World News

Attempted Murder by Parachute? British Soldier Convicted in Sabotage Case

Posted May 24, 2018 3:40 p.m. EDT

LONDON — Capping a chronicle of illicit sex, bad loans and serial mendacity, a British Army sergeant was convicted Thursday of trying to murder his wife by tampering with her parachute before a sky-dive as a prelude to life with another woman.

Sgt. Emile Cilliers, 38, had pleaded not guilty to two charges of attempted murder, after a jury found that he tried to kill his wife, Victoria, by first causing a gas leak at the couple’s home and then using his experience as a parachute packer to meddle with his wife’s equipment to ensure it would not open.

He offered to pay for the jump in April 2015, purportedly as a treat following the birth of their second child, the prosecution said. He will be sentenced later.

The imagery conjured by testimony at the trial riveted followers of the case, in which Victoria Cilliers, a 41-year-old physiotherapist, leapt from an airplane 4,000 feet above the ground unaware that neither her main parachute nor the reserve could open.

She plummeted to the ground as horrified onlookers watched, but she survived the impact of the fall, apparently because of her slight build and because she landed on recently plowed soft ground. Her injuries included a broken spine, internal injuries, and fractures to her ribs and pelvis.

At the trial, it emerged that Emile Cilliers had taken his wife’s parachute into a bathroom a day before the jump, sabotaged it and then placed it in a locker so that only she would use it.

As an experienced parachutist, Victoria Cilliers immediately realized when she jumped that something was wrong. “It just didn’t feel right. The lines were twisted. I was spinning,” she said.

“Those at the scene immediately realized that something was seriously wrong with her reserve parachute,” said Michael Bowes, a lawyer for the prosecution. “Two vital pieces of equipment which fasten the parachute harness were missing. Their absence inevitably meant the reserve parachute would fail and would send her spinning to the ground.”

Leading up to that episode was a tale of infidelity, debts and deceit. According to testimony at the trial, police discovered that Emile Cilliers was having affairs with two women — one of them a former wife, Carly Cilliers, and the other an Austrian lover, Stefanie Goller, whom he had met via a dating app.

The prosecution said he told Goller he was separated from his wife and that the baby Victoria Cilliers was expecting had been fathered by another man.

He had hoped that his wife’s death would free him to pursue a new life with Goller and that an insurance payout would help wipe out growing debts, the prosecution said. During their affair, Emile Cilliers had taken Goller on vacations financed in part by money from his wife’s bank account.

He had also taken out payday loans, which generally have high interest rates, and borrowed money from colleagues to finance a lifestyle punctuated by visits to prostitutes. “I’m a very sexual man,” he told the trial, according to reporters who covered it.

Bowes described Emile Cilliers as callous, describing how, after his wife’s disastrous parachute jump, “he texts his mistress while at the side of his seriously injured wife, saying: I can’t imagine anything like this happening to you; all I can think about is you.”

Elizabeth Marsh, a defense lawyer, acknowledged that Emile Cilliers was “no Prince Charming” and “did not start to act in a panicked or guilty manner” after his wife’s fall.

Emile Cilliers was also convicted on a lesser offense of endangering life by damaging the gas supply system at his home.