When New Year’s Day turns macabre

Over the past two centuries, 2024 marked the third occurrence in Malta of a homicide taking place on the initial day of the year.

1829 │ Vincenzo Cucciardi

The first documented instance of a homicide in Malta on 1st January happened 195 years ago. It was in 1829 when Vincenzo Cucciardi was fatally stabbed in Cospicua.

Cucciardi fell victim to a group of individuals who entered his residence, in Sqaq it-Torri, with the intention of robbery. Among them, an accomplice was identified as his brother, who shared the same household. The Police successfully apprehended the group, relying on information provided by one of the burglars who confessed and was subjected to a proclamation.

In the Cucciardi murder case, a plea for the death penalty was initiated for the first time, resulting in three of the accused being convicted and sentenced to the gallows. The death penalty was in place during British rule over Malta, which lasted from 1800 to 1964. However, it not consistently applied throughout this entire period. The death penalty was officially abolished in Malta in 1971 and the country has since maintained a commitment to human rights and has not reinstated capital punishment.

Note: This information can be found in one of Edward Attard’s publications. Born in 1947 in Sliema, ‘Eddie’, as he is known, is a renowned author. After joining the Malta Police Force in 1966, he served as the head of police publications from 1977 to 1986. Attard has authored three books on the history of the Malta Police Force, two on the Corradino Civil Prison, and a best-selling work titled Delitti f’Malta (Homicides in Malta), covering cases from 1800 to April 2012. His publications also include 24 issues of Delitti u Misteri (Murders and Mysteries).

Sqaq it-Torri, Cospicua, where Vincenzo Cucciardi was assassinated in 1829. Photo: Times of Malta, courtesy of Fabian Mangion

2012 │ Duncan Zammit and Nicolas Gera

A violent altercation between Duncan Zammit and Nicolas Gera resulted in the tragic demise of both men in the early hours of the first day of 2012.

Duncan Zammit, 32, was sleeping alongside his wife Claire Zammit Xuereb and their three-month-old twins, in their own home. An altercation unfolded when Nicolas Gera, a 26-year-old resident of Sliema born in Bosnia, allegedly entered the victim’s penthouse, resulting in a fight.

Claire Zammit Xuereb, Duncan’s wife, claimed that Gera entered their bedroom armed with two knives that were taken from the couple’s kitchen, leading to the fatal attack. Zammit suffered with 30 knife wounds, cuts, and bruises, most of which were sustained in his attempt to defend himself. Gera, the assailant, also incurred 10 wounds.

In 2013, former Police Commissioner Peter Paul Zammit disclosed that, before entering the bedroom of the unsuspecting family, Nicholas Gera spent over an hour wandering through a penthouse in Sliema. Using the light from an aquarium to navigate the 500-square-meter apartment, the 26-year-old even took a break to smoke a cigarette before ultimately arming himself with two large knives and proceeding to the main bedroom.

The Police Commissioner had stated his firm beliefs that Nicholas Gera did not enter the apartment with intentions of theft or murder. Instead, there is a suspicion that the young man may have been drawn into a “dark psychological space”, ultimately leading to the tragic deaths of the two men.

There has since been no established connection between the two deceased individuals.

Duncan Zammit (l) and Nicolas Gera

2024 │ Eric Borg

A murder case that occurred as we marked the beginning of the new year this year. The murder happened in Triq il-Fidloqqom, Rabat. The victim, Eric Borg, was reportedly shot and killed, leading the police to identify Noel Azzopardi as a key person of interest in the case. Azzopardi eventually turned himself in at the Rabat police station with relatives, confessing to the murder.

During his arraignment before Magistrate Monica Vella, Azzopardi pleaded not guilty to the charges. The accusations against him include wilful homicide, using a firearm to commit a crime, firing a gun within 200 metres of an urban area, and failure to ensure proper storage of his gun and ammunition at home.

A notable detail is Azzopardi’s history of psychiatric treatment, which was mentioned by his lawyers. Despite not contesting the validity of their client’s arrest, they did not request bail. Instead, they released Mount Carmel Hospital staff from professional secrecy obligations, allowing them to communicate with the director of Corradino prison to determine whether Azzopardi should be held there or transferred to the Attard hospital.

Eric Borg (l) and Noel Azzopardi

The festive season and high-conflict situations

The Journal followed an interview that an American channel called Oxygen held with Dr Sherry Hamby, the founding editor of the Psychology of Violence journal issued by the American Psychological Association. She explained that the festive season may accentuate feelings of loneliness or induce pressure to spend time with family, sometimes leading to high-conflict situations. According to Dr Hamby, crime rates tend to rise on days off throughout the year, with Fridays and Saturdays, as well as during the night, experiencing higher crime rates than mornings. She suggested that the increase in crime during the holidays might be attributed to increased idle time and heightened alcohol and drug use.

Dr Brian A. Kinnaird, a former police officer turned professor, author, and trainer in social psychology and criminal justice, emphasised the element of unpredictability as a contributing factor to crime. He pointed out that major holidays, such as Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day, disrupt routine activities, creating situations where individuals deviate from their usual behaviours. Kinnaird highlighted that, of course, holidays are inherently non-routine events.

Whilst they spoke within an American scenario, their words may apply to other societies. However, thankfully, all things considered cases of New Year murders in Malta are few and far between.

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