WINCHESTER, England — “Are you trying to bump me off?” Victoria Cilliers joked in a text to her husband after finding a gas leak in their U.K. home one early morning in March 2015.
It turned out, he was.
Emile Cilliers, 38, of Amesbury, Wiltshire, was sentenced Friday to life in prison, with a chance of parole after 18 years, for the nearly successful plot prosecutors said he came up with when the gas leak failed to work -- tampering with his wife's parachute before a skydiving jump. Wiltshire police officials said Cilliers, a sergeant in the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, was also found guilty of attempted murder and criminal damage with intent to endanger life for tampering with a gas fitting in a kitchen cupboard at the home the couple shared with their two children.
The children were home with their mother when Victoria Cilliers discovered the leak, the BBC reported. She was going to the kitchen the morning of March 30, 2015, to get milk for one of the children when she smelled gas.
The seasoned and skilled skydiving instructor suffered a broken pelvis, broken ribs, two broken vertebrae and internal injuries just six days later -- on Easter Sunday -- when both her main parachute and her reserve chute failed at 4,000 feet, the BBC reported. A seasoned and skilled skydiving instructor, she survived when she landed in the soft earth of a recently plowed field near Salisbury.
Justice Nigel Sweeney described Emile Cilliers’ crimes as “wicked offending of extreme gravity” when sentencing him to prison during a hearing in Winchester Crown Court.
"That your wife recovered at all was miraculous; she undoubtedly suffered severe physical harm and she must have suffered psychological harm in the terror of the fall and since," Sweeney said, according to The Guardian. "She appears to have recovered from the physical harm but not, having seen her in the witness box at length, from the psychological harm."
Victoria Cilliers said in interviews after her husband's conviction that she still has a hard time seeing her husband as a killer, the newspaper reported. Though she intended to visit him in prison to confront him about what happened, she was not planning a divorce, she said.
Army officials said following Emile Cilliers’ sentencing that steps would be taken to have him discharged from service, the newspaper said.
The BBC reported that testimony at trial indicated that Emile Cilliers was having affairs with two women, including his ex-wife, at the time of the alleged murder attempts. He was also having unprotected sex with prostitutes.
Investigators testified that they also found that Cilliers was £22,000 in debt and was hoping to use a £120,000 payout from his wife’s life insurance policy to take care of his problem.
Detective Inspector Paul Franklin, of the Wiltshire police, on Friday described Emile Cilliers as a "cold, callous, selfish man who cares only about money and his sexual conquests."
"From the outset, Emile Cilliers showed no remorse for what he had done," Franklin said in a statement. "He lied all the way through two trials, but in the end justice won out with the guilty verdicts and now a long prison sentence."
Emile and Victoria Cilliers, an Army physiotherapist, had a troubled seven-year marriage during which Victoria Cilliers occasionally doubted her husband's fidelity, the BBC reported. When she voiced suspicions, he would blame her doubts on her experience with the infidelity of her first husband, the news station said.
Meanwhile, Emile Cilliers had affairs and blew through money, borrowing cash from his wife, from colleagues and from loan sharks, the BBC said. He grew distant from his wife, who was thrilled when he texted her over the Easter holiday to suggest a skydiving jump together.
At the same time, he was texting his mistress, "Have I told you lately that I am massively in love with the most amazing woman in the world? I want my life with you to start now," The Guardian reported.
The couple went to Netheravon Airfield together on April 4, 2015, the day before Easter, for the jump, which was called off due to bad weather. The BBC reported that instead of returning his wife's parachutes to the store where they rented them, Emile Cilliers stashed them in the couple's locker at the airfield so Victoria could use it the following day.
Prosecutors said that the defendant did so because he had taken the parachutes into a restroom and twisted the lines of the main chute to prevent it from opening, the news station reported. He also removed parts from the reserve chute.
Victoria Cilliers testified at her husband’s trial that she returned, alone, to the airfield on Easter Sunday. Her excitement for the jump was gone, but her husband encouraged her to go through with it, she said.
"I remember the pilot giving me a smile as I went out," she said, according to The Guardian. "Usually that's the part that I love; the cold rush, the smell. And it just did not hit me."
Instead, what hit her was terror as her main parachute failed to open properly. A witness on the ground that day testified at Emile Cilliers’ trial that the reserve chute resembled a bag of laundry as Victoria Cilliers was thrown around “like a rag doll.”
"I could not figure how to slow it down," Victoria Cilliers said. "It was just getting faster and faster and faster. The speed was unreal. The last thing I remember is trying to get some kind of control, then everything went black."
The fact that both chutes failed was such a rare occurrence that the British Parachute Association launched an inquiry. The investigation found that in about 2.3 million sport parachute jumps in the U.K. over the previous 10 years, there had never been an instance of both the main and reserve parachutes failing.
In addition, the parachutes Victoria Cilliers used the day of her fall functioned properly when used just a day or two prior to the incident.
The police also became involved in the investigation, during which detectives obtained texts and emails that showed details of his multiple affairs, The Guardian reported. They also learned about his financial problems.
While investigating the gas leak at the couple’s home, police officials found spots of blood next to the gas fitting that was tampered with, the newspaper reported.
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