ROME – I’ve noted before that theoretical physics and conspiracy theories have at least one thing in common, which is that in both arenas the ultimate prize goes to the so-called “Theory of Everything,” meaning the identification of a single framework that ties together all aspects of the universe.
In Italy this past week, a new twist emerged in the quest for a “Theory of Everything” behind two of the country’s most notorious sources of conspiracy theories: The “Vatican girl” case and the assassination of Prime Minister Aldo Moro, both of which remain open scars decades after the facts.
The purported new link between the two cases runs through a third: The 1984 strangulation of a teenage girl in Rome named Katy Skerl, whose fate has often been linked to that of the “Vatican girl,” Emanuela Orlandi, the 15-year-old daughter of a minor employee in the Prefecture of the Papal Household when she mysteriously disappeared in 1983.
Among other things, 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, and who were also at one point considered suspects in the Orlandi case.
Skerl’s father was a Serbian-born director known for a quasi-pornographic film called “Bestiality,” and she was a member of the youth group of Italy’s Communist party which was highly active at the time.
Marco Accetti, a 67-year-old Roman photographer whose claims to have played a key role in the Orlandi affair have generated both interest and deep skepticism, has asserted Skerl was killed on the order of a faction in the Vatican opposed to another group which had orchestrated the kidnapping of Orlandi, as part of an internal power struggle.
To date he’s offered no proof, though he did correctly predict that Skerl’s tomb would be found empty. Police opened it last July, and indeed found that her remains were missing.
Now, a police record has come to light indicating that Kety Skerl’s paternal grandmother, Elenora Skerl, was an eyewitness to the shooting deaths of Moro’s police escort and his kidnapping on March 16, 1978, which opened an anguished series of efforts over 54 days to free the former prime minister, efforts in which even Pope Paul VI was involved, until Moro finally was executed by members of the Red Brigades terrorist group on May 9.
At the time, Elenora Skerl lived in a Roman apartment on via Stesa, which intersects with via Fani, the street where Moro’s car was stopped and his escort gunned down. Skerl heard the machine gun bursts and rushed to her window, and would later tell police that she saw a dark sedan leaving the scene at high speed just after the shooting stopped, which may have been the vehicle in which the kidnappers spirited Moro away.
It should also be stipulated that over the years, some investigators have claimed other connections between the Orlandi and Moro cases, including that fact that linguistic analysis of the messages from the kidnappers in both instances allegedly show some similarities, such as the use of gerunds, i.e., present participles: “arriving at the deadline” in the case of one of the messages in the Orlandi case, and “executing the sentence” for Moro.
At this point, I would normally introduce a series of caveats preceded by a phrase such as, “before leaping to conclusions.” In this case, however, that ship has sailed, as Italian news outlets, blogs and social media accounts already are chock full of speculation about what the links among the Orlandi, Skerl and Moro cases might be.
So, let’s roll out those caveats under a different heading: “I hate to rain on the parade, but …”
To begin with, Elenora Skerl was hardly the only eyewitness to the Moro kidnapping with whom police investigators spoke. On the contrary, basically everyone who lived within a half-mile radius or so of via Fani was interrogated. The fact she made a short statement that was never acted upon or otherwise even considered until now, by itself, hardly proves that the death of her granddaughter six years later was somehow part of a grander plot.
In addition, the main voice suggesting a connection among the Orlandi, Skerl and Moro cases is Marco Accetti, a notoriously enigmatic figure whose testimony has been dismissed even by Pietro Orlandi, the brother of Emanuela Orlandi, who’s dedicated his life to the search for the truth about his sister, and who’s seemingly willing to entertain almost any hypothesis – famously, he recently suggested that an audio recording of an ex-Roman mobster who alleged that Pope John Paul II had connived in a pedophile ring inside the Vatican ought to be taken seriously.
Third, to the extent that conspiracy theories have attached to the Moro case, most have involved some version of the claim that right-wing Masons, supposedly in tandem with the CIA, were behind his assassination because of his support for an “historic compromise” which would have allowed the Communist party to participate in an Italian government.
To date, no one’s really explained what interest the CIA might have had in Orlandi – though I have no doubt someone now will try.
Finally, I use gerunds a fair bit myself, but to date no one’s suggested I was involved in either the Moro kidnapping (when I was 13 and living in western Kansas) or the Orlandi disappearance (18 and graduating high school.)
We could go on cataloguing reasons for skepticism about the “Theory of Everything” vis-à-vis Orlandi, Moro, and every other famous Italian mystery, but it really wouldn’t matter, since the tug of such speculation is basically irresistible.
The Italian parliament is on the verge of creating a commission of inquest into the Orlandi case, along with that of yet another teenage Italian girl who vanished around the same time, Mirella Gregori. One can only imagine how much time may be consumed pondering a possible connection with Moro’s fate, along with any other unresolved mystery of the last fifty years.
Speaking of which, here’s another new development: Last Wednesday night, somebody slashed the tires of a minivan belonging to Pietro Orlandi, which was parked in the Borgo Pio not far from the Vatican apartment where his 93-year-old mother still lives, and where Emanuela’s room is exactly as she left it forty years ago.
Investigators believe the attack on Orlandi’s vehicle probably wasn’t random vandalism, because no other cars in the area were damaged.
Now, if we could just identify a Masonic stooge of the CIA with ties to the Communists, the Roman mob and the Vatican who was in the area with a penknife Wednesday night, perhaps we’d really be on to something.