Kym L. Pasqualini is the founder and former CEO of Nation's Missing Children Organization and National Center for Missing Adults.
Ylenia Carrisi, 23, mysteriously vanished on January 6, 1994, while visiting New Orleans, Louisiana. Her disappearance rocked her celebrity family, and the mystery of her disappearance continues to this day.
Ylenia comes from a family of famous entertainers and she is the granddaughter of the dashing 1940s American actor Tyrone Power, best known for the movie Mark of Zorro. Tyrone was married to actress Linda Christian from 1949 to 1956 and had two children, Romina and Taryn Power.
Ylenia Marie Sole Carrisi was born on November 29, 1970, in Rome, the eldest daughter of Albano Carrisi and Romina Power. Her father is an Italian recording artist, actor, and winemaker who lives in Puglia in Southern Italy.
Ylenia’s mother Romina lives in Sedona, Arizona, and was married to Albano from 1970 to 1999. Romina and Albano are popular Italian duet singers and often referred to as the “Sonny and Cher” of Italy.
In 1983, Ylenia appeared with her parents in the film Champagne in Paradiso and later became a letter-turner in the Italian version of Wheel of Fortune.
Ylenia had not shared in the family’s pursuit of performing arts and shied away from life in the public eye. She aspired to become a novelist, studying literature at King’s College London, where she received the highest grades in her year.
During Ylenia’s studies in London, she began thinking of traveling with nothing but her backpack and journal. She decided to embark on a solo backpacking trip around the world. Ylenia returned to Italy to sell all her belongings to finance her trip abroad. She intended to keep journals of her experiences and turn them into a book.
Ylenia began her trip to South America and spent several months in Belize enjoying the small towns and beaches.
The village of Hopkins is a place where people live a simple life. Surrounded by the Maya Mountains with the Cockscomb Range inland and the Caribbean Sea on its shore, the village was built in 1942 to replace the village of Newton, which was devastated by a hurricane.
The residents of Belize are known for their hospitality and friendliness. The town even hosts its own national holiday, welcoming people to attend their celebration with drum ceremonies lasting until morning.
Ylenia’s brother Yari was also an experienced traveler and decided to surprise his sister. He arrived in the village of Hopkins on a rainy Monday on December 27, 1993.
Yari couldn’t find Ylenia and went door-to-door searching for her. He was told by locals Ylenia had boarded a bus to Mexico the day after Christmas.
In pursuit of a new adventure, the day after Christmas in 1993, Ylenia had suddenly left Belize and headed to New Orleans, Louisiana.
Getting lost in New Orleans has a certain mystique. The people who reside there say the city is unique—a place where the music is lively, the food spicy, and people laid back. The perfect place for an aspiring writer.
Ylenia’s mother Romina received her last call from her daughter on December 31, 1993. She was staying at the LeDale Hotel on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. Her parents would later find out she was staying with Alexander Masakela, a gray-bearded African American street musician 20 years Ylenia’s senior.
Ylenia had traveled to the French Quarter a previous summer and often hung out with the street musicians and homeless people while chronicling her encounters in her journal. Enchanted by the city, when her parents left for Florida, Ylenia stayed behind so she could write and paint.
This time, Ylenia checked into a cheap hotel with Masakela, 54, who played the cornet and was a slick talker with a Jamaican accent. Masakela lived off donations from his street playing and intrigued Ylenia. Masakela, who went by the nickname “Pops,” was said to have expanded Ylenia’s intellectual understandings, and she treated him like a guru.
On January 6, Ylenia left the hotel at approximately 11:00 a.m. and went to the French Quarter. From there she seems to have vanished into the ether.
Ylenia’s parents called a family friend who reported Ylenia missing on January 18, 1994, and her parents traveled to New Orleans to find her. They found nearly all Ylenia’s personal belongings—including her clothing, backpack, passport, and journals—left in the hotel room.
They would find out that a week after Ylenia was last seen, Masakela showed her passport to the staff at the hotel. He had attempted to use Ylenia’s unsigned traveler’s checks to continue paying for the room but was evicted.
When police questioned Masakela, he claimed he had no information about Ylenia’s disappearance. He also denied having a sexual relationship with Ylenia, as she had specifically requested two beds when they checked in.
While there have always been suspicions that Masakela may have done something to Ylenia, there have also been other intriguing notions.
