Parachute case soldier had a SECRET FAMILY

Nicolene Shepherd was courted from the age of 13 by Emile Cilliers in his native South Africa, before going on to have two children together

As a soldier, Emile Cilliers is trained to handle ambush situations. So when his first wife and his mistress confronted him together in his marital home, he was able to keep his cool.

Instead of showing shame or contrition, he simply tried to take his pick of the two women, asking: ‘Which one of you wants me most?’

The incident at Larkhill Barracks in Wiltshire in 2006 would be irrelevant to anybody other than the three protagonists were it not for the fact that 37-year-old Army Sergeant Cilliers and his tangled love life have dominated news headlines for weeks.

He is the man sensationally accused of trying to murder his second wife, expert skydiver Victoria Cilliers, by sabotaging her parachute and causing a gas explosion at their marital home. He denies the charges.

Winchester Crown Court has heard claims he wanted 40-year-old Victoria dead so he could build a new life with his Tinder lover Stefanie Goller, an Austrian blonde.

It is alleged he also expected to be able to clear pressing personal debts of approximately £20,000 with his spouse’s life insurance.

In lurid detail, the prosecution in the court case painted the father of six as a liar willing to deny the paternity of his own son, as well as sexually voracious and financially incompetent.

But one extraordinary facet of Cilliers’s life remained secret – until in the trial it was sensationally revealed that in addition to the two wives and new girlfriend, there was a previous mistress with whom he had two children.

Accused: Emile Cilliers with Victoria, the wife he is accused of trying to murder

Her identity remained secret. But today, following the collapse of the trial on Thursday and the order of a retrial, The Mail on Sunday can reveal she is Nicolene Shepherd.

Now a happily married mother of five, she was courted from the age of 13 by Cilliers. A church-going schoolgirl from Cilliers’s native South Africa, she was just 16 when she got pregnant with his daughter, and 17 when she found herself expecting his son.

She says she endured serial cheating, demands for her to have an abortion and a paternity test, and finally his secret marriage to another woman when she believed they were making a life together.

Nicolene, 34, a full-time mother, says: ‘Emile can’t ever let women go because, even after a split, he wants to get back into your life on his terms and he really doesn’t want you to get over him. I misinterpreted that. I took it as a sign that he really loved me.

‘Looking back now, I cannot believe I fell for it. I was basically like his plaything to be picked up and tossed aside when no longer needed – like when he’d found someone else. He would never let me move on, his ego would not allow it.’

Cilliers’s rapacious appetite for sexual partners began when he was a teenager in his home town of Ermelo, north-eastern South Africa. He met Nicolene at their local Afrikaans high school in 1996 when she was just 13 years old.

Cilliers, three years older, handsome and manly, was seen as the perfect boyfriend by her envious classmates. It was only later she discovered he was also seducing other schoolgirls, including her best friend, early evidence of his penchant for maintaining multiple lovers.

Her parents knew the Cilliers family through the local Dutch Reformed Church, where they all attended services every Sunday – but the pair’s relationship was far from wholesome.

‘Emile stole my childhood and my teens,’ says Nicolene.

Cilliers duped her, dumped her and then lured her back with lies and empty promises. He proposed to Nicolene with his grandmother’s diamond engagement ring, a grandiose, characteristically romantic gesture designed to make her believe he was committed.

But Nicolene adds: ‘Within weeks of our engagement, he was cheating again. When I broke it off he asked for his ring back but he said: “One day I’ll put that back on your finger.” He could never let go.’

After their daughter Cilene was born in June 2000, Emile was in the UK, supporting himself with farm and bar work in Oxfordshire before later joining the British Army in 2005.

Nicolene believed that they were to be reunited and they exchanged regular calls and text messages. She even visited on a holiday in 2002.

‘I look back and realise I was utterly deluded. Emile bombards you with love and he says words you think he means and he makes promises you think he’ll keep.’



Nicolene Shepherd bore his first two children as a teenager in South Africa. Her parents knew his family through the church but their relationship was far from wholesome. She endured Emile’s lies for years before confronting him alongside his first wife. Now married to someone else and living in Somerset.

Nicolene Shepherd bore Cilliers' first two children as a teenager in South Africa

Nicolene Shepherd bore Cilliers’ first two children as a teenager in South Africa


Carly Taylor met Cilliers in an Oxford pub in 2001. They married in 2003 and had two children before separating in 2009. She now lives in Amesbury, Wiltshire, just two miles from where Cilliers lived with his second wife Victoria. Carly also had an affair with Cilliers in 2015, around the time he is alleged to have tried to kill Victoria.

Cillier married Carly Taylor in 2003 and the couple had two children before separating in 2009

Cillier married Carly Taylor in 2003 and the couple had two children before separating in 2009


Physiotherapist Victoria and Cilliers met in 2010 when she treated his injured knee. She introduced him to parachuting and they married in 2011 and have a son and daughter. She survived a 4,000ft fall in 2015 after her main and reserve chutes malfunctioned. Cilliers remains charged with tampering with the parachute in a bid to kill her.

