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A shock to the nation: It’s been 62 years since the brutal murder of Twanny Aquilina
It’s possibly the most mysterious case on our islands.

Jillian Mallia

What was a typical summer’s day on our islands quickly turned into a haunting case that is still talked about today. On 23rd August 1960, the police issued a statement that shocked the nation to its core, announcing that eight-year-old Anthony “Twanny” Aquilina “was found dead at his residence in St Dominic Street, Valletta, in circumstances which indicated that he died as a result of wilful violence committed with an irregular weapon by some person unknown.”

twanny

Victor Paul Farrugia / Facebook

The gruesome murder

The announcement instilled widespread rage and horror at the atrocity committed on an innocent child. Twanny was supposedly murdered between 5.30pm and 6.30pm on that fateful day, and was found partially beheaded at about 7.45pm by Police Constable Carmelo Attard.

The constable was on duty in Strait Street, Valletta when a panic-striken Joseph Schembri informed him that Leli’s son had died in a fall. Attard rushed to the scene in St Dominic Street, which naturally drew curious residents and passers-by. Upon investigating the scene, the officer quickly shot down the report of a fall after finding a bloodstained bread knife in a kitchen drawer. The primary suspects were Twanny’s own relatives: his mother Giga and his stepfather Leli.

The suspects’ accounts

Both relatives denied any responsibility, both claiming they weren’t at the scene of the crime at that time, but had quite similar statements. Leli had seen multiple people outside his home and ran in to see what had happened. “I continued to the apartment, saw the kitchen door ajar, went in through that door and found the boy on the floor behind the door, in a pool of blood. I touched him on his back to see whether he was still alive and, as I moved his head, it came off, and I realised that his neck was cut.”

Giga had a similar story to tell, stating that she sent her daughter Carmen to check on Twanny but there was no reply. But someone informed Carmen and her friend who had accompanied her to the scene that there was blood in the building and the girls immediately ran to fetch Giga.  “I climbed the stairs to see if there really was blood. When I arrived upstairs, I saw light through a crack in the kitchen door. I pushed the door slightly open and saw Twanny full of blood,” Giga said.

The court case

It wasn’t until 1st November when Scotland Yard was roped into the case and forensic evidence began emerging against them that they gave their statements again and were formally arrested. The public was in uproar against the ban issued on the publication of proceedings, naturally wanting to know about the shocking case. The gory details of the murder began to emerge when the ban was officially lifted at the start of the trial on 25th February 1961.

Court-appointed medical doctors revealed that Twanny had actually first been fatally beaten with a deadbolt, a fact that shocked many. And it wasn’t the three lacerations in his skull that resulted in his death, but the partial beheading. And, while no one actually saw the murder happen, witnesses soon began to piece things together.

Witness accounts

14-year-old Alfred Fitzpatrick remembers seeing Giga carry a motionless Twanny from the stairs into her apartment. He said he was heading up to his apartment when he heard a faint moan and two or more people running, as well as the sound of a metal object hitting the ground.

Freddy, as he was known, left his apartment for a while, but upon returning saw Giga’s kitchen door ajar. Curiosity killing him, he stepped inside and found Twanny lying on the floor. He called out to him and touched him, attempting to wake him up, but when the young boy didn’t reply, Freddy washed his hands and left the apartment.

Twanny’s eight-year-old sister Carmen was the witness who shed most light, filing in gaps left in the trial. Carmen recounts that Twanny was washing the floor when he took his father’s tools to repair his shoes. Seeing him, his mother scolded him and snatched the tools away but, overcome with anger, struck Twanny with a leather strap. The boy attempted to run out of the apartment but Giga caught up as Twanny shouted, “Carmen, Carmen,” to his sister. Carmen saw her mother walking back inside carrying the boy, who she laid on the bed.

Giga instructed her daughter to fetch Leli and when he arrived, Giga said she found him dead. The couple moved the young boy off the bed and lay him down on the floor as Giga drew a bread knife from a drawer and knelt next to him. Despite having been sent outside, Carmen said she saw her parents changing their clothes and putting those they had taken off in the washing machine together with the bedspread.

The sentence

Eventually, Leli and Giga were both found guilty of murdering the eight-year-old. Leli was imprisoned for 20 years with hard labour while Giga was sentenced to death. Her lawyer appealed and petitions to the Government were made in order to spare her life. The death sentence was lifted two weeks later, and she was instead jailed for life. Ten years later, she walked out as a free woman.

twanny

Joe Borg / Facebook

To this day, details of what actually went down in the apartment are still hazy, and Giga’s release just 10 years into her sentence doesn’t quite add up. It’s a Maltese tale that is probably going to be talked about for years to come, as it has done these past 61 years.

Details of that unbelievable day were reported in a Times of Malta anniversary article back in 2010 - a story that still sends chills down every local’s spine.

23rd August 2022


Jillian Mallia
Written by
Jillian Mallia
A book lover, writer and globetrotter who loves exploring new places and the local gems that the Maltese Islands have to offer. An avid foodie and arts fanatic, Jillian searches the island and beyond for the perfect settings to write about.

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