ROME -- Investigators disinterred the body of a notorious gang leader from a crypt in a Rome basilica Monday, disturbing his rest among long-dead popes, cardinals and nobles in search for clues to the disappearance of a 15-year-old girl nearly three decades ago.
Surrounded by television crews and curious onlookers, medical examiners and technicians opened the three-layered coffin of Enrico de Pedis, the leader of a ruthless organized crime gang known as the Banda della Magliana. Fingerprints taken on the scene showed that the man in the coffin was indeed De Pedis, who was gunned down in central Rome 22 years ago.
But authorities were really hunting for clues -- and perhaps even a second corpse -- to help them solve the case of Emanuela Orlandi, whose June 1983 disappearance has become one of Italy's most enduring mysteries. Her body was never found.
De Pedis' remains are to undergo further examination at a Rome morgue.
The case has fascinated Italians with its possible connections to the Mafia and to the Roman Catholic Church, in particular the 1981 assassination attempt of Pope John Paul II and the Vatican bank scandal from the same decade.
Emanuela, the daughter of a Vatican employee, vanished -- probably kidnapped -- on her way home from a music lesson. Banda della Magliana was later linked to the disappearance in an anonymous phone call to an Italian television show discussing the mystery and also by De Pedis' former girlfriend.
Theories abound as to what happened and why.
One hypothesis says that she was taken by the Banda della Magliana at the behest of the Grey Wolves, the shadowy right-wing Turkish terrorist group to which Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who shot and wounded Pope John Paul II, belonged. Another theory posits that the girl’s father knew secrets about money laundering and Mafia ties at the Vatican bank, then headed by U.S. Archbishop Paul Marcinkus.
There were suggestions that the girl may even have been buried along with De Pedis in the basilica.
Investigating magistrates and family members have recently said they believe that someone in the Vatican knows the secret of who abducted the girl. The case was brought up in Parliament, with some politicians demanding answers and the opening of De Pedis' tomb.
The Vatican vigorously denies suppressing information, and eventually gave its permission for the exhumation. Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Pope John Paul II made numerous public appeals for the return of Emanuela and for information about her disappearance. He said Vatican authorities had cooperated with all investigations.
Why such a notorious figure as De Pedis was allowed to be buried alongside popes and cardinals has never been fully explained by the Vatican, which owns the Sant’Appolinare basilica near the tony Piazza Navona. Reports said De Pedis had made significant cash donations for the upkeep and activities of the basilica.
Emanuela's brother, Pietro Orlandi, said Monday’s operation was a good sign of willingness to pursue the truth and "a step closer to clarity" regarding the mystery.
After further examination, De Pedis' body is to be interred in one of Rome’s cemeteries.
-- Sarah Delaney
Photo: Forensic teams unload equipment before entering the crypt of a Roman church in search of clues to the 1983 disappearance of a 15-year-old girl. Credit: Roberto Monaldo / Associated Press