Victoria and Emile Cillers were married on the beach in his native South Africa
Regaining consciousness having miraculously survived a 4,000ft fall after her parachute malfunctioned during a skydive, Victoria Cilliers opened her eyes to see her husband Emile beside her hospital bed.
‘I love you,’ the 42-year-old whispered to him. He did not reply.
In the coming days as she recovered from a broken pelvis, broken ribs and fractured vertebrae, his visits would be infrequent.
‘His bosses gave him immediate compassionate leave,’ Victoria would recall of the events after her skydive on April 5, 2015. ‘But he still kept going to work. It’s lonely in hospital.’
‘When he came in, he did not really seem interested. He never brought me presents or cards. One day he brought in the insurance paperwork and said to me, ‘You should sign this because we need to get the ball rolling [on a personal injury claim].’ I remember thinking, ‘It’s a little harsh, when I am lying here.’ ”
But he was far worse than just a neglectful husband — in fact, it was Cilliers who had tampered with her parachute to make it fail, and yesterday he was found guilty of two counts of attempted murder in a bid to claim her £120,000 life insurance, following a retrial at Winchester Crown Court. He will remain in custody until his sentencing on June 15.
The six-week trial heard that Cilliers, who was £22,000 in debt, was having affairs with his ex-wife Carly, 38, and Tinder girlfriend Stefanie Goller while plotting his wife’s murder.
He was also in contact with ‘a number’ of prostitutes, even making arrangements by text to film himself having unprotected sex with one woman.
Indeed, even as he sat beside his wife’s hospital bed, Cilliers was busy on his phone making plans with his girlfriend. ‘We are separated. Legally!’ he lied in a WhatsApp message sent in the early hours following his wife’s ‘accident’. ‘We split up as a trial around September after I found she cheated on me and kept the pregnancy from me for about 3 months! She had the baby took the test she told me it’s not mine . . . Please just be reassured I am all yours. Nothing will change that.’
It was sheer invention — and as he faces a lengthy prison sentence, the world now knows the truth.
But all of these shocking revelations were still to come as Victoria lay in hospital recovering from her horrific accident.
After two weeks, she was finally well enough to go home. But she couldn’t go — her husband, 38, a sergeant in the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, told her he was too busy at work to care for her.
‘I got the impression he did not want me home,’ she said of the day she finally got back.
‘He made dinner, we just sat in silence, there was no welcome home or anything. That day and night I cried.’
Less than four years previously Cilliers had declared his love for her at a romantic seaside wedding in South Africa. Back home in the UK they had two children together, the youngest just weeks old when Victoria jumped from that aircraft.
And yet Cilliers could not even bring himself to tell his broken wife he loved her.
The reasons for that we now know only too well.
Cilliers, a serial love cheat with a penchant for prostitutes and sex clubs, wanted her dead. Twice he tried to kill her — first by damaging the gas fitting at the family home in Wiltshire on March 29, 2015, where their two children lived, hoping it would lead to an explosion.
When that failed, he then tampered with her parachute in a toilet cubicle at Netheravon Airfield in Wiltshire a week later, tangling the main canopy to prevent it from correctly deploying and removing vital links from her reserve so it was not properly connected to her harness.
Turn the clock back to September 2011 and in a sunset wedding in Cape Town, Emile Cilliers went down on one knee to recite his vows. In a white satin dress, his bride Victoria looked lovingly into his eyes.
Emile Cilliers tried to kill his wife (pictured in happier times) while he was sleeping with at least two other women
‘I have photographed many weddings but I remember this couple,’ photographer Alison Cole would recall. ‘He was so happy to be marrying her.’
That day marked the start of a saga that culminated in one of the most extraordinary criminal trials of recent times.
Cilliers was born into a staunchly Christian household in South Africa. His mother, Zaan, is a pre-school teacher and father, Stolz, an engineer. He was raised in Ermelo, a small farming and mining town, and attended an Afrikaans private school.
