On 5 January the mother of Justin Plette posted a touching tribute on Facebook in memory of her son to mark his birthday.
“Not having you with us hurts more than I can say”.
Her words are a stark reminder of how, in the face of protracted delays, mourning families are left with little choice but to continue to fight for justice – or answers at the very least – only adding to their anguish.
As Malta mourns the death of yet another innocent this week, the senseless murder of 29-year-old Paulina Dembska in the early hours of 2 January, The Shift remembers other young people whose lives were lost or taken in unexplained circumstances – and whose desperate families continue to plead to the authorities for answers.
In May 2015, 22-year-old Justin Plette went to Paceville for a night of clubbing with friends. He never made it home.
As the night turned into the early hours of the morning, Plette, who was Dutch and worked for an iGaming company in Malta, stood outside a club waiting for his friends to use the toilets. But when they emerged, they did not find him there, according to the testimony which Plette’s father, Julian, gave to the media a few days later at a remembrance ceremony.
Plette had been living in Malta for eight months. Not long after he disappeared from the club the police discovered his lifeless, fully clothed body, lying in a foetal position on the rocks in St George’s Bay. His phone and wallet were gone, and scratch marks and bruising were evident on Plette’s face.
His family insisted that he died after unidentified individuals drugged him and stole his belongings, arguing that Plette had had some drinks, but was not drunk, and had not taken any drugs.
Plette’s case is not the only fatal case of foreign nationals in Malta which, years later remain shrouded in questions and where, to date, there have been no reported updates or public announcements by the authorities.
The 5 January also marks the anniversary of the death of 27-year Johanna Boni, who in 2016 was riding her motorcycle to work down Labour Avenue in Naxxar when she was suddenly impacted from behind by a cement mixer. She was reportedly dragged for over 30 metres.
Four years later, her parents, Josephine Mifsud and Pippo Boni who live in Sicily, were still fighting a legal battle in the Maltese courts for justice for their daughter, for what they believe was an act of negligence.
In 2019, The Times of Malta reported that Boni was also given an undignified burial: she was buried naked in a plastic bag, while the clothes the parents had provided were tucked in the corner of the coffin. This has led to another long and arduous legal battle, with an increased amount of complexity, given that it is the first case of its kind.
In January 2020 a group of around 100 bikers marked the fourth year of her death and rode from St Andrews to Johanna’s memorial in Naxxar where they had their motorbikes blessed.
In July 2016, German teenager Mike Mansholt was found dead at the bottom of Dingli Cliffs. While it was claimed that he had fallen to his death while riding his bike, the real cause of his death was never established and several irregularities in the circumstances that suggested foul play were ignored.
The boy’s father said a German doctor had told him that his son’s injuries were not consistent with a fall, nor was the damage to his bike. In addition to this, the teenager’s phone, wallet, Go-Pro, and backpack were never found. But there was something even more sinister that had been taken.
After the body was flown back to Germany, a second autopsy was undertaken, and officials found that most of the boy’s internal organs were missing. A Maltese medical expert had said in court that the organs had been eaten by rodents, despite no evidence to support such a claim. All further requests for information had been ignored.
The case was reopened in April 2018, but it reached the same conclusion- that Mike probably died from a fall while providing no further evidence and ignoring evidence that would suggest otherwise.
In July 2021, the Times of Malta reported that Mansholt’s father has asked the German courts to order the Maltese authorities to reopen investigations into his son’s mysterious death and the family have started the process to obtain a European Investigation Order whereby German prosecutors ask the German courts to order the Maltese courts to continue investigating the case.
Speaking to the Times of Malta, Bernd Alexander Mansholt said: “My son, Mike, died in Malta in 2016. Unexplained cause. The exact circumstances that led to his death are still unclear and many circumstances are very mysterious… I will not give up until all the questions have been asked”.
Featured photo: (Clockwise from top right) Johanna Boni, Mike Mansholt, Justin Plette