Woman In the Water
Albert Cordova, a security guard, contacted police claiming he had seen a woman resembling Ylenia in Woldenberg Park on the evening of January 6. The woman was sitting on a wharf next to the Mississippi River and when the guard asked her to leave the area, she responded, “I belong in the water anyway,” and dove headfirst into the river, dress and all.
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“It was clear she was a strong swimmer,” says Cordova.
Cordova pleaded with the woman to return to shore. Instead, she swam at least 100 yards toward the middle of the river. Just then, a barge came by creating huge waves and she began struggling and screaming for help. Cordova stood helpless as the woman eventually sank into the water.
“She went down once, twice, and after the third time she didn’t come up again.”
The Coast Guard searched the area and 90 miles of the river almost to the Gulf but never found her body. Because of the direction of the current in that location, it is possible her remains drifted into the Gulf of Mexico and out to sea.
The guard was shown Ylenia’s picture but could not positively identify her as the person who was there at the wharf, citing it was dark that night and he really didn’t think the woman was Ylenia.
So Many Questions
Perhaps Ylenia was inspired by Jack Kerouac’s 1957 best-selling novel On the Road and that was a possible reason she was drawn to backpack the United States, and the world. Many famous writers have been drawn to New Orleans, including William Faulkner and Lafcadio Hearn. We may never know what drew Ylenia there.
According to Mike Stark, who owns a French Quarter mask and hat store called the Little Shop of Fantasy, Ylenia worked “very hard at being a street person.”
Ylenia’s family knows she was happiest pursuing her dream of becoming a writer while recording in her journals the stories of the people she met along the way.
Something enticed Ylenia back to the French Quarter. As Mr. Stark puts it, New Orleans is "a magical town" that attracts many people "who are trying to escape from wherever they've been."
Ylenia’s father thinks it was her at the river that night and declared her deceased in January 2013. However, right after his daughter’s disappearance, Ylenia's parents thought that she was being held against her will.
On February 18, following her disappearance, her family issued a statement from Switzerland. It was translated to say, “The investigations to find our daughter alive, and probably held against her will, are actively being pursued.” It also said, “there have been numerous and reliable sightings worthy of pursuit.”
Romina Power thinks her daughter is still alive. Power’s hopes have often been lifted by conversations she has had with different psychics.
“You know, we live on two different levels,” Romina said. “One is the daily, normal, routine level. The other is a level of ultra-sensitivity. As a mother, I know Ylenia is still alive . . . somewhere. I’m absolutely convinced.”
A sighting from St. Augustine, Florida offered hope. Another sighting at a convent in Arizona has also offered her mother hope that Ylenia is still alive out there writing her book. Her father dismisses the report as “shameful speculation containing not a bit of truth.”
Is Ylenia still alive? Could she have been inspired by a book to start a new life? The question is unlikely to be answered anytime soon.
In the book On the Road, it chronicles the travels of Sal Paradise and his friend Dean Moriarty. Moriarty is a free-spirited maverick, excited about life and exploration, who inspires Sal to travel. The novel contains five parts, three of them of Sam writing to Moriarty describing his adventures, taking buses and hitchhiking across the country.
Ironically, the ending of the book has Sal sitting on a river pier under a New Jersey night sky reflecting on the trips throughout the lands and roads of America he had traveled.
Did something lure Ylenia to the pier, possibly needing a moment of thought?
“It’s not the first time someone tried to swim across the river,” Stark said, “and they didn’t show up either. There is a magic about that river. People who drink too much can believe, ‘I can swim that thing.’”
Was the mysterious swimmer in the Mississippi River Ylenia? Was she suicidal? On the Doe Network site, in the summary of her disappearance, it says, “A year prior to her disappearance and while visiting New Orleans, her father stated that Ylenia had gone into the Mississippi River but got scared and was able to get out. He said she had been under the effect of marijuana at the time."
Her parents said she was a very strong swimmer and was never suicidal, but amidst the many theories, drowning may be the most likely hypothesis of what happened that fateful evening. Then again . . . stranger things have happened in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
Ylenia Carrisi is still listed as a missing person, and police continue to investigate incoming leads.
If you have any information about the disappearance of Ylenia Carrisi, please call the New Orleans Police Department at 504-821-2222.
© 2020 Kym L Pasqualini
Kym L Pasqualini (author) from Carefree, AZ on March 23, 2020:
Thank you so much!
MG Singh emge from Singapore on March 17, 2020:
What a tale that touches the heart. Loved reading it.