Don’t glorify the name of Cikku Fenech, says brother of man whose violence and cruelty he recounts in detail

The brother of Ċikku Fenech, Michaelangelo Fenech, says no government should treat the name of a violent criminal like a quaint memory of a bygone past: here he explains why

(Right) Frangisk 'Cikku' Fenech aged 18, right before his emigration to Australia
(Right) Frangisk 'Cikku' Fenech aged 18, right before his emigration to Australia

The brother of the late fugitive-murderer Ċikku Fenech pens an open letter criticising the romanticization of the former tenant of the Mosta field being rehabilitated into a public park. Reacting to news of the government’s restoration of Fenech’s Land Rover, Michaelangelo Fenech, who lives in Australia, divulges excruciating details about his brother’s criminal tendencies, and saying there should be no unnecessary glorification of his brother.

In 1963, Fenech became Malta’s most wanted man for the murder of farmer Ċikku Vella. He hid in caves in the Ġnejna area until giving himself up to the police four months later, and found guilty of murder. 

Junior minister for citizenship Alex Muscat announced the transformation of Fenech’s former field into a public garden, and proposed that the Land Rover that once belonged to Fenech, be restored as a memento and integrated with the garden design. Although the land and the proposed garden will always be associated with Ċikku Fenech, the government never stated that the garden will officially bear his name.

The ambush and murder of Ċikku Vella by my brother Franġisk (Ċikku Fenech) took place in 1963, but its roots go back a few years before that. 

When Franġisk bought his first horse at around the age of 17, it was Ċikku Vella that sold it to him. He helped Franġisk break the horse for cart work. I was only about five, but I remember that Franġisk looked up to him like a father figure, and it was always “Ċikku said this and Ċikku said that”. He even bought his first gun, an old muzzle loader, from Ċikku. 

This relationship did not last long. Franġisk got it into his head that Ċikku was playing him for a fool and the adulation turned into pure hatred in a matter of days. This was the first time that Franġisk started dropping hints that he wanted to kill Ċikku.  

Things got so bad that our parents decided that he should be sent away before anything bad happens, and there was nowhere further than Australia. That was how very quickly he found himself on the way to Australia by air. Our parents were so concerned, that they paid his passage in full on a plane, rather than wait a few more months to get him a subsidised ticket on a boat.

A lot of people say that his dispute was about land. But this was not the case. The family had been in a big court case about some land but it was with the British military. We were represented in the case by the MP John Maria Camilleri, which we won in court; and then the ruling was immediately overruled by the Governor-General of Malta. I know I was young at the time, but apart from taunting Franġisk about this, Ċikku Vella had nothing to do with this land – although I am sure that Franġisk conflated the two issues. 

When he returned to Malta, all the family hoped that he had changed, calmed down and perhaps settled down. Ċikku Vella had also given Franġisk a dog, which he named ‘Wolf’. We had looked after it for him while he was in Australia and it became a much loved member of our family, especially by the younger members. When Franġisk returned, he claimed it back, but a couple of months before the incident, the dog disappeared. When we asked Franġisk where the dog was, he claimed complete ignorance as to its whereabouts. 

Then there was murder. And the family did not have much more information regarding the actual event than the general public. 

Franġisk was released about four years later after the murder. By now the rest of the family had migrated to Australia, but because our father could not stand living in Australia, my parents and I had returned to Malta.

One day I opened the door to see who was knocking and there he was. By now I was 16, working on the family farm with our mother. Franġisk immediately took over. It was during this period before I too took off to Australia, when Franġisk took every opportunity to boast to us about his deeds in private, while cultivating his victimhood in public.

First the dog. Far from disappearing, it was Franġisk that had deliberately put it down. Due to some perceived disloyalty from the dog, and the fact that it had been Ċikku that had given it to him, he said that he had given it the death sentence, and strung it up by the neck and stabbed it with his pocket knife, while calling it ‘Ċikku’.

As to the fatal incident, this was no chance meeting, but it had been well planned. Franġisk kept an eye out on Ċikku Vella’s movements to find out the best time to catch him on his own.

He worked it out that the best time was when Ċikku was on his way to church on Sunday. The reason being that there would have been less people about. And more importantly he walked right past our property. This is where Franġisk waited for him that Sunday morning.