Physiotherapist Victoria and Cilliers met in 2010 when she treated his injured knee

Physiotherapist Victoria and Cilliers met in 2010 when she treated his injured knee


Austrian skydiving instructor Stefanie Goller met Cilliers while on a skiing holiday in 2014 – both had Tinder dating app profiles at the time. Stefanie and Cilliers were planning to make a new life together before his arrest. There is no suggestion Stefanie was involved in his alleged attempts to kill Victoria.

Austrian skydiving instructor Stefanie Goller met Cilliers while on a skiing holiday in 2014

Austrian skydiving instructor Stefanie Goller met Cilliers while on a skiing holiday in 2014

Indeed, when Cilliers returned to South Africa later that year, their physical relationship resumed ‘as though nothing bad had ever happened’. Nicolene later discovered she was pregnant with their second child, Trevor. Cilliers insisted on a paternity test for both children. Nicolene was horrified.

‘I thought he and I were still very much together,’ she says. ‘I had not been unfaithful to him but clearly he was using his own standards to judge mine.’

Nicolene stayed in South Africa with her two little ones, ostensibly waiting for Cilliers to find his feet professionally. But in late 2003, his mother Zaan told her he had married Briton Carly Taylor without breaking off their long love affair first. Emile had met Carly in Oxford in 2001. They went on to have two children, daughter Piper, born in 2004, and son Lachlan born in 2006.

Nicolene was devastated to hear of Cilliers’s marriage but would not be diverted from her own plans to come to the UK, arriving in March 2004 and settling in the Somerset town of Somerton, where she found work in a pub. She made contact with Cilliers, via his mother, in August 2006 when Cilene asked if she could meet her father.

Cilliers responded immediately and enthusiastically.

‘I was older and you’d think I’d have been wiser,’ Nicolene admits. ‘But I wasn’t. When he told me he was in the middle of a divorce, I believed him. He said he’d never loved his wife and had used the marriage to solve a visa problem.

‘He seemed so happy to hear from me and so keen to see the children. Honestly, how could I have been so stupid?’ They went ice-skating in Bristol, laughing and chatting the way they had as carefree young lovers in South Africa.

Days later, they had rekindled their affair and Cilliers was promising to visit whenever his work as an Army PT instructor at Larkhill permitted. ‘It was like I was 16 again. All the love came sweeping back,’ says Nicolene.

Four weeks into their reunion, so did Cilliers’s lies.

‘He went off for work, leaving his phone behind. When it rang, there was Carly. You can imagine the conversation. I said I understood she and Emile were separated, and of course she put me right. They were very much together and living in married quarters at Larkhill.’

According to Nicolene, the women confided in each other and found a strange kind of consolation in the fact they had been betrayed by the same man. Between them, they hit on the idea of a joint confrontation in the marital home. Nicolene went to the barracks to wait with Carly.

‘His jaw hit the floor when he walked in,’ says Nicolene. ‘He began speaking Afrikaans, knowing Carly wouldn’t understand. He basically asked me “What the f*** are you doing here?” It was all about Emile trying to take control. In this case, he was doing it by freezing out Carly with a language she could not understand.

‘Once he had got over the initial shock, he stood there looking between us – trying to play us off in his usual self-assured way. His next words were something to the effect of, “Well, here we are. Which one of you wants me?”

‘He’d have been in no doubt that one of us wanted him. He tried to choose me – probably because he still thought he had a hold over me and could control me more easily than he could Carly. But he made the wrong choice. I said nothing, I just walked out on my own, having finally kicked him out of my head.’

For Carly however, as it had once been for Nicolene, there was something about Cilliers which drew her back regardless. Although the couple later divorced and he went on to marry Victoria, she was again his lover at the time of the gas leak and the parachute accident in 2015.

As late as 2007, he was still trying to get back with Nicolene too, texting her to suggest ‘one more try’. By then, she had met her husband, construction company owner Russell Shepherd, with whom she now has three children, aged four, seven, and nine.

Mr Shepherd has also taken on the role of father to Cilene, now 17, and Trevor, now 16.

Despite her hard-won happiness, Nicolene could never forgive Cilliers for what he’d done to their children. ‘He just dropped them. That was hugely hurtful. When I found out he’d fathered two more children – this time with Victoria – I thought, how dare he! His mother had told my mother because she thought I should know. I sent him a Facebook message: ‘Six children? Really? And you can’t even take care of the first two?’

His arrest came shortly after the near-fatal parachute accident at Netheravon in 2015. Victoria, an instructor and veteran of 2,600 jumps, plummeted 4,000ft over Salisbury Plain in what should have been a death spiral. Miraculously, she landed in a soft, ploughed field, escaping with spinal, leg, rib and collarbone injuries.

Cilliers was charged with two attempts to murder his physiotherapist wife, who had also served in the Army. He was accused of damaging a gas valve in their home and then secretly tangling the cords of her main parachute and removing crucial components from her reserve.

The incident involving the gas valve led to a third charge of endangering the life of his two children with Victoria who were in the house with their mother.

Last week, the jury was dismissed after failing to reach a verdict. The Crown Prosecution Service has asked for a retrial next year.

It will be up to that jury to decide his guilt or innocence in respect of attempted murder, but, in the court of public opinion, Nicolene will surely be considered wise to have walked away when she did.