As the sun set over Malta on 23 August 1960, it seemed like any other typical warm summer’s day. The tranquillity and stillness of dusk was however shattered at 7:45pm when Police Constable Carmelo Attard, doing his rounds in Strait Street in Valletta, was confronted by a panic-stricken Joseph Schembri who said that a boy had fallen and died.
When Attard arrived at the scene on St Dominic Street, however, what he found before him was all the more gruesome than a fall. Twannie Aquilina, who was eight-years-old at the time, was found lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood. His neck had been cut so deeply and violently, that the boy had been practically decapitated.
The murder weapon, a bloody bread knife, was found in a kitchen drawer soon after the boy was found.
The crime shook the country to its core. The now defunct Il-Berqa described the shockwaves that enveloped the country, saying that a “wave of fear and anger” spread like wildfire.
The prime suspects were Twannie’s mother, Luigia Camilleri – known as Giga – and his step-father Leli, who was a marine engineer onboard HMS Angelo. Twannie also had a sister, Carmen, who would later become a key witness in the case, and a step-sister, Marthese, who was just three years old at the time.
The couple were asked to give a statement to the police, with Leli saying that he was out of the house at the time on an errand to buy some stationery and Giga saying that she was at a place close to her house, known as Il-Fossa, with her daughters, eating and playing tombola.
Both made similar statements about finding the boy; Leli explaining how he had heard shouting and running towards Strada Forni, and found his wife shouting outside that “the boy was full of blood”. He ran into the building, found the kitchen door ajar and then found Twannie on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood, and as he moved the boy’s head to see if he was still alive, “it came off and I realised that his neck was cut”.
Giga’s statement is similar; she said that when the boy did not turn up at il-Fossa, she sent Carmen to check up on him. She found the light in the building on but received no response to her knocks on the door. Reporting this to her mother, Carmen was sent back with another girl, Mary, to check whether the boy was asleep; but when they returned to Giga they told her that someone said there was blood in the building. Giga spoke about how she found the kitchen door ajar and then saw the boy full of blood. She ran outside, shouting and screaming when Leli found her. He asked what had happened, and she told her husband “My son is finished, he’s soaked in blood.”
In November of the same year, with Scotland Yard assisting investigations, the couple were arrested and charged with murdering their son. The grizzly details of the case began to emerge when the trial began on 25 February 1961.
The testimony of medical experts shocked people further; Twannie had first been beaten with a deadbolt, leaving three deep lacerations in his skull. The boy was still alive, albeit probably unconscious, when his throat was slit. Other experts also found bloody handprints and small puddles of blood in the common stairway leading to the apartment, together with pieces of brain.
It was only through witness testimonies that the story started to be put together. 14-year-old Alfred Fitzpatrick recounted how he saw Giga lifting a motionless Twannie from the stairs and carrying him up to the apartment. He said he was climbing the stairs to his own apartment when he heard a moan and two or more people running. He also heard the sound of a metal object hitting the ground.
He then said that he had waited outside the apartment, expecting a doctor to arrive, but when this did not happen, he went to Il-Fossa. He later returned at the time of sunset, and on the way up to his own apartment, he saw Giga’s kitchen door ajar. Overcome by curiosity, he stepped inside and found Twannie lying on the floor. He tried touching and calling the boy, but when he received no response, he washed his hands and left.
In the end it was Twannie’s sister, Carmen, who filled in the most gaps. She said that Twannie had been washing the floor when he took his father’s tools to repair his shoes. His mother realised this and reacting angrily, before beating the boy with a leather strap. The boy tried to escape the apartment, calling his sister, but his mother caught him and carried back into the room, where he was laid onto the bed in the kitchen – the apartment was in reality only two rooms.
Carmen then said that she was told to go fetch her step-father from a friend’s garage. When Leli arrived and asked what had happened, Giga said that she had found Twannie dead. Carmen said that Leli moved Twannie off the bed he was laying on and put his on the floor, as Giga drew a bread knife from a drawer and knelt down next to the boy.
The girl said that her mother had sent to her to wait at Il-Fossa, but she remained outside the apartment, and saw her parents changing their clothes and putting those they had taken off into the washing machine along with a bedspread.
The trial kept going for 17 days, the longest trial Malta had ever seen up till then, and the jury reached a unanimous decision; Giga Camilleri and Leli Camilleri were guilty of murdering their son, Twannie Aquilina. Leli was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment with hard labour, whilst Giga was sentenced to death. It was the first time in 14 years that the jury had reached a unanimous decision in a capital case. Only after petitions to the Governor was the death sentence changed to a life sentence in jail. Despite this though, ten years later Giga walked out of prison, a free woman.
Giga only ever gave one interview to the press, specifically to the Church newspaper Il-Gens. Even then, 33 years after being sentenced to death, she insisted she was innocent. “How can a mother kill her son?” she questioned. Indeed this was a question on the lips of so many as the trial of who killed Twannie Aquilina unfolded, so many years ago.
Original article found on The Malta Independent