A court may have found Emile Cilliers guilty of trying to murder his skydiving wife Vicky by cutting the cords of her parachute – but the wronged woman who fell 4,000ft to earth and lived still hasn’t reached a verdict of her own.
‘Yes I’m hurt and angry,’ she tells The Mail on Sunday. ‘But can I see Emile as capable of murder? No.’
In a startling exclusive interview – during which Vicky, a 42-year-old physiotherapist, lost the composure which has seen her through two dramatic trials – she reveals:
- She has no immediate plans to divorce her husband;
- She has spent the past three years telling her two children their daddy has gone away for work;
- She had a sixth sense telling her not to jump the day after Cilliers sabotaged her parachute but ignored it;
- She wants to visit her husband in prison to confront him face to face, asking, ‘What the hell? Why? Why is this all happening?’
‘Perhaps I’ll parachute in,’ she jokes, showing the stubbornness and strength of character that saw her first survive that terrible free-fall and then find herself a hostile witness for a prosecution which in her words ‘had no smoking gun’.
Vicky, a 42-year-old physiotherapist, who fell 4,000ft to earth, accepts her husband was a serial philanderer but cannot bring herself to believe he was willing to kill her
She accepts her husband was a serial philanderer and a skilled liar, that he had a sordid appetite for sex with swingers and prostitutes and that he had pressing debts. She knows he wanted to leave her to start a new life with his blonde mistress and that a life insurance payout would have helped fund it.
But she still cannot bring herself to believe he was willing to kill her in such a cold-hearted, premeditated way and leave their daughter, now six, and son, now three, motherless.
‘It’s hard to comprehend that someone you are married to and have children with would be capable of that,’ she says.
It’s an outcome stunningly at odds with the overwhelming evidence of his guilt and one which seems to have more to do with Vicky’s sense of pride and self-preservation – and her need to protect her children – than any doubt that justice has been done.
The case was first revealed by the MoS in May 2015, but this is Vicky’s first interview about it. ‘My family, friends, everyone seems to think they know more than I do,’ she says. ‘They see different evidence to me. Because I’m sitting on the fence they [the prosecution] felt the need to try to push me off. I felt bullied and humiliated in court, manipulated, like I was being used as a pawn by the prosecution.
‘I have to go, I suppose, with the verdict. It’s almost like peer pressure to conform. It’s got me into a whole load of hot water because I haven’t conformed, I’ve stuck to what I believe.’
When it’s pointed out to her there is no plausible alternative, she goes on: ‘I know, which makes it all the harder. But he was my husband. Yes, things might have been breaking down. He’d been unfaithful, he’d had issues with money, but that is not attempted murder.’ Last week, however, Winchester Crown Court declared it was – finding Cilliers, a 38-year-old Army sergeant, guilty of trying to kill Vicky twice in one week in April 2015. First he had attempted to rig a gas explosion at their modern, detached home in the town of Amesbury, Wiltshire, and when that failed he secretly tangled the cords of her main parachute and removed crucial components from her reserve chute ahead of a skydive.
Emile and Vicky Cilliers pictured skydiving together over Wiltshire in 2011. A court found he tried to kill her by cutting the cords of her parachute
Tampering with the gas valve led to a third charge of recklessly endangering the lives of his children who were in the house with their mother. He was also found guilty on that count and is currently awaiting sentencing. Vicky has not spoken to him since he was charged three years ago and did not even look at him as she walked out of court for the final time. She doesn’t love him any more but does feel compassion as he faces the prospect of decades behind bars.
‘I love the husband I used to have, not the one that he became. I don’t know the man he is today,’ she says sadly, adding: ‘I will always care for the father of my children.’
Her priority now is to protect them from him. ‘I want to be able to put this behind me. I don’t want it to consume our lives. It’s not going to do them any favours if I’m bitter and ranting. They need a happy, well-adjusted life. I want boring and normal for us now, for them to grow up untainted. ‘One of the hardest things to deal with has been our daughter’s questions and her hurt. She still asks regularly “Where’s Daddy? When am I going to see him? Why can’t I speak to him on FaceTime?” ’
Following the conviction, Vicky must explain Cilliers is in prison ‘for doing a bad thing’, but she has no intention of revealing that Daddy tried to kill Mummy. She is anguished by the knowledge that one day both children will know the truth and that their son will also learn Cilliers told his mistress the boy was not his biological child but the product of an extra-marital affair by Vicky. ‘I can live with his lies, it’s the betrayal of my children which is the hardest to bear,’ she says.
But then Cilliers had a long history of betraying those who loved him the most. He betrayed his first partner, his South African teenage sweetheart Nicolene Shepherd by similarly denying her two children were his. (They were.) He married his first wife Carly Taylor without breaking off his relationship with Nicolene. After they were divorced he met and married Vicky but would then cheat on her by returning to Carly’s bed and starting an obsessive love affair with Austrian Stefanie Goller whom he met on an Army skiing trip when Vicky was pregnant. Nobody knows how many flings, one night stands and sordid sex club parties he enjoyed along the way.
Asked to explain his attraction, Vicky says simply: ‘He’s an alpha male. He’s passionate and intense. When he’s into something, or someone, it is 100 per cent.’
Emile Cilliers pictured with Vicky at an Army function. She knows he wanted to leave her to start a new life with his blonde mistress and that a life insurance payout would have helped
Indeed, pictures taken on formal Army nights show Cilliers to be a dapper military man whose uniform fails to hide the gym-honed physique beneath. At his wedding on the South African cape, Cilliers, on his knees as he makes his vows to Vicky, is depicted as a true romantic. He adored adrenaline sports such as skiing and skydiving, was good around the house and a devoted, hands-on father. He was also kind and endlessly affectionate. He would put Vicky’s favourite wine in the fridge, cuddle her and frequently tell her: ‘I love you.’
