It was 43 years ago now that 15-year-old Karin Grech was brutally murdered by a letter bomb, a crime which rocked Malta to the core and which remains unsolved till this day.
Police have said they suspect the murder was possibly the work of medical students, but while police investigations are technically still ongoing, every passing year makes it more and more likely that justice will never be served.
So who was Karin Grech and what happened on that fateful day?
Karin Grech was born in London in 1962 to Edwin Grech, a Maltese gynaecologist who had migrated to the UK, and Pearl Grech nee Bryant, his English wife. Her brother Kevin was born five years later.
In August 1977, Prof. Grech travelled to Maltese for a summer holiday with his family but the political climate in the country was anything but peaceful at the time.
Malta’s government passed a law which obliged all newly-graduated doctors to work in the public health service for two years before receiving their warrant and set up a board to vet new doctors.
It was during this time that the government asked Prof. Grech to head the obstetrics and gynaecology department at St Luke’s Hospital. He agreed to remain in Malta and carry out this role until the industrial dispute came to an end.
On 28th December 1977, at 12.30pm, a brown envelope containing a package in Christmas wrapping was posted to Prof. Grech at his San Ġwann home. Karin spotted it, assumed it was a late Christmas present, and opened it up.
The ‘present’ turned out to be a bomb, which exploded in Karin’s face in front of her brother’s eyes. She died in hospital half an hour later.
Another of the few Maltese doctors who refused to strike, then Labour MP Paul Chetcuti Caruana, also received a bomb parcel at his house on the same day but it failed to detonate.
Unfortunately, no one was ever charged or convicted with Karin’s murder and the crime turned into a political football, especially after former Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami passed a comment which appeared to hint that he had an idea who was behind the crime.
In 2010, Fenech Adami said he had instructed the police to thoroughly investigate the case when he became Prime Minister in 1987, and that he cannot understand why the “necessary investigations” weren’t carried out at the start.
Till this day, several PL supporters will not let Fenech Adami forget his comments about the murdered teenager.
Meanwhile, Prof. Edwin Grech got into politics himself, becoming a Labour MP in 1992 and becoming Minister for Social Security in 1996 after the PL won that year’s general election.
A garden in San Ġwann and a rehabilitation hospital near St Luke’s were named in honour of Karin and in 2010, the Civil Court ordered the state to pay €419,000 in damages to the murdered girl’s family, stating that the crime was clearly motivated by medico-political reasons stemming from the climate related to the doctors’ industrial dispute.
The Court also noted that, shortly before the murder, Prof. Grech had received a threatening message at his home stating solely “don’t forget that you have children”.
The then PN government appealed this decision but lost.
However, in terms of finding out who actually killed Karin, details remained few and far between.
In 2011, Edwin Grech said he had information that a group of fourth and fifth year medical students had hired a criminal bomb expert to make the explosive device that killed his daughter.
He also claimed that the murder case had not been solved due to political interference and that “a lawyer who was involved in politics” had indeed allowed medical students to use his office as a meeting place.
Former police officer Charles Demicoli, who had investigated the case for several years, agreed with Grech’s theory but said the plan was probably hatched by a single medical student.
“I think it was done by one of the students. I think he did it alone, all by himself and that’s why it hasn’t come out,” he said. “If there were more, then somebody would have spoken up by now. Some crimes are solved because people talk and, in this case, nobody ever spoke.”
He said police had searched the houses of several medical students, and that several of them had labs in which they could create bombs. However, the students themselves were never interviewed because they had all already left Malta to study abroad once the investigations had started.
After Karin Grech’s murder, doctors warned they were being brutally harassed, intimidated and unfairly interrogated by the Maltese authorities – treatment that prompted many of them to emigrate from the island.
In 2017, the Grech family filed a judicial protest against the Attorney General, the police commissioner and the Director General of Courts after the pieces of envelope which had contained the bomb allegedly vanished from the courts.
The Grech family lawyers, Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia, said police had often told the family that the evidence was missing.
However, a week later, the three men said the evidence had been found and passed on to the inquiring magistrate. No further progress on the case has been reported since then.
Nevertheless, high-profile politicians, including deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne and Opposition leader Bernard Grech (who happens to be Karin’s cousin) have urged the police not to give up.
Cold cases have been solved before and there’s always a chance new evidence will emerge in the Karin Grech case.
Until then, it remains a dark stain on Malta’s history, up there with the drive-by shooting of PN activist Raymond Caruana and the car bomb assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.