His womanising began early — aged 16, he was wooing 13-year-old Nicolene Shepherd, a fellow pupil. Three years on, he proposed with his grandmother’s diamond ring.
They never actually married, and by the time daughter Cilene was born in June 2000, Cilliers was in the UK, supporting himself with farm and bar work in Oxfordshire. When he returned to South Africa in 2002 they resumed their relationship, and Nicolene was soon pregnant with their second child, Trevor.
To her horror, Cilliers insisted on a paternity test for both children.
‘I thought he and I were still very much together,’ she would recall. ‘I had not been unfaithful to him, but clearly he was using his own standards to judge mine.’
Despite this, Nicolene hoped to join Cilliers in the UK.
Those dreams were dashed the following year when he married a British woman, Carly Taylor. Devastated, Nicolene came to Britain anyway, setting up home in Somerton, Somerset.
When, in 2006, her daughter asked if she could meet her father, she contacted him. By then he was living in Larkhill, Wiltshire, having joined the British Army.
Emile Cilliers tried to kill his wife Victoria twice – first with a gas leak and then in a parachute jump – to get his hands on her money and start a new life
Cilliers responded immediately — claiming he was divorcing and had married to solve a visa problem. The pair resumed their relationship.
It was a huge mistake. Four weeks in, Cilliers was at work when the mobile he’d left behind by mistake rang and Nicolene answered. It was his wife, Carly.
‘I said I understood she and Emile were separated, and of course she put me right,’ said Nicolene. According to Nicolene, the women decided to confront Cilliers at his marital home.
‘His jaw hit the floor,’ Nicolene recalled in an interview with The Mail on Sunday. ‘He began speaking Afrikaans, knowing Carly wouldn’t understand. He basically asked me, ‘What the f*** are you doing here?’
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?’
Nicolene most certainly did not. Carly, with whom he had a son and daughter, persevered. But by 2009 the marriage had broken down — although not for ever.
His first attempt to kill his wife was by tampering with a gas pipe in their kitchen but she was alerted by the smell
Cilliers met physiotherapist Victoria over a treatment table at the Army gym in Tidworth that year. An experienced skydiver, she offered to teach him to parachute and their relationship blossomed. He proposed on holiday in South Africa in 2011, marrying there months later.
Like him, Victoria had a failed marriage behind her. Raised in Haddington, east of Edinburgh, her parents were Michael Kilby, a retired computer manager, and Veronica, a nurse.
Victoria attended the £17,000-a-year Edinburgh Academy, but a shadow fell over her childhood when she lost her mother to cancer in 1992.
As her mum battled the disease, 16-year-old Victoria did her first parachute jump for a cancer charity. She went on to qualify as an instructor and complete more than 2,600 jumps.
She joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, training as a physiotherapy officer in 1998. She rose to the rank of captain, and served at a field hospital in Kosovo.
In 2004, she married Captain Liam Fitzgerald-Finch. The couple spent long times apart and Victoria admitted walking out on her husband — whom, she told the first trial, she suspected of being unfaithful. She would have similar suspicions about her second husband.
After that failed he tampered with his wife’s parachute in a toilet cubicle having pretended to take their child to the loo
The first cracks in the Cilliers marriage, however, centred on finances. Cilliers ran up debts of £22,000, and at one stage Victoria loaned him £19,000 — which she claims he did not pay back.
Then, in late 2014, Victoria received a visit from debt collectors. ‘U promised before we married not to use loan sharks and now I get a big guy turning up to door trying to intimidate a pregnant woman with a visibly upset toddler,’ she wrote in a message to him. ‘Both of us shaken.’
Their first daughter was born soon after they married — Victoria suffered post-natal depression — and she became pregnant a second time in 2014.
By then Cilliers’s behaviour was cause for concern. She found condoms at home and in his car and noticed messages from other women. ‘There were messages from . . . sort of chats with women . . . saying he was going to visit them, something to do with the club, I can’t remember the name of it, but essentially it’s a sex club,’ Victoria would tell police.
