When I still hustled articles for the Maltese press, two lifetimes ago, I had once published a story that happened back in the 1960s about a dashing and dramatic couple who turned to crime after having been consumed by love. This is the story of Rodrigue Sterling and Antoinette Tabone, a story that will go down in our history books. Initially, I found this story interesting because the couple had robbed Dom Mintoff’s villa in Delimara, but when I researched it, I ended up discovering a story for romantic novels.
Rodrigue Sterling was a Maltese engineer of British descent working at the Dockyard. He had everything going on in his life: a villa in Marsascala, a family with kids, and a very bright future. Everything in his life changed when he met a poor and beautiful seamstress in Birgu called Antoinette Tabone and they both fell madly in love with each other.
Subsequently, Rodrigue left his family and his job and moved out of his villa with Antoinette in the shabby kerrejja of Birgu. Stuck both in poverty, they turned to crime to sustain themselves and Rodrigue in trying to be ethical about his criminal activity, decided to rob only rich people’s houses, many of which were of people he knew. Eventually, the police caught them as they set up Rodrigue with a meeting to supposedly buy some stamps from him that he had stolen.
Rodrigue ended up losing everything, of course, went to prison as he decided to take the blame for everything, and eventually got sick and went blind. Antoinette kept taking care of him until the end of his life. I know Rodrigue passed away, but I don’t know about Antoinette. She still kept making dresses even late in her life and many old people in Birgu know her. Many years have passed since then, and this story is now in our history.
Cases of theft back then were much more common due to the extensive poverty in the Islands. This story is also unique and particular in many ways. Antoinette is also a very interesting character for the fact that she was a self-employed woman back when most women didn’t even work. I imagine her to have been quite a character back then.
Very interesting story. Romance can blind people to justifying the unjustifiable and drive them towards the most crackpot conspiracies.
In 1972, John Wojtowicz committed a wild bank robbery in New York because of romance. Wojtowicz divorced his wife (with whom he had two children) a few years prior to the robbery and met Ernest Aron, with whom he fell madly in love and unofficially married in 1971 (when same-sex marriage was still not legally recognised). Aron was a transgender who wanted to physically become a woman, but the couple could not afford to pay for the sex change, so the bank robbery was planned to be able to fund the surgery, although Wojtowicz having debts with a mafia may have had something to do with it too.
The bank robbery failed, Wojtowicz was caught and he ended up in prison, but Aron (who would later have the desired surgery and adopt the name Elizabeth Eden) used to visit him in prison every month, until she found another love interest. Eden died of AIDS at the age of 41 but Wojtowicz lived until 2006.
The 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon, directed by Sidney Lumet and starring, among others, Al Pacino, is loosely based on the Wojtowicz and Eden romantic drama and bank robbery. Entertaining, if tragic, stuff. Maybe a Maltese movie maker will take up the Rodrigue Sterling and Antoinette Tabone story and preserve it on film.
Thanks for sharing this! Didn’t know it.