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Engineer accused of Mosta animal killings

‘Hard work and patience’ paid off to lead to Mosta man arrest

Suspect Nicholas Grech being driven to the Valletta courts last night. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Suspect Nicholas Grech being driven to the Valletta courts last night. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Deputy Commissioner Ray Zammit, left, addressing a press conference yesterday. Photo: Matthew MirabelliDeputy Commissioner Ray Zammit, left, addressing a press conference yesterday. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

A 37-year-old man was yesterday charged with the gruesome Mosta animal crucifixions that shocked the island, after being arrested following a police surveillance operation that lasted 14 months.

Nicholas Grech from Mosta, an engineer who is under psychiatric care, pleaded not guilty to animal cruelty and killing domesticated animals between October 2011 and February 3 of this year.

He was also charged with violating a grave within the ossuary of the Mosta parish church, insulting the Catholic religion and entering the church and crypt of the Chapel of Isperanza illegally.

Deputy Commissioner Ray Zammit said the motive behind the crucifixions was for media coverage to “put up his morale”.

However, the police have not yet ruled out the possibility that someone else was also involved in the killings.

During the arraignment, Police Inspectors Edmond Cuschieri and Joseph Busuttil presented 15 old-fashioned keys that Mr Grech allegedly made himself to enter the church and crypt unseen in the early hours of the morning. Sitting in the dock rocking back and forth, Mr Grech was represented by legal aid lawyer Martin Fenech, who asked for his client to be examined by a court-appointed psychiatrist.

Mr Grech sat with his hands clasped and stared at the floor throughout the proceedings.

Mr Grech is currently under care and goes for check-ups every six months at Mater Dei Hospital.

The police also presented two judgments in which another court had acquitted him of harassment and wilful damage after taking into consideration his mental state and psychiatric problems.

Mr Grech was arrested at around 7am on Wednesday at his Mosta home after a “long” surveillance involving different police departments. A computer was among the items confiscated as evidence.

“This person was caught by elimination – his residence was searched and there was enough evidence for him to be arrested,” Mr Zammit said at a crime conference held just hours before Mr Grech’s arraignment.

He did not rule out that more people could be involved, adding that the police needed to continue investigating. He said the man had admitted “certain things” to the police.

This case was one where “patience” and “hard work” had paid off.

The first case of animal cruelty dates back to October 2011, when a puppy was discovered nailed upside down to a wooden cross (see map and timeline).

Since then there have been 10 other cases of crucified animals in Mosta, mainly cats hanging from religious statues or churches, with the last one found on a lamp post at the Rotunda.

At least four notes were found in the carcasses, pushed between the muscle and the skin.

Times of Malta reported on February 8 that the author of all four notes drew on circumstances bringing to mind the case of Franġisku Buhagiar, 83, who had shot dead his sister on February 16, 1999,

following an argument over burnt toast and a torn jersey. Mr Buhagiar was jailed for 10 years and the house where the first puppy was found was the crime scene.

When asked about the connection between Mr Grech and Mr Buhagiar, Mr Zammit said the two men were both from Mosta and knew each other.

He said there were indications that a number of notes “could be related” to Mr Buhagiar.

Autopsies were carried out on the animals and it was found that “many of them had broken bones,” Mr Zammit said, adding that this was how they were killed.

Investigators believe the man picked up stray animals and kept them until they were crucified. When the police searched his house, they found two cats that Mr Grech kept as pets.

The surveillance operation, focusing on the man for at least 14 months, involved police, local councils, ministries, residents and even tourists, Mr Zammit said. The police drew up a profile of the type of suspect they were looking for.

They found him living at his parents’ home in an environment “that is not normal for the police,” he said without elaborating.

Asked what was behind the cats being hung from statues or churches, Mr Zammit said Mr Grech was not involved in any religious communities.

He did not have any pending cases with the police or the courts.

Exact locations of crucified animals

October 16, 2011
A crucified puppy found on the door of the former residence of Franġisku Buhagiar.

November 16, 2011
A crucified chihuahua found outside the oratory of the Sacred Heart.

January 17, 2012
A crucified kitten found hanging from the gate of St Antonio Abate church.

February 10, 2012
Crucified cat found hanging from a gate leading to a garden.

December 16, 2012
Crucified cat found hanging from a statue of St Joseph, close to Franġisku Buhagiar’s residence.

January 16, 2013
Crucified cat found outside the State primary school.

February 23, 2013
Crucified cat found hanging from the statue of St Antonio Abate.

April 16, 2013
Crucified cat founding hanging off a statue of Our Lady.

September 16, 2013
Eight cat paws and a tail crucified to a statue of Our Lady.

October 16, 2013
Two crucified cats found hanging from a tree, in an area which previously served as a Catholic cemetery during the bubonic plague in the 18th century.

February 3, 2014
Crucified cat found hanging from a statue of St Philip, which Franġisku Buhagiar had helped restore, and a crucified dog found hanging from a lamp outside the sacristy.

See Mosta map showing where the crucified animals were found in the attached file below.

Attached files

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