Abner Aquilina tried to attack two men shortly before the violent rape and murder of Paulina Dembska in Sliema, sources have told Times of Malta.
The incident happened on the Balluta promenade, minutes before Aquilina headed towards Independence Gardens where he is accused of killing the Polish national, sources close to the investigations said.
Police said they have solid enough evidence of this “encounter”, though the two men have not yet been identified.
Dembska, 29, was killed in the early hours of January 2 in what the police believe to be a random killing. Investigators also said Aquilina was “sexually conflicted” and are investigating whether he was previously engaged in male prostitution.
Police have come under fire from women’s rights activists after claiming the killing did not appear to be linked to the victim’s sex.
“There was no specific target, no particular sex was targeted, nor was the victim specifically targeted,” Brandon Pisani, information officer for the Malta Police Force told a press conference last Thursday.
He added that evidence submitted in court would support their assertion.
The Malta Women’s Lobby said the statement raised serious questions about the lack of knowledge and sheer lack of sensitivity around the issue of violence against women on the part of the police.
“The fact that the victim was violently raped is in itself a clear indicator that she was targeted because she was a woman,” it said.
The statement was mirrored by several on social media.
However, sources within the investigation have painted a picture of a murder suspect with a complicated sexual identity and a possible history of sexual offences with both genders.
They said the information brought to the attention of investigators indicated that Aquilina, 20, had possibly engaged in male prostitution since his teens.
This, they said, was done to finance his drug habit after the unemployed youth was repeatedly refused money by his parents.
Replying to questions, the police’s media office said that “as stated during the crime conference, the alleged aggressor is being charged with homicide and rape, however, investigations show that the acts committed were not motivated by gender”.
They added that since the case was now in court, no further comments could be made at this stage. Reports have shed light how Aquilina also has a history of harassing women online, though police say that no actual police reports appear to have been filed against him.
Times of Malta has reported about three women who received unsolicited sexual advances from Aquilina online. Some of the women were minors at the time, as was Aquilina. Aquilina, from Żejtun, has a history of petty crime dating back to when he was 14. He was on probation for his latest minor juvenile offence when Dembska was murdered. Times of Malta has also reported how Aquilina had visited controversial Christian fellowship River of Love.
He has told investigators during interrogation how he had visited the evangelist movement the day before the killing, claiming the group’s leader Gordon Manche had prayed with him to help rid him of evil spirits. Manche has repeatedly denied having ever met Aquilina or that the suspect was part of the River of Love.
“He has, however, left the door open saying that “new people and walk-ins come all the time”.
The fire-and-brimstone movement has in the past been linked to controversial practices, including illegal gay conversion therapy.