LOPHIUS - A Murder in Atzara

He was an uncle of my mother's and he lived behind the church, in a house with a big yard. In the yard he kept chickens. He was blind, a war invalid. Not of the world war but of the war before. He was in his seventies. I am from 1916 and I was twelve, thirteen.

He was very rich. The whole of Canargiudas was his and the vineyard that run along s’Uturu ‘e Maria Divina. He sold his eggs. I asked him why he didn’t eat his own eggs and he said that he needed the money for the commissario, the taxman.

He was able to tell all coins apart by touch. In one room he had a cupboard with little drawers in which he kept his money, different coins in different drawers. The key of that room he had in his pocket. Once in a while I cleaned up that room for him.

Once in a week I came to gather the eggs for him. My mother didn’t want me to do that, because when I came home I had chicken lice. Then I had to change clothes and sometimes she would beat me. But my uncle always had fruit and other things. I liked to go there.

The day they beat him to death it was my mother to ask me to go to his house. She had to go there to fetch fertilized eggs to be put under the broody hen of my grandfather’s. But my youngest brother had a navel rupture and was crying all day long and my father used to sleep after dinner and didn’t want my mother to go away. My mother was afraid that I would break the eggs, but I went anyway.

There was a big pool of blood in the yard. I wondered about that, because my uncle’s nephews were out shearing sheep—it was in the end of May, the feast of San Mauro. So who could have been there to slaughter? My uncle wasn’t there. I opened the door and called his name. I heard ‘ooooh’. They had struck him with an axe. His forehead was split. They had also hit him in his neck and taken the key from his pocket. It had happened in the yard, at about noon. He had gone back into his house, to the room where the money was. He had taken the key from the door and put it back into his pocket, but the money had already been stolen. They could see it all from the bloodstains. There was blood where he had propped up himself against the wall and on his trousers and on the key too there was blood.

Then he had laid himself down on the bed. He tried to stop the blood with pieces of cloth. - ‘Maria, is it you?’ he asked. I went up to him, very near.
- ‘Maria, go and call some people, I am dying’, he said. When I was on the doorsill he called me back, but I didn’t dare to go in another time. I went home. Near home there was a tobacco shop. The shopkeeper saw that something was wrong. I still had the eggs in my apron and my hands were trembling. I said that Ziu Giuannicu was covered with blood. A man who was sitting outside, a carpenter, jumped up and run to my uncle’s house. My parents and my aunts thought that maybe he had fallen down from the stairs and went to see if they could do something for him. But when they arrived the carabinieri were already there. The first thing they did was to search that carpenter’s shop. And to examine all his tools.

He didn’t die until three o’ clock in the night. A physician had come and ascertained that he hadn’t fallen from the stairs but had been hit with an axe. My aunt has made an attempt to ask him who it had been. He was blind, but he was able to recognize people by hearing. - ‘Are you alone?’ he asked her. There were carabinieri in the room. She said ‘yes’, but he didn’t believe her. And maybe too he was too badly hurt to respond.

Two years later there was the trial in Oristano. It was immediately sojourned so that the jury could go to Atzara to see whether it was possible to see my uncle’s yard from a house on the church square. Because from the balcony of that house people had seen the murderer in the yard.

The father of the murderer had persuaded two women to say that they had seen one of my uncle’s nephews with an axe in his hands. That nephew was arrested and has been in jail for one year and a half.

The afternoon of the crime the murderer went to the feast of San Mauro, with one of the two women who had testified against the nephew. The next day he went home. He was married and lived in Sassari. His little brother and the maid accompanied him to the bus stop near Ponte Nou. While they were waiting for the bus they saw carabinieri coming down from Sorgono. He had wrapped the money into a newspaper hidden somewhere under his shirt. When he saw the carabinieri he handed the parcel to his brother. The carabinieri searched him and kept near him until the bus arrived. On the way back the maid persuaded his brother to open the parcel. A short time later she bought a house.

One of the women who had testified against the nephew fell ill, one year later, and confessed to the priest what she had done. The priest said that a confession was not enough as a token of repentance. It had to be put into writing in the presence of a carabiniere. That was done. The other women then revoked her testimony too. She said that she couldn’t remember whether she had really seen an axe or not.

I had to go to the trial, together with four other witnesses. We went by foot. The first night we slept with friends of the carpenter’s in Villanova. The second night with friends of my father’s in Oristano. On the third day we were introduced into a big room where the suspect was sitting in a cage. But I had to cry so much that I couldn’t say or see anything. The priest said: ‘but why do you have to cry like that, nothing will happen to you’.

The murderer was released after a year. My uncle’s nephew has spent more time in jail than he did.