All this speculation is getting us nowhere

Maybe, in a nutshell, there are just too many people out there, who are altogether too willing to simply dispense with all logical thought-processes… just to arrive at the only conclusion they’d be ready to accept anyway

Melvin Theuma
Melvin Theuma

I assume you haven’t been hibernating… sorry, ‘estivating’… over the past week: so I imagine you already know what all the speculation has been about.

Nonetheless, I feel compelled to spell it out anyway. Last Tuesday, Melvin Theuma – who needs no further introduction – was found in his apartment suffering from serious knife wounds to his throat, abdomen and left wrist. He was apparently conscious at the time of this discovery; or at least, conscious enough to indicate to the police – according to Inspector Keith Arnaud – that the wounds had been ‘self-inflicted’.

That was three days ago (I’m writing this on Friday), and Theuma has since been hospitalised: initially in critical condition, only to later be reported as ‘stable’. But short of the detail that his vocal cords have been severed – leaving him unable to communicate verbally – we have been given very few details of the nature and severity of the wounds themselves.

As for the rest of the details – e.g.; that the knife was found in Theuma’s hand; that there were no signs of forced entry, or that any significant struggle had taken place; the victim had no ‘defensive wounds’; and also that the pattern of blood stains was more compatible with ‘self-harm’ than with assault….

… those are all details which have been supplied by the Police Force, without – so far, at least – any further corroboration from any other source… including Mater Dei Hospital: which has not released any form of detailed statement regarding the victim’s condition (other than to announce that he is no longer critical).

And this creates a number of major problems when it comes to reporting about this particular incident. The first is that… and I’ll put this as bluntly as I can… the police cannot be the sole providers of information, in a case where the same police have also, up to a point, been implicated themselves.

You surely will not need me to remind you that Theuma’s testimony, to date, had already suggested complicity been elements in the Police Force, and both the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017, as well as questions surrounding the subsequent investigation.

And while this this doesn’t necessarily mean that the allegations themselves are Gospel truth… it does imply that everything now hinges on how much credence we are all willing to give to the Police Force as a whole.

Hence the second major problem: this factor, in itself, seems to depend exclusively on what form of narrative we choose to frame the limited information we have been given.

Predictably, the lack of any reliable details – coming from equally reliable sources – has once again neatly polarised public opinion along two diametrically-opposed lines:

There are those who accept the official version of events without question (and who, by the same token, automatically dismiss any suggestion of foul play as part of a complex ‘conspiracy’)…

… and those who operate on exactly the same principle, only in reverse: refusing, on principle, to believe a single word the police ever say… because, in the narrative they’ve chosen for themselves, the Police Force –  along with every other national institution, it seems – has been ‘captured’ by a State that is up to its eyeballs in criminality and deceit anyway.

Meanwhile, a third difficulty is that it is now (regrettably) impossible to critically examine either of those two narratives, without sooner or later having to resort to speculation of one’s own.

Before moving on, then… I just want to point out that I myself will be reserving judgment on what actually happened last Tuesday. And if I do go on to suggest any hypothetical scenarios of my own (which I will)… they are to be taken only as ‘possibilities’; and even then, just to illustrate the sheer complexity of the scenario we are now confronted with.

Right: now, onto the business. Among the many reasons given to doubt the official version of events, there has so far been:

a) Because the police jumped the gun by describing the incident in terms of an ‘attempted suicide’, before a full investigation had taken place (suggesting, in turn, that they were altogether too keen on dismissing the alternative ‘attempted murder’ hypothesis).

The answer to this one is mercifully brief. Erm… no, actually. Neither the police’s press statement, nor Wednesday’s press conference, described the incident as an ‘attempted suicide’ at all. The exact words were that Theuma had possibly ‘harmed himself’ (‘weggha lilu nnifsu’)… and, much more importantly, the same police statement also added that investigators were ‘excluding nothing, at this stage’.

So exactly how certain people (including the Opposition spokesman for Justice, no less) managed to interpret that as a case of ‘concluding’ that Theuma had attempted suicide – when the police report said nothing of the kind – is, I suppose, every bit as mysterious as what actually happened in that Swieqi apartment last Tuesday night.

This brings us to: b) Because ‘throat-slashing’, as a method of committing suicide, is ‘extremely rare’.

There are two logical fallacies at work here. I’ve already outlined the first: where on earth did these people get the impression that this was a suicide attempt to begin with? Have they never even heard of self-harm before?

If not, may I suggest they read the papers more often. Just last November, it was reported that ‘one to three’ self-harm cases were being admitted to Mater Dei hospital… every single day. So how on earth could one more incident to add to the list – no matter how drastic the self-harm may be, in this particular case – have possibly become so ‘unbelievable’ by July 2020… a mere eight months later?

The second fallacy is that – just as there is a difference between ‘suicide’ and ‘self-harm’ – there is also a slight difference between ‘extremely rare’ and ‘totally unheard of’.

Admittedly, slashing one’s own throat does (almost) fall into the latter category… at least, insofar as traditional suicide methods are concerned. As a method of self-harm, however… that’s a totally different story.