The rubble wall facing the street at this property was more than high enough to hide behind, but luckily for him, there was also a wall running perpendicular to the outside wall and about a metre shorter. This gave Franġisk the advantage of ambushing Ċikku as he went past, from a higher vantage point. This was where Franġisk waited, with two double-barrelled shotguns and at least one revolver, all loaded.

Just as Vella went past his hideout Ċikku stood up and emptied both barrels from one shotgun into him, and immediately climbed over the wall and down into the street. Ċikku Vella had staggered a couple of metres away by now and Franġisk caught up with him and emptied the other shotgun into him. Ċikku still did not go down and Franġisk was worried that he was going to survive, badly wounded maybe but alive.

Franġisk had known about a murder attempt that had happened years before, only about a hundred metres from this exact spot. The would-be murderer had drilled a hole in his front door and waited for his victim to go past. He then took a shot at him through the hole in the door and missed. He ended up locked at the mental asylum. Franġisk told us that this is what was haunting him at that moment, him not finishing the job so to speak, and ending up being locked up at the asylum.

That was why, even though there was blood everywhere, he picked up one of his shotguns by the barrels and wielding it as a club, started bashing Ċikku with it. Ċikku must have still had some consciousness and tried to shelter behind a power pole, which happened to be there.

The shotgun snapped in two from hitting  Ċikku and the power pole. Even so, Ċikku still managed to stagger/crawl a few metres more before he collapsed.

I could stop here and say the rest is history, but I have to add one of the many other anecdotes from his… my life… just for those that think that he was a hero by evading the police. 

I knew that approximately for the last five weeks on the run, he was sheltered by one particular family. We knew the family from before and I fondly remember going to their farm in the Fgura/Tarxien area with Franġisk, when I was about five, to buy calves.

At this age, Franġisk was my hero and he treated me well, like an elder brother should. Later on, after the incident, I had a couple of sleepovers at their farm too. 

One time as me and Franġisk were working together, he was talking about his time on the run and I suggested to him that he should thank that family for willingly helping him out. He just exploded, telling me that I knew nothing because there was nothing willing about it. According to him, he showed up at their place in the middle of the night and held the parents at gunpoint, demanding shelter. He ended up hiding in their pigeon coop, as from there he could survey their whole farm and could keep an eye on the goings-on around him. It was made clear to the parents that they were not to leave the farm, as a family and some members had to stay behind as hostages. He told them that if he saw any suspicious activity, their family would be the first victims.

All the time he spent there, he never left the pigeon coop, and all his needs, food and hygiene, were catered for by the eldest daughter. This young woman was also made to sleep nearby as a hostage.

After a while, the family must have succumbed to the Stockholm Syndrome, with the daughter wanting to marry him. This was the “girlfriend” that was mentioned in the papers at the time of his trial, and there was certainly no going to the local pub to have drinks, as some papers suggested at the time.

When I further suggested he should still thank them, he said that he had nothing but contempt for the whole family, because they were so weak-willed. It had nothing to do with their hospitality but with his superior will, that he could easily dominate them.

To him, a loaded gun, aimed at their head was not an issue. 

 A while ago, I got a phone call from a Maltese person living in Sydney. I did not know this person, even though they are from Mosta. After a little conversing together, I realised that this person did not just want to reminisce about our life in Malta but was really trying to get a brush with fame by speaking to Ċikku Fenech’s brother. It then occurred to me that even nearly 10 years after his death, there are still many people trying to mythologise him into some folk hero. 

When I came across the news that my brother’s field would be transformed into a public garden, knew I could not just let it go past.

To do so would be a disservice to the Maltese communities, both here in Australia and in Malta. I know that some will try to dismiss this as some sort of sibling rivalry. This might have been true in my teen years, until he let me know exactly what he was like.

I did not hate him either and on every visit to Malta I always went to visit him. Every time it was the same, I would be welcomed, until he realised I would not be staying in Malta for good. Then I would be kicked out.

Still, I went back hoping maybe he would change a little, but to no avail. One time he even suggested to me that I should abandon my family in Australia and move in with him. After all, as he put it there were many women in Malta to choose from.  

Hopefully those people who are contemplating naming a public garden after him, will realise what he was really like and desist. It will only do harm to future generations, who might try to emulate his behaviour.