A young man deemed to have committed suicide 16 years ago was found by authorities to have been strangled.
Developments were noted this week following investigations concerning the mysterious death of Greek-Cypriot soldier Thanassis Nicolaou (originally from Melbourne), who was found dead in 2005 while serving his military service.
At the time, the death of the 26-year-old was declared to have been a suicide by authorities, however his family never accepted this finding.
His remains were exhumed six months ago after a court ruling granted his family’s request for his body to be examined by an independent expert.
The exhumation took place last December in the presence of professor and former head of the Athens Forensic Medicine Service, Filippos Koutsaftis, and Greek medical examiner Socrates Tsantiris at the cemetery of Agia Fyla, Limassol. Also present were Cypriot state medical examiners Sophocles Sophocleous and Nikolas Charalambous and independent coroner Marios Matsakis, whose presence was requested by the family while the Limassol Crime Investigation Division investigators were also in attendance.
Pathologist Demetra Karayianni, hired by the young man’s family, said she had found that his hyoid, a U shaped bone that supports the tongue, was fractured and it had been caused before his death.
She told Alpha TV that this “could not be caused by any other incident, eg a traffic collision” – and it could only be caused by strangulation or hanging “beyond reasonable doubt”, she said.
The Cyprus Legal Service released a statement confirming it had received the expert’s report and convened a meeting on Thursday morning with the participation of the attorney-general and his deputy, senior state attorneys, the chief of police and other members of the force’s leadership.
“All the evidence from the exhumation of the bones will be submitted to the coroner. At the same time, the evidence is being evaluated and decisions will be made accordingly,” the statement said.
A step closer to the truth
The findings vindicate his mother, Andriana Nicolaou, who had taken on the “system” to get answers regarding her son’s death. In the past, Neos Kosmos had told her story as she sought the intervention of Australian authorities bearing in mind the fact that her son was an Australian citizen.
She had accused the state of a cover-up in his death, and took her case to the European Court of Human Rights which found the Republic of Cyprus in violation of human rights in the case of the young conscript. She had said the ECHR judgment in January 2020, reprimanding Cyprus over an “inadequate investigation”, was not enough as she demanded to know the whole truth.
“The court finds that the foregoing considerations are sufficient to establish that the domestic authorities failed to carry out an effective investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr Nicolaou’s death and accordingly that there has been a violation of the procedural aspect of Article 2 of the Convention,” the ECHR said.
“The court observes that it emerges from the case-file that the entire initial police investigation was from the very beginning conducted on the premise that this was a simple case of an unnatural death and that Mr Nicolaou had most likely taken his own life, never seriously questioning this premise or endeavouring to verify any other possible scenario. As a consequence, the investigation was not carried out by experienced criminal police investigators with forensic experience and the line of investigation was limited, leading to oversights and, as many questions were left unanswered, a tenuous conclusion.”
The young conscript’s lifeless body had been found not far from his car under a bridge in Alassa on 29 September, 2005, about 12 kilometres from his home and barracks though he was meant to report to his unit after an overnight leave.
The army insinuated he had committed suicide, something corroborated by police authorities. The distraught family has always maintained that the young man had been beaten to death before being thrown off the bridge.
The recent findings that the death was not a suicide take the family one step closer to better understanding what happened to their son, a young aspiring architect known by the nickname “Aussie”. His mother said that Thanasis, who grew up in Australia, had a foreign accent and had been bullied during his conscription. She said he was often referred to as “kangaroo” by the younger local soldiers.
She had been suspicious that something was amiss when she had been notified that her son had not shown up at first call in the morning and an officer trying to calm her said he was probably out with his friends.
“A mother cannot be fooled by anyone, absolutely no one,” she said, knowing that her son was not the kind of person who would not show up on time.
Speaking to Fileleftheros newspaper she lamented that it took so many years for her to “prove that my child was killed”, she also pointed out that it took six months for the exhumation to take place when two weeks would have sufficed.