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Like a Dan Brown book? Vatican allows mobster to be exhumed

Roberto Monaldo / AP

Forensic police unload equipment in the courtyard of Rome's Sant'Apollinare Basilica on Monday.

ROME -- It reads like the plot of a Dan Brown novel: The tomb of a powerful mobster, who was controversially buried in a 7th century church in the center of Rome, was opened Monday by investigators looking for clues in the 1983 disappearance of a Vatican employee's daughter.

Emanuela Orlandi, 15, vanished after attending a music lesson. Her kidnapping has been at the center of conspiracy theories ever since.

After denying permission for many years, the Vatican finally allowed the remains of gangster Enrico De Pedis to be exhumed.

He was the leader of the Banda della Magliana, a criminal organization that specialized in kidnappings, drug smuggling, racketeering and prostitution in the 1970s and 1980s. De Pedis was gunned down in the center of Rome in 1990 and is thought to have taken information about Orlandi's disappearance to the grave.

Under De Pedis, the Banda della Magliana went from petty street criminals to legendary mobsters with alleged links with the Mafia, Italy’s secret services and international crime organizations. The gang took over Rome's underworld and have been linked to many unsolved mysteries, including the murder of Roberto Calvi, also known as "God's banker," who was found hanged under London's Blackfriars Bridge in 1982. 

Illicit loans?  
Some believe Orlandi was taken by the Banda della Magliana to push the Vatican Bank to pay back illicit loans. However, others believe she was kidnapped by Bulgarian secret agents to secure the release of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981.

De Pedis' burial in the crypt of the prestigious Sant’Apollinare Basilica, an ancient church close to Rome’s picturesque Piazza Navona, raised eyebrows. It was, by all means, an unlikely burial site for a violent criminal. But the choice of the church wasn’t coincidental.

That's where he got married, and in front of the altar he allegedly told his wife: "When it's my turn, this is where I want to be buried." His wish was granted by the then-cardinal in charge, Ugo Poletti, who claimed De Pedis "repented while in jail" and had "done a lot of work for charity."

'Important step'
Citing a "Vatican source," media reports emerged last week suggesting that De Pedis' widow paid one billion lira (around $600,000) for the honor.

Roberto Monaldo / AP

Pietro Orlandi, brother of Emanuela, arrives at Sant' Apollinare Basilica, in Rome on Monday.

Investigators thought the tomb might offer clues about Orlandi's kidnapping, or perhaps even contain her remains. But soon after opening the coffin, their hopes were dashed.

Authorities later revealed that the tomb "only contains the remains of a man." 

Pietro Orlandi, Emanuela’s brother, told journalists outside of the church that he believes "cooperation between the Vatican and investigators is an important step to shed some light on what really happened."

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