By Nick Pisa
PUBLISHED: 14:59 EST, 25 April 2012 | UPDATED: 15:34 EST, 25 April 2012
Church chiefs have given permission for an Italian gangster’s tomb to be opened in an investigation worthy of a Dan Brown thriller.
Enrico De Pedis, leader of a murderous gang known as the Banda della Magliana, was gunned down aged just 38, by members of his outfit after they fell out in 1990.
Detectives investigating the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi, 15, in 1983, believe De Pedis is linked to her kidnap. The body of the Vatican employee’s daughter has never been found.
Holy ground: The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Rome, where police investigating a missing persons case will open the tomb of mobster Enrico De Pedis
It is not clear whether they expect to find Emanuela’s remains in the tomb or documents that could shed light on her disappearance.
There were raised eyebrows when despite his criminal past church officials allowed De Pedis to be buried in the crypt of the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in central Rome.
At the time it was said the burial was given the go ahead because De Pedis had ‘repented while in jail and also done a lot of work for charity,’ including large donations to the Catholic Church.
Now ecclesiastical authorities in Rome, after liaising with the Vatican, have said they will ‘not oppose any request from police to have the tomb of Mr De Pedis opened and examined and his body moved.’
De Pedis, whose name on the the £12,000 tomb is spelt in diamonds, was buried in Sant’Apollinare church after he was gunned down in the city’s famous Campo De Fiori, a popular destination for tourists.
He and his gang controlled the lucrative drug market in Rome and were also rumoured to have a ‘free hand’ because of their links with police and Italian secret service agents.
Mobster: De Pedis, left, is believed to have been linked to the kidnapping and murder of Emanuela Orlandi, right, who disappeared aged 15 in 1983
The disappearance of young Emanuela reads like the roller coaster plot of a Dan Brown Da Vinci Code thriller with a touch of The Godfather thrown in for good measure.
Twelve years ago a skull was found in the confessional box of a Rome church and tests were carried out on it to see if it was the girl after a mystery tip off but they proved negative.
In 2008 Sabrina Minardi, De Pedis girlfriend at the time of Emanuela’s disappearance sensationally claimed that now dead American monsignor Paul Marcinkus, the controversial chief of the Vatican bank, was behind the kidnap.
In the early Eighties Monsignor Marcinkus used his status to avoid being questioned by police probing the collapse of a Banco Ambrosiano which the Vatican had invested heavily in.
Man of God? American monsignor Paul Marcinkus, the late controversial chief of the Vatican bank, has been alleged to have been party to the kidnapping
The collapse was linked to the murder of Roberto Calvi – dubbed God’s Banker because of his Vatican links – whose body was found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982.
His pockets filled with cash and stones and it was originally recorded as a suicide but police believe he was murdered by the Mafia after a bungled money laundering operation.
At the same time as Minardi made her claim a mystery caller to a missing persons programme on Italian TV said the riddle of Emanuela’s kidnap would be solved ‘if De Pedis tomb was opened.’
Following Minardi’s claims the Vatican took the unusual step of speaking publicly and dismissed her claims about American Monsignor Marcinkus, who died in Arizona four years ago.
Rome prosecutor Giuseppe Pignatone, who is investigating the disappearance as part of a cold case review, has been liaising with Vatican officials and church authorities to discuss the best way to open the tomb. The operation is expected to take place next month.
A source close to the prosecutor said: ‘The go ahead has finally been given and now the tomb will be opened in an attempt to try and resolve this case or put an end to all the stories that have been circulating about it for years.’
Earlier this month Giancarlo Capaldo, a senior prosecutor who is also investigating the case, said he had found evidence that serving members of the Curia – the Vatican’s governing body – knew much more than they were saying about Emanuela’s disappearance.
‘There are people still alive, and still inside the Vatican, who know the truth,’ the prosecutor was quoted as saying by Corriere della Sera.
Pietro Orlandi, Emanuela’s brother, seized on the remarks, saying it was time for the Vatican to come clean and calling on investigators to open the tomb of De Pedis to establish whether it contained his sister’s remains.
‘The Holy See now has a moral duty to give a response after refusing for years to collaborate with the magistracy,’ he said. ‘Their silence is becoming embarrassing.’
Missing person: Pietro Orlandi, Emanuela’s brother said it was time for the Vatican to come clean about what it knows of Emanuela’s disappearance
The Vatican insists that it has divulged all it knew about the case. ‘If someone on the inside had known something, they would have said,’ said Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, 78, who was number three in the Vatican Secretariat of State at the time.
‘We were all interested in clarifying the matter, but unfortunately we were not able to find out anything about it.’
Father Federico Lombardi, the Pope’s official spokesman, said: ‘There will be no objection from us regarding the opening of the tomb. There are no secrets in the Vatican, nothing has been hidden and we have always cooperated fully with the authorities.’
Sant Apollinare is a 7th Century church, which stands close to the site of Roman baths built by the Emperor Nero – in another connection with Dan Brown it is used by Opus Dei, the secret sect mentioned in the Da Vinci Code.
It comes under the jurisdiction of the Vicariate of Rome, who ultimately answer to the Vatican.