The club in question was based at a terrace house in Salisbury and hosted swingers’ parties twice a month. Its owner would tell police he recalled Cilliers and had his phone number.
Cilliers also created a profile on swinging website Fab Swingers, saying he was looking for single women and couples aged 18 to 55. Using the moniker ‘Hot For It’, he posted naked pictures of himself and arranged a series of liaisons with strangers.
Reviews of alleged encounters which Cilliers posted on Fab Swingers appear to show he was cheating on his wife throughout their six-year marriage. He also used prostitutes. Questioned by police, Cilliers accepted having ‘casual sex’, but not a proper ‘affair’ — until November 2014.
Then, leaving his heavily pregnant wife at home, he went on a skiing trip to Austria, where he met skydiving instructor Stefanie Goller, 36.
He contacted her on dating app Tinder, telling the court: ‘I needed some female company.’
On his return he told Victoria: ‘I do not want to be in this marriage, we got married too quickly. I do not know what I want.’
Weeks later, Cilliers went to Berlin to romance Miss Goller in a £400-a-night spa hotel, using the money his wife had loaned him. His excuse that he was there to work did not convince his wife. ‘I cried so much I thought I was harming the baby,’ Victoria would recall.
While she suspected him of cheating, she did not know the half of it. Because by 2015, Cilliers’s first wife, Carly, was living in Amesbury — two miles from the Cillierses’ home.
In March, Cilliers contacted Carly to arrange to have sex. The location? Victoria’s car.
‘You can see the new car, we can take it for a spin,’ he wrote. ‘Maybe christen it.’
Another message sent on March 29, 2015 — the date is significant — read: ‘So tonight we xxxx twice’.
That evening, Cilliers slept in his barracks, claiming he wanted to avoid traffic the next morning. The following day Victoria discovered the gas leak from the damaged fitting at the £235,000 family home. She messaged Cilliers to jokingly suggest that maybe he was trying to kill her. Cilliers replied: ‘You also can’t be serious about the comment you made . . . You have been saying that a lot recently.’
Days later, she took to the skies for that fateful parachute jump — which, for the sake of her children, she had decided would be her last.
Waking up in hospital nursing multiple injuries, she found Cilliers by her side.
‘I said “I love you” and he did not reply,’ she told police. But then that was Cilliers down to a T.
He was interested only in Miss Goller, with whom he had exchanged thousands of WhatsApp messages since they met.
‘I will sacrifice and give up so much for you,’ he wrote, adding later: ‘I just never want to let you go.’
The father-of-six, who the prosecution called a ‘charmless unfaithful penniless scoundrel’, was also sleeping with his ex-wife Carly, Mrs Cilliers and Tinder lover Stefanie Goller (pictured)
As well as trips to see her abroad, she travelled to the UK. The pair celebrated Valentine’s Day together watching Fifty Shades Of Grey at the cinema.
‘From April onwards I can do random and spontaneous . . .’ he cryptically told her in one message, adding a week later: ‘To be with you I would do anything.’ On the day of the jump, April 5, he contacted his lover within minutes of hearing Victoria was in hospital, sending 250 messages in a matter of hours.
‘I can’t imagine anything like that happening to you,’ he wrote.
In the early hours of the following morning, Cilliers tried to reassure his girlfriend that his marriage was over anyway.
And despite his wife’s critical condition, when Miss Goller told Cilliers she had been working as a cleaner to earn extra cash, he only had one thing on his mind. ‘Will you be my cleaner?’ he asked. ‘I only like nude house cleaners.’
As ever with Cilliers, the grass was always greener on the other side.
It emerged during the court case that Cilliers had ended his relationship with Miss Goller. In September 2016, he told detectives this was because he now realised how much he still loved his wife.
‘I told Stefanie I wanted to spend time with my family and my wife,’ he said. ‘I realised Stefanie was a mistake and I want to put it behind me.’
Something his conviction yesterday means he will now never be able to do.