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Spousal murder: Till Death Us Do Part

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An army sergeant has been found guilty of attempting to murder his wife just five weeks after she gave birth. Emile Cilliers was convicted of two attempted murder charges after he tampered with his wife’s parachute. Victoria Cilliers, a keen skydiver and parachuting instructor, was taking part in a 4,000ft jump when the incident happened. It’s attempted murder because she survived.

This is not an isolated example. Statistically, female victims are more likely to have been killed by those current or former intimate partners than anyone else. Cilliers is just one of the latest examples in a long list of people who have killed (or attempted to kill) their partners.

One of the most famous cases is the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, (allegedly) committed by OJ Simpson. After a seven-year marriage, during which Nicole was abused by Simpson, she was found brutally murdered outside her home in 1994, with waiter Ron Goldman lying nearby. Although OJ was found not guilty in the criminal case against him, a civil case (brought by the victims’ families) found him liable.

Connie Dabate was murdered in 2015. Initially, police thought it was a result of a home invasion. Police found her husband Richard zip-tied to a chair, Connie shot with his gun. Richard claimed a masked intruder was behind the crime. But evidence came up that disproved this theory: Connie had been on Facebook at the time of the alleged break-in and data from her Fitbit proved she had been moving about for almost an hour after her husband said she had been killed. It was later discovered that Richard had been having an affair for seven years and his lover was pregnant at the time of Connie’s death. He was arrested for her murder.

Research has been conducted on such cases and more specifically, the men who murder their current or former partners. In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that looked into female homicides in the United States between 2003 and 2014. In that time period, they discovered that 93% of the victims were killed by their husbands, lovers and former or current boyfriends. Family members were included in the remaining 7%. Anything from money worries to jealousy or the desire to start a new life with someone else can be behind the crimes.

But despite the statistics, men aren’t the only ones guilty of committing spousal murder.

Stacey Castor’s first husband, Michael Wallace, died in 2000, the death described at the time as a heart attack. In 2003, Stacey remarried David Castor. Two years later, she called police saying David was suicidal. When police arrived, they found him dead next to a bottle of antifreeze. When the death was investigated, police discovered Stacey had been force-feeding him the poison. They then exhumed the body of her first husband and found evidence of the same poison. Castor attempted to frame her daughter for the crimes (dosing her with pills so heavily she fell into a coma), but she was arrested and sentenced to 51 years in prison, where she later died.

Then there’s the case of Japan’s Chisako Kakehi: a woman who killed at least eight men. Between 1994 and 2003, seven men who Kakehi had dated or married died, leaving her around $7 million dollars in insurance money. She had poisoned them.

Nor are the crimes exclusive to monogamous relationships.

Sheryl Outerbridge had been in a polyamorous relationship with Devonnee and Malik Wilkerson, but it became abusive; Outerbridge turned up with black eyes, a split lip and once, a broken jaw. She ran away from the couple, but they found her and brought her home, taking turns to punch her and beat her with a hammer, throwing a bottle at her head and stubbing a cigarette into her skin. Then, they dumped her body. Devonnee claimed that Sheryl had crossed the line by getting Devonnee’s pet name for Malik tattooed on her.

But while in some cases, the answers behind the crimes seem obvious, the answer isn’t always as simple as money worries or jealousy, as the case of Sally Challen proves.

Challen had been married to her husband, Richard, for 31 years and had two children together. Then in 2010, she attacked him with a hammer and bludgeoned him to death. Initially, the motive looked simple: Richard had been having affairs throughout their marriage, even going to a brothel near where Sally worked. But the case went deeper than jealousy. Throughout their relationship, Richard had been abusive and manipulative. Sally had been the object of coercive control—a victim of psychological and mental abuse, constantly humiliated, isolated from support and unable to question any of Richard’s actions. Once, he went so far as anally raping her as a punishment. Sally was initially convicted and sentenced to 22 years in prison. But in 2015, coercive control was finally recognised as a criminal offence and earlier this year, Sally was given permission to appeal her conviction, the judge allowing the admission of fresh evidence. It’s a victory for a victim of domestic abuse.

So why did Cilliers attempt to kill his wife? Money seems to be the most obvious answer. He had wracked up around £22,000 worth of debt and was relying on his wife’s life insurance payout.

But there was also the fact that he had been conducting affairs throughout their relationship. He had been cheating on her while she was pregnant with his ex-wife and with a woman he met on Tinder. He also arranged to meet sex workers. A week before the parachuting incident, he had tampered with a gas fitting in their home in an attempt to cause an explosion, while he was safely at work. Luckily, his attempts failed.

Cilliers might have been convicted, his wife surviving the attempts, but often, these crimes involve tragic consequences and victims that don’t see justice.