The Vatican Girl on Netflix: Is it based on a true story?

All you need to know about The Vatican Girl: The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi on Netflix.

The Vatican Girl
(Image credit: Netflix)

A new limited series is set to put Netflix viewers investigative minds into action as the Vatican Girl: The Disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi airs on Netflix prompting fans to ask is it based on a true story?

From the producers of Don't F**k with Cats comes a new four-part docuseries that revisits one of Italy's most baffling and enduring missing-person cases of all time.

If you've loved watching shows like Jeffrey Dahmer and I Just Killed My Dad or Most Hated Man on the Internet then you'll be gripped by the Vatican Girl, as we look at all you need to know about the new show...

Is The Vatican Girl on Netflix based on a true story?

Yes, The Vatican Girl on Netflix is based on a true story of Emanuela Orlandi, born 14th January 1968, Vatican teenager disappeared while she was on her way home from one of her many regular flute lessons in Rome on 22nd June 1983 aged 15. Sightings of her have been reported over the years, including inside Vatican City, but they've all been unreliable. 

Emanuela Orlandi was the daughter of Ercole, a Vatican clerk, responsible for organising papal audiences at the time. Her mother was Maria and Emanuela was one of five children.

On the day of her disappearance, Emanuela left home and was on her way to the Sant’Apollinare complex in Rome for the flute lesson. But she was running late for the class, as it's claimed a man in a BMW stopped her in the street and offered her a job as an AVON representative. She carried on to her lesson but seemed distracted in the class and asked to leave early. She phoned her sister to tell her about the job offer and she was advised to talk with their parents. She chatted about the opportunity with her friends as she waited for the bus home and after taking the bus, her friends saw her talking to a woman with red hair.

But Emanuela never returned home that day and her parents contacted the school, her friends and the police. She was later declared a missing person and her photographs were published in many Italian newspapers.

The mystery regarding the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi, until this day, has never been resolved. 

The show’s director, Mark Lewis, has adapted this into a true-crime documentary series. 

The Vatican Girl, Emanuela Orlandi photo from poster

(Image credit: Netflix)

Pope John Paul II pleaded for Emanuela's return and asked her kidknappers to release her on July 3rd, 1983 but what was interesting about this appeal was it was the first time that the possibility of abduction was brought to the public's attention.

It sparked various theories about what might have happened to Emanuela:

  1. Emanuela is thought to have been the prisoner of a terrorist group that demanded that Mehmet Ali Ağca - a man who shot the Pope in 1981 - is to be released from prison. If this happened then Emanuela would be released. A man identified as “L’Americano” called and played a recording of Emanuela’s voice over the phone. Later, another phone call to the Vatican followed, and “L’Americano” suggested an exchange of Orlandi for Ağca.
  2. Emanuela was also thought to have been the victim of a satanic sexual orgy organised by priests in the Vatican. According to one of the Vatican’s exorcists, Gabriele Amorth, various parties of that sort were organised, and many people were involved in that, including various diplomatic personnel, the police, and priests. A document stolen from the Vatican showed how the church knew where Emanuela was and that they had been paying her expenses for years, according to reports in 2017.
  3. An anonymous tip off to the police in 2005 claimed that Emanuela was buried with Enrico De Pedis, a legendary gangster that was killed in 1990. De Pedis was buried at the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare because it prevented other mafia lords from attacking the Church due to the large amount of money that was lent to it but the church never returned. However, his grave was exhumed in 2012 but Emanuela's remains were not found there.

Where is Vatican City?

The State of Vatican City, in the centre of Rome, is the smallest state in Europe, both in population and expanse. Vatican City (Città del Vaticano in Italian) is an independent city state located in the heart of Rome, ruled by the Pope (Bishop of Rome). It is the centre of authority over the Roman Catholic Church.

Is the Vatican its own country?

Yes, the Vatican is its own country as Vatican City is the smallest country in the world. It has a two-mile boarder of Italy around it, making it an independent city-state that covers just over 100 acres. The city is governed as an absolute monarchy with the pope at its head.

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Selina Maycock
Senior Entertainment Writer

Selina is currently a Senior Entertainment Writer for, formerly Senior Entertainment writer for Woman&Home, and My Imperfect Life and has more than 16 years of experience in newspapers, magazines and online. She currently writes a mix of Entertainment news - including celebrity births, weddings and reality show line-ups including Strictly, Dancing On Ice and The Great British Bake Off, reporting the the latest news about the Royal kids Prince George, Charlotte, Louis, Archie and Lilibet as well as Family news stories from baby names to store closures and product recall warnings. Before joining Future Publishing, Selina graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2006 with a degree in Journalism. She is fully NCTJ and NCE qualified and has 100wpm shorthand. When she's not interviewing celebrities you can find her exploring new countryside walking routes, catching up with friends over good food, or making memories.