The Devil went down to Marsaskala

Within the confines of an ordinary terraced house in Marsaskala, a sadistic and manipulative teenager used a satanic ruse to force a vulnerable family into perverse sex acts. Kurt Sansone and Matthew Agius report.

Joseph could have been a normal 18-year-old vain youngster but what he did within the confines of a modest terraced house in Marsaskala was beyond ordinary.

Joseph, not his real name, was jailed for 20 years last Friday after a judge found him guilty of aggravated rape of a mother, forcing her daughters to do perverse sex acts against their will and the rape of the underage daughter, who was his girlfriend at the time. His trial without jury started and ended last week.

The testimony given by his victims painted a disgusting picture of a young man who manipulated this vulnerable family to satisfy his sadistic sexual desires.

Joseph played on the mother’s willingness to dabble with the occult and by simulating a devilish voice gradually asserted ‘demonic’ authority on the family. The satanic happenings were all a ruse.

The victims gave graphic details of how Joseph made them do perverse sexual acts, culminating in the rape of the mother with a broomstick.

Gullibility and the ‘demonic voice’

The story started in May 2018 when Joseph, from Bormla, hooked up with a 14-year-old Marsaskala girl. They dated each other and were also intimate.

Just a month into their relationship, Joseph, who played football with St George’s FC, his hometown team, went to live with his girlfriend’s family in Marsaskala.

Unemployed, Joseph would not contribute financially at all to the household. He spent days on his Playstation. Over there he found a mother, who had long dabbled in the occult, visited a fortune teller with whom she also had a fling, and used the Ouija board.

In court, the mother said she had borderline personality disorder, a mental illness, and had also been admitted to Mount Carmel Hospital in the past.

Joseph found the mother to be a very gullible person and abused this by simulating the voice of a ‘demonic spirit’ who ordered her to perform perverted sex acts.

The abuse started in August 2018 after the family went to watch The Nun at the cinema. It continued until January 2019 as the possessive Joseph controlled the household’s inhabitants through surreptitious acts that simulated paranormal activity.

The whole family was held to ransom by this ‘spirit’. The victims spoke of how things ‘mysteriously’ dropped to the ground, heard strange noises and witnessed abnormal scenes such as a fire in the shape of a cross, burning on the floor.

Raped with a broom

The ‘demon’ whipped the mother and her elder daughter; it ordered them to shower together; strip naked in January and stand in front of a fan. The ‘satanic voice’ ordered the mother and elder daughter to share sexual stories and lick each other’s nipples. And in a perverted way it ordered the daughter to rape the mother using a broomstick and when she refused, the act was completed by Joseph as the younger daughter looked on.

In her testimony on the broomstick incident, the younger sister said Joseph claimed he had been “ordered to do it [the rape] by the spirit.”

After the ordeal was over, they went downstairs and drank whisky and when the elder sister puked, Joseph ordered his girlfriend to wash her.

The court heard the victims speak of how they feared this voice because of the threats it made if they did not comply to its commands. When the sisters and their mother started suspecting that the demonic voice was Joseph’s – things used to quieten down when he was not around – he impressed upon them that the spirit had also controlled him.

He blamed the mother for ‘allowing’ the evil spirit to enter the house because of her affection with the occult.

Prosecutors did not believe the man. They argued the satanic voice and paranormal activity were all a ruse crafted by Joseph to instil fear and maintain control on the family.

Sex on demand

The younger daughter told the court how she felt controlled by the accused: “I was 14. He controlled me. He brainwashed me to the extent that I wouldn’t even tell my mother what was happening... It is very easy to control me. I am very soft and weak and my mother is the same. If he tells her to do something, she isn’t going to question why. She was so controlled.”

She also recounted how the accused used a whip to make his dogs more aggressive, and sometimes used it on both her and her mother. Joseph claimed “he was suffering because of us”, the victim said.

The younger sister also told the court how she was unable to withstand Joseph’s aggressive sexual advances. “I had to be available anytime he demanded sex.”

From easy-going to being in charge

On the witness box, the mother recounted how in the first three months of dating her daughter, the accused was “very nice and easy-going”. But then he became increasingly demanding.

“He started dictating what to do, commanding us. He would command me to clean, shouting, telling me to cook. He was in charge around the house.”

She described the accused as possessive of her daughter, having hit her in the face and sometimes not even allowing her to go to school.

The desperate situation developing inside the house led the father to abandon his family and go live with his parents.

The elder daughter, who had been living with her grandparents, was forced to go back to her mother’s house after Joseph threatened to harm her younger sister.

She later moved back with her grandparents but was scared because before she left Joseph threatened to kill them.

Breaking out

Eventually, the elder daughter plucked up courage and recounted what was going on to her psychologist, who then roped in social workers.

Social workers encouraged her to file a police report, which she did after much hesitation.

On the witness stand, the elder sister’s psychologist recounted how the victim missed two sessions in December 2018 and then requested an urgent meeting.

“She looked terrified at first, but as she opened up, she appeared amazed and relieved that we were going to help her,” the psychologist testified. “She lived through difficult experiences.”

After the broomstick incident, the mother attempted suicide. According to her elder daughter it was a cry for help and the only way her mother could be away from Joseph’s clutches by being admitted to Mount Carmel Hospital.

A social worker recounted in court: “She [the elder daughter] told us it was the only way her mother could leave the house. Otherwise her mother’s going to work was controlled and her phone had been seized by the accused.”

Joseph’s manipulation was devious, cruel and sadistic. But he also found a family riven by problems.

Dysfunctional family

Court testimony shows how social workers had been following the two girls when they were aged 12 and 8 because of neglect. The younger sister testified how, as children, they often waited in the living rooms of strangers’ houses while their mother had sex with different men despite being married.

She recounted being ostracised at school after once catching her mother having sex with the father of a school friend at a barbecue.

Her mother had to be medicated, and had suffered many overdoses on prescription pills, the youngest testified.

At the time of the incidents, the younger sister should have been living with her grandparents but was instead at her mother’s home.

Joseph, now 22, chose not to testify in what appeared to be a last-minute change of heart by the defence.

The defence tried to suggest that other people such as the mother’s husband may have had stronger motives to perform the abuse rather than Joseph. The judge rejected this reasoning.

In court, Joseph appeared unmoved by the testimony unfolding before him. He remained unemotional when the judge read out the two-hourlong judgment and sentenced him to jail, ordering as well that his name be placed on the sex offenders’ register.

The case, pending any appeals, is now closed but the scars of Joseph’s sadistic behaviour remain.