The Malta Independent 22 March 2023, Wednesday
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Tragic 2022: Three women among the eight murdered

Marc Galdes Sunday, 1 January 2023, 08:00 Last update: about 4 months ago

2022 was wrapped up with eight homicides: as a statistic, it records the third highest number of murders in a year over the past decade, but as individuals, their loss has left a heavy impact on many of us; most of all the families of the victims.

Sadly femicides were the main topic of the year, as three women were among those who were murdered. This led organisations to speak out against gender-based violence and suggest ways to prevent anything like this from happening again. It also sparked changes to the penal code.


Fights and stabbings also led to a few deaths which might challenge the “safe reputation” of Malta’s streets, especially in certain localities.

Two of the eight murders occurred in Gozo.

Paulina Dembska

The start of 2022 was tragic as Polish national Paulina Dembska was raped and murdered in cold blood in the early hours of the morning on 2 January.

The 29-year-old’s body was found in Independence Garden in Sliema at 6.20am.

20-year-old Abner Aquilina was arrested and charged with the murder; he pleaded not guilty and proceedings are ongoing.

Dembska came to Malta to study and learn English. She loved cats and frequently fed and took care of the cats at Independence Garden.

Feminist groups were quick to label this murder as being a femicide and aired their disgust and frustration with gender-based violence.

However, the police initially stopped short of describing the murder as having been a femicide and said that it was not pre-meditated or gender-motivated. The Malta Women's Lobby had objected to the observation made by the Police.

Eventually, the murder of Dembska led the government to table in parliament a bill, on 2 February, which included amendments to the criminal code to introduce the concept of femicide.

The bill recognises the fact that women are being killed because of their gender.

Demska’s body was released and sent back to Poland where her funeral took place, and it was reported that “quite a few” people showed up.

The most recent development in the court proceedings was that two young women came forward to the police alleging harassment by Aquilina after Dembska's death, a court was told on 22 December.

Rita Ellul

The second murder and femicide to shock the nation was the murder of Rita Ellul, a 49-year-old mother of three and grandmother of one, who was strangled to death in her own home on 26 February.

She was found dead on her bed in Triq Dun Frangisk Mizzi, Ghajnsielem at around noon.

Ellul’s partner Lawrence Abina, a 30-year-old from Ghana, stands charged with the murder and he pleaded not guilty. Ellul had already filed a domestic violence report in 2020.

An autopsy later revealed that the cause of her death was asphyxiation due to pressure around the neck.

“Mother, your life was taken from you. You were deprived of your chance to see us grow. Us, your children whom you loved so much,” one of her daughters wrote.

Her cousin had also shared a touching poem online titled “I salute you because you are a woman”.

“I salute you because you are a woman, a woman like me and many others, that in this dark world, you found comfort in those arms,” the poem read.

The death of Ellul was the second femicide of the year and, similar to Dembska’s murder, triggered an uproar from feminist groups and people to speak out against gender-based violence and domestic violence.

Although the femicide bill had been proposed, it still had not been approved at this time. It passed in parliament with a unanimous vote on 20 June.

Qormi Valley murder

Mario Farrugia was a 62-year-old man who was found dead in the trunk of his own car on 5 April.

The police zeroed in on 32-year-old Elliot Paul Busuttil as the main suspect and charged him with the murder, and he pleaded not guilty.

Farrugia had been reported missing and had last been seen on 28 March close to his home.

He found dead inside the boot of his car in Qormi Valley. The body was found after a passer-by reported a suspicious smell emanating from the parked Peugeot 407.

The body was found in a significant state of decomposition.

An autopsy carried out on Farrugia’s remains revealed that he had suffered around 45 stab wounds, inflicted by a single-bladed knife in his upper right chest area.

“Nobody deserves such a tragic ending. May you rest in peace dear uncle. I am more sure you are in a much better place than the sick world we live in,” his niece wrote on social media.

The police tracked Busuttil down after they collected footage from 36 cameras located in Attard, Marsa and Qormi which had then been used to create a timeline of the route taken by a suspicious car, which was later found to belong to the accused.