They met when he came to her for physio after a skiing accident. By the time of their wedding, she was already five weeks pregnant. Their first three years together, building a home, their family and careers were happy, their marital harmony marred only by Cilliers’s free-spending ways. Vicky is very clear that the image of a toxic, troubled relationship which emerged from court was wrong. Their own sex life continued until the eve of the jump in which she should have died.
‘After I fell pregnant with our son, Emile went on a ski trip and came back a different person – my husband had simply disappeared,’ she says. She recognised he was having an affair but felt too vulnerable in pregnancy to fight it so she set a deadline of September 2015 for it to be over and her husband’s financial problems to be resolved.
Cornered by debt and all the lies he had told Goller about leaving Vicky, Cilliers chose murder over divorce and ruin, trying first to ignite a gas explosion and then sabotaging her skydive. Even as he awaited the return of the jury, Cilliers was denying his guilt in frantic texts to his mother telling her: ‘I’m not holding up well. My life is in ruins, and I’m totally innocent.’
Vicky has made a full physical recovery from her parachute crash, although her pelvis is held together with metal pins.
‘Bones heal, but hearts, probably not,’ she says, giving a small clue as to why she can’t yet acknowledge the evil which was at work in her marriage. On the hearth in her living room stands a contemporary sculpture, a heart within a heart, formed by a loving couple leaning together above two children.
It’s all Vicky Cilliers ever wanted, and as much as she says bravely, ‘I’m not a victim, a victim would have died that day’, it’s impossible not to feel sorry for her.
Additional reporting by Barbara Jones in South Africa
‘I had a sixth sense I was going to die’: Skydive murder plot victim reveals she felt a catatonic fear BEFORE the jump after her instincts told her something was wrong
Vicky Cilliers (pictured in hospital) had a terrifying sixth sense she should not jump on the day her husband tried to kill her, she has revealed
Vicky Cilliers had a terrifying sixth sense she should not jump on the day her husband tried to kill her, she has revealed.
She believes a guardian angel – her mother Veronica who died of bowel cancer when her daughter was just 16 – saved her from certain death.
‘I think my mum was up there looking after me. Physics can’t explain how I survived, so something else has to.’
Vicky, a veteran of 2,600 jumps, explained: ‘I felt a catatonic fear as the aircraft doors were closing, like nothing I’d ever known before.
‘If I had listened to my instincts, I would not have got on the plane for the “hop and pop” [parachuting slang for when jumpers deploy their chutes as soon as they leave the aircraft]. All the way up to our jumping altitude of 4,000ft, I knew I should not be jumping, I just didn’t understand why.’ Her memories of what followed are hazed by the trauma and by the ketamine and morphine administered when she hit the ground. Her injuries included a broken pelvis, broken ribs and fractured spine.
A double parachute malfunction is so rare there had not been one in Britain for 30 years.
It happened on Vicky’s fateful jump on April 5, 2015, because her husband Emile had tampered with her main and reserve canopies to ensure that neither deployed correctly.
Having taken Vicky’s parachute rig to a toilet cubicle at Netheravon airfield in Wiltshire, he tangled the lines of the main canopy and removed vital links from her reserve so it was not properly connected to her harness.
As a result, Vicky found herself unable to control her main parachute. So she cut herself loose and deployed her reserve canopy. But when it opened, she started spinning with increasing speed. She had just seconds to save herself.
She said: ‘I was diving down, down towards the ground. Annoyance turned to anger and then fear, but panicking gets you nowhere.
Vicky about to do a jump from a plane. She is a veteran of an astounding 2,600 jumps
‘I told myself, “I have to fix this: failure is not an option.” I’m a mother, I could not even let myself think I might die.
‘I had no sense of that earth approaching because I didn’t look down.
‘I knew what I needed was something functioning above my head so my sole focus was above, not below. I had no idea about the time to impact.’
She was saved by three things: her expertise, her light weight (she is eight stone) and the fact she was cushioned by a ploughed field. Even so, her survival is miraculous.
‘I remember nothing about hitting the ground except a metallic bang.
‘I came to and was able to wiggle my fingers and toes which made me think, thank God, my spine is intact.
‘But I wasn’t proud of myself because I had never considered not surviving.’
Now she is planning a jump to raise funds for the air ambulance which flew her to hospital.
Chilling text to his ex: Former lover of British army sergeant Emile Cilliers who tried to kill his wife by sabotaging her parachute reveals he warned her to stay away with a terrifying message
Emile Cilliers sent a chilling threat to his ex-lover just months before sabotaging his wife’s parachute.
He warned Nicolene Shepherd not to contact him after she accused him of abandoning their two children.
She had texted him after discovering he had fathered six in all. ‘Six children? Really? And you can’t even take care of the first two,’ she wrote. Cilliers replied: ‘Leave me alone or I will do something [that] will make you regret talking to me again.’
Looking back after his conviction, Nicolene says it was a clear threat. ‘He is capable of absolutely anything,’ she said. ‘It makes me shudder to think what he might have done.’
Full-time mother Nicolene, 34, of Somerton in Somerset, met Cilliers in their native South Africa and followed him to Britain. But he left her to marry Carly Taylor, with whom he had two more children.
As revealed by the MoS last year, during that marriage he continued to see Nicolene.
And although they divorced in 2009 he was still having sex with Carly after marrying Victoria.
Incredibly, he cheated on both of them with his Austrian mistress – skydiver Stephanie Goller.