Rome - Investigators attempting to resolve one of Italy's most enduring mysteries on Monday opened the tomb of a mobster in a Rome basilica for clues to the disappearance of a Vatican schoolgirl nearly 30 years ago.
Enrico “Renatino” De Pedis, the feared head of Rome's Magliana gang which terrorised the capital in the 1980s, has been linked to the disappearance in 1983 of Emanuela Orlandi, the 15-year-old daughter of a Vatican employee.
Forensic officials, lawyers and members of the Orlandi family witnessed the exhumation on Monday. Lawyers said the body found was that of a man who fitted De Pedis' description.
In a twist worthy of a Dan Brown novel, near the tomb in the Sant' Apollinare basilica, investigators also found other bones, lawyer Lorenzo Radogna said.
He added that the were likely old bones since the church had been used for burials for centuries.
Police and forensic experts will be checking the crypt further and examining De Pedis' body and coffin as well as the other bones to see if they can shed light on the Orlandi disappearance.
In 2005, an anonymous caller to a television talk show said the secret to Orlandi's kidnap was buried along with De Pedis. A woman who had a relationship with the mobster also claimed that he was involved in the Orlandi disappearance.
The Orlandi family then began legal proceedings to open De Pedis' tomb to look for clues.
The entire episode so embarrassed the Vatican that last month its spokesperson issued a lengthy statement rejecting accusations by the Orlandi family that it had not fully cooperated with Italian detectives investigating the disappearance.
During a spell in jail, De Pedis had been befriended by the prison chaplain, a monsignor who also happened to be the rector of the basilica.
When De Pedis was gunned down in 1990 by a rival on a Rome street, his family asked if he could be buried in a crypt in the basilica because they feared his grave would be desecrated by gang rivals if he were buried in a public cemetery.
Church officials first said no but later changed their minds after the mobster's family made a contribution of one billion lire, the equivalent of about 500 000 euros today, according to Italian media reports.
The disappearance of Orlandi was initially linked to a possible attempt by unknown persons to win freedom for Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 and was then serving a life sentence in an Italian jail.
Dan Brown fans might also be titillated by the fact that the basilica where the crypt was opened is right next door to a university run by Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic group that figured prominently in The Da Vinci Code.
Furthermore, both the basilica and the university are across the street from Piazza Navona, the square where in another Brown novel, Angels And Demons, the assassin tried to drown a cardinal in a fountain. - Reuters