A quick search on the internet will reveal not just dozens of reported, well-documented cases… but entire studies have been published into the same phenomenon. One is even entitled: ‘Neck Cutting Behaviour: Paraphilia or Suicide Attempt?’… suggesting that there is a recognised pathological behaviour pattern, involving self-inflicted knife-wounds to that part of the body, that – while undeniably rare – is nonetheless a reality that is known to science.

Besides, we must also factor in Melvin Theuma’s precise psychological frame of mind at the time of the incident. Again, this is not exactly easy: given that (unaccountably) neither the police nor the law-courts actually ordered a psychological evaluation to be conducted… despite clear indications that the victim might have been suffering from, at minimum, depression.

But taking into consideration the sheer intensity of the stress that man must have been under… who’s to say what other psychological issues he may also have developed, unnoticed, in the meantime? Is it so utterly inconceivable, that someone who has such good reason to be intensely paranoid… not to mention his repeated claims of being racked by guilt and remorse – might not also suffer from self-induced psychosis… to the extent that he might even take a knife in his hands, and literally try to hack himself to pieces?

After all, let’s not forget that while the events of last Tuesday are indeed ‘extremely rare’ – almost (but not quite) to the point of being unheard-of – the particular circumstances Theuma happens to find himself in are not exactly commonplace, either.

This brings us to the opposite extreme of the speculation spectrum: those who dismiss the possibility of attempted murder out of hand, on the basis that it’s too ‘far-fetched’. Here, the core argument seems to be:

a) it’s highly unlikely that a murderer would be capable of breaking into Theuma’s apartment – undetected by the two security officers stationed outside the main entrance, and in the underground garage… or, for that matter, by any of the neighbours –  without leaving any trace of forced entry… and then, inflict such grievous wounds on the victim, apparently without any sign of a struggle or disturbance.

And I’ll stop there for now, because… erm…  sorry, but the exact same logical fallacy is already staring us right in the face.

‘Implausible’ does not mean ‘impossible’. So even if the above scenario does indeed appear a little hard to swallow, at first glance… the fact remains that professional hit-men do exist; and some of them are (unfortunately) very, very good at their job.

I for one would certainly not exclude that an experienced hired assassin might indeed be perfectly capable of doing all that and, more… especially given that there were only two police officers assigned to protect Melvin Theuma; and (for reasons that are by now well-known) neither was actually in the room with him at the time.

As for the lack of a struggle, or any ‘defensive wounds’… that, too, takes us deeply into the realm of the implausible: for regardless of Theuma’s psychological condition, one would assume that a direct threat to his life – in the form of a knife-wielding assailant, suddenly springing out of nowhere – would prompt a reflex (i.e., subconscious) defence mechanism to immediately kick in.

At moments such as this, the ‘medulla oblongata’ tends to take over: i.e., the most primal part of the brain, which is responsible for our all-powerful self-preservation instincts… and which can (and usually does) override all other conscious mental faculties.

But again, that is just an assumption. There could be perfectly valid reasons for this reflex action not to have functioned in this case. As already indicated, Melvin Theuma was exhibiting symptoms of depression in recent weeks and months – possibly extending to suicidal tendencies – and… well… if he was contemplating taking his own life anyway, and someone suddenly turned up to do precisely that… what rational reason would he even have had to put up a fight?

And besides: whether he resisted an assailant or not… the undeniable fact remains that (at the time of writing, anyway) Melvin Theuma is still alive.

Hence argument (b): if our presumed assassin was so very professional as to leave no trace whatsoever of his presence in that apartment to begin with… how on earth could he also have been so unprofessional as to botch the murder so completely?

Sadly, it is not possible to answer that without resorting to further speculation… but I’ve been over that already, so here goes.

Who ever said that the intention was specifically to kill Melvin Theuma in the first place? Maybe they just wanted to cut him up so badly that he’d think twice about ever testifying in this case again. Or maybe it was indeed an outright homicide attempt… but the assassin made the mistake of leaving the scene without making double sure that his victim was, in fact, dead.

After all, if the media descriptions of Theuma’s wounds (also based, it must be said, on hearsay) are accurate, the knife wound to the throat would have severed his jugular vein… an injury which is 99.9% fatal, even without the additional six stab-wounds to the abdomen.

Under those circumstances, it would be perfectly natural to assume that Melvin Theuma was lying dead on the floor: or at least, that his death was by that point inevitable.

But then again… maybe there wasn’t any ‘assassin’ in that apartment at all. Maybe the press reports about ‘severed jugulars’ were slightly exaggerated. Maybe Theuma really did knife himself multiple times – possibly with the intention to kill himself, possibly without – in a violent fit of guilt-induced self-loathing.

Maybe, in a nutshell, there are just too many people out there, who are altogether too willing to simply dispense with all logical thought-processes… just to arrive at the only conclusion they’d be ready to accept anyway.

And maybe – just maybe – that is precisely why we need more detailed, reliable channels of communication in cases such as this: because the only alternative to reliable information is wild speculation… and it is very clearly getting us nowhere.