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Human remains found at Vatican property could crack 1983 mysteries

Rome police are investigating whether bones found on Monday are connected with the mysterious disappearances of two teenage girls.

Human remains found at Vatican property could crack 1983 mysteries
The Vatican City in Rome. Photo: anshar/Depositphotos

The human remains were discovered at a Rome property owned by the Vatican, the Holy See said Tuesday, in a potential breakthrough for police investigating one of Italy's darkest mysteries.

“During restoration works in a space annexed to the Apostolic Nunciature of Italy… fragments of human bone were found,” the Vatican said in a statement, in reference to the diplomatic office of the Holy See in Rome.

A police investigation is underway to establish the age and gender of the body and date of death. 

Media reports said the remains were discovered on Monday.

Detectives will be looking in particular at whether they are a DNA match for Emanuela Orlandi or Mirella Gregori, both of whom were underage when they went missing separately in Rome in 1983.

Orlandi was the daughter of a member of the Vatican's police, and was last seen on June 22, 1983 when leaving a music class.

Theories have circulated that the then 15-year-old was kidnapped by an organised crime gang to put pressure on Vatican officials to recover a loan.

A memorial held in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican to commemorate Emanuela Orlandi’s disappearance. Photo: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

Another claim was that she was taken to force the release from prison of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk who attempted to assassinate Pope Jean Paul II in 1981.

Her brother Pietro has been leading a decades-long campaign to find out what happened to her and has accused the Vatican of silence and even complicity in the case.

The Vatican has said on several occasions that it has cooperated with Italian police over the case.

Gregori, another 15-year-old student, disappeared exactly 40 days before Orlandi.

Her mother says Gregori answered the intercom at the family apartment before telling her parents it was a school friend and she was going out to speak to him. She never returned.

The two girls did not know each other.

Investigators have not ruled out that the cases could be connected. 

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CRIME

Italy marks 30-year anniversary of anti-mafia judge murder

Thirty years ago, the Sicilian mafia killed judge Giovanni Falcone with a bomb so powerful it was registered by experts monitoring volcanic tremors from Etna on the other side of the island.

Italy marks 30-year anniversary of anti-mafia judge murder

The explosion, which ripped through a stretch of motorway near Palermo at 5.56 pm on May 23rd 1992, sent shockwaves across Italy, but also signalled the start of the mafia’s decline.

Anti-mafia prosecuting magistrate Falcone, his wife, and three members of his police escort were killed.

The mob used a skateboard to place a 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) charge of TNT and ammonium nitrate in a tunnel under the motorway which linked the airport to the centre of Palermo.

Falcone, driving a white Fiat Croma, was returning from Rome for the weekend.

At a look-out point on the hill above, a mobster nicknamed “The Pig” pressed the remote control button as the judge’s three-car convoy passed.

The blast ripped through the asphalt, shredding bodies and metal, and flinging the lead car several hundred metres.

The three policemen on board were killed instantly.

READ ALSO: Could body found on Italy’s Mount Etna help solve long-standing mafia mystery?

Falcone, whose wife was sitting beside him, had slowed seconds before the explosion and the car slammed into a concrete guard rail.

His chauffeur, who was sitting in the back, survived, as did the three agents in the convoy’s rear.

A “garden of memory” now stands on the site of the attack. Oil from olive trees that grow there is used by Sicilian churches for anointing children during baptisms and confirmations.

‘Mafia massacre’

Falcone posed a real threat to the Cosa Nostra, an organised crime group made famous by “The Godfather” trilogy and which boasted access to the highest levels of Italian power.

It was he who gathered evidence from the first mafia informants for a groundbreaking trial in which hundreds of mobsters were convicted in 1987.

And at the time of the attack, he headed the justice ministry’s criminal affairs department in Rome and was working on a package of anti-mafia laws.

His murder woke the nation up. The Repubblica daily attacked the “mafia massacre” in its headline the next day, with a photo of the famous moustachioed magistrate, while thousands of people in Palermo protested in the streets.

All eyes turned to fellow anti-mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino, Falcone’s close friend and colleague, who gave an interview at the start of July saying the “extreme danger” he was in would not stop him doing his job.

On July 19th, just 57 days after his friend, Borsellino was also killed in a car bomb attack, along with five members of his escort. Only his driver survived.

Amid national outrage, the state threw everything it had at hunting down Cosa Nostra boss Salvatore (Toto) Riina, who was involved in dozens of murders during a reign of terror lasting over 20 years.

Riina was arrested on January 15th, 1993, in a car in Palermo.

The truth?

The murders of Falcone and Borsellino “in the long term turned out to be a very bad business for Cosa Nostra, whose management team was decapitated by arrests and informants’ confessions”, Vincenzo Ceruso, author of several books on the mafia, told AFP.

Dozens of people have been convicted for their roles in the assassinations.

But Roberto di Bella, now an anti-mafia judge at the Catania juvenile court in Sicily, said that while “the majority of the perpetrators have been tried and convicted”, there remained “a part that is still not clear”.

Survivors insist there are still bits of the puzzle missing and point to Falcone’s belief there could be “possible points of convergence between the leaders of Cosa Nostra and the shadowy centres of power”.

“We still don’t have the truth about who really ordered the murder of Giovanni Falcone, because I don’t believe that ignorant people like Toto Riina could have organised an attack as sophisticated as that in Capaci,” Angelo Corbo, one of the surviving bodyguards, said in a documentary.

He said he was not alone in believing there were “men in suits and ties” among the mobsters.

However, an investigation into possible “hidden orchestrators” of the Capaci attack was thrown out in 2013.

“There is no evidence of the existence of external backers. There is no doubt that these are mafia acts,” author Ceruso said.

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