who was having bureaucratic problems regarding a restaurant he ran. By all accounts, it was also Vergari who was primarily responsible for allowing De Pedis to be buried in a crypt in the basilica after being gunned down in a Roman street in 1990.

In a March 6, 1990, letter to Cardinal Ugo Poletti, Vergari appealed for permission for the burial, describing De Pedis as “a great benefactor of the poor who frequented the basilica and concretely helped many good initiatives, both of a religious and social nature. He has made particular contributions to help young people, taking a special interest in their Christian and human formation.”

In 2012, Vergari was identified as a person of interest in an investigation by the Procurator of Rome of the disappearances of both Orlandi and Mirella Gregori. He repeatedly insisted that he had no knowledge of either case, and no charges were ever filed.