Gozo Murder Victim

Fawaz Najem a 25-year-old Syrian man was killed from a stab wound whilst allegedly trying to break up a fight in a Marsalforn apartment on 7 May.

The man was stabbed in the heart during a fight. He was taken to hospital by three men who were present at the fight, but on the way to the hospital, he bled to death.

Maher Aljasem, a 24-year-old Syrian national who lives in Marsalforn, was charged in connection with the murder.

“He led a normal life. He worked, he went out with friends. He was a normal young man. He was never involved in such fights as this,” said Darwich, who is a cousin of the victim's father.

Darwich also said how Najem’s family fled to Libya after the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011. Najem then moved to Malta five years ago as a plasterer and was then relocated to Gozo two months before his murder.

The fight broke out at around 9pm. Officers were alerted and when district and Rapid Intervention Unit officers arrived on the scene they were informed that three men had taken the unconscious victim to the hospital.

Later footage emerged which showed that Najem was attacked hours before his death, as a fight broke out between two groups near a Marsalforn café.

Qawra bar fight

A bar fight led to the murder of 60-year-old Roger Dudley-Ward on 17 June.

59-year-old bar owner David Busuttil was later charged with the murder.

The argument took place in Triq it-Turisti at 1:30 am and the victim died shortly after at Mater Dei Hospital.

Two witnesses at the fight said that the victim and the accused were friends.

Dudley-Ward was interrupting Busuttil’s conversation and coughing a lot, so much so that his coughing was audible from the CCTV footage retrieved.

A court of law was later told that Busuttil flung the contents of his glass at the other man, he then went to make his way inside, but Dudley-Ward went after him. The two were involved in a fight which ended with Dudley-Ward falling down the stairs.

The victim smashed his head on the pavement.

Marsa stabbing

The youngest to be murdered in 2022 was 21-year-old Egyptian Adri Mohammed who was fatally stabbed in the heart in Marsa on 25 July.

Ali Mahy Ezzo Saeed, a Sudanese 28-year-old was charged with the murder of Mohammed, as well as carrying a knife without a police licence. He pleaded not guilty.

One eyewitness said that they heard the victim cry out “my heart, my heart!”

In court, it emerged that allegedly Saeed also attempted to stab an onlooker, Mballa Abdulla Sesai from Sierra Leone who was trying to stop Saeed from leaving until the police arrived.

Bernice Cassar

Bernice Cassar, a 42-year-old mother of two, was brutally shot and killed on 22 November in Paola. She became the third femicide victim of the year.

Her estranged husband Roderick Cassar is being charged with her murder. He pleaded not guilty.

A court of law was told that Bernice was dragged from her car by Roderick, who took a shotgun from his own vehicle and shot her twice: once in the chest and once in the face.

An autopsy revealed that it was the second shot in her face which was the cause of her death.

This was the first alleged case of murder with femicidal intent in Maltese criminal history, after a new law was enacted earlier in the year.

“She was an exemplary family woman. She always helped others,” her friend said in an interview.

“Thank you, God, for the wonderful gift of our mum… and mummy… we’re sorry for the times we misbehaved or disobeyed you. We love you very much,” her son said at his mother’s funeral.

Mourners packed the Zebbug church, and all wore purple ribbons as a stand against domestic violence.

Before her murder, Bernice had filed a total of five reports but a court sitting to hear her case had been scheduled for November 2023, a year after she was actually killed. The long wait had to do with the fact that there is only one magistrate who deals with all the domestic violence cases.

After the murder, Roderick fled the scene to his house in Qrendi. Officers negotiated with Roderick for over 17 hours.

Eventually, the police persuaded him to come out and surrender.

During his interrogation he refused to answer most questions, only saying he was “sorry for what happened to her”, a court later heard.

Paceville murder

Organised crime made it to Maltese streets when Joseff Rivas, a 44-year-old was stabbed and murdered in Paceville on 5 December.

He was an English man who resided in Romania.

Rivas was stabbed with a “sharp object” in Ross Street at around 3.30pm.

He was taken to hospital where he died sometime later.

Three Romanian men were charged by the police in connection to the murder. They are aged 31, 32 and 35.


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