Experts have discovered "thousands" of bones after opening up two ossuaries in a Vatican cemetery as part of an ongoing bid to solve the disappearance of a papal servant's daughter more than 35 years ago.
Emanuela Orlandi, a Vatican citizen whose father was a servant of John Paul II, vanished at the age of 15 in central Rome in 1983 in a case that has invited intrigue and conspiracy theories.
Dig sparked by anonymous letter to ‘look where angel is pointing’
Officials searched two 19th-century graves last week at the Vatican's Teutonic Cemetery, after an anonymous letter said to "look where the angel is pointing" - a presumed reference to an angel statue adorning the grave of Princess Sofia von Hohenlohe, who died in 1836.
However, the graves - that of Princess Sofia and Duchess Charlotte Frederica of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, who died four years later - were found to be completely empty.
‘We did not expect to find so many bones’
In a bid to track down the remains of the noblewomen and potentially shed more light on the case, the two ossuaries were opened up.
"We did not expect to find so many bones. Today, thousands are being recovered, presumably from dozens of individuals," Giorgio Portera, who has been hired by the Orlandi family to look into the case, said, according to Italian media.
Now investigators are faced with yet more questions over the new remains discovered in the ossuaries.
Portera spoke of "long, small and fragmented" bones and said it would take time to identify who they belong to.
The Vatican would only confirm that remains had been found and that an "in-depth morphological examination" is to follow next Saturday.
"This activity proves once again the dedication of the Holy See to the Orlandi family," Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said.
Incredible theories linked to missing teen
Ms Orlandi vanished in 1983 after leaving her family’s Vatican City apartment to go to a music lesson in Rome. Her father was a lay employee of the Holy See.
Her case has been one of the enduring mysteries of the Vatican, kept alive by the Italian media and a quest by her brother to find answers.
Over the years, her disappearance has been linked to everything from the plot to kill St John Paul II to the financial scandal of the Vatican bank and Rome’s criminal underworld.
The last major twist in the case came in 2012, when Italian forensic police exhumed the body of a reputed mobster from the crypt of a Roman basilica in a failed attempt to find Ms Orlandi’s remains as well.
Last year, bones were found underneath the Vatican’s embassy to Italy in Rome. Italian media immediately speculated the remains could belong to Ms Orlandi or another girl who went missing at around the same time.
But forensic tests showed the bones long predated their disappearances.
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