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The Parachute murder
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Love triangle - Sabotaged her friend's parachute in a fit of jealousy
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: November 18, 2006
Date of arrest: January 2007
Date of birth: 1984
Victim profile: Els Van Doren, 37 (her romantic rival)
Method of murder: Died when both her primary and reserve parachutes failed to deploy
Location: Opglabbeek, Limburg, Belgium
Status: Sentenced to a 30 years imprisonment on October 21, 2010
photo gallery

The Parachute murder is a name the Belgian media gave the 2010 Belgian love triangle skydiving murder trial. The defendant, elementary school teacher and amateur skydiver Els 'Babs' Clottemans, was found guilty of murder by sabotaging the parachute of another woman, fellow skydiver Els Van Doren, because Van Doren was a rival for the love of Marcel Somers, also a skydiver.

The skydive in which Van Doren died occurred on November 18, 2006. Van Doren, who was a 38 years old married mother of two and a very experienced skydiver, died when both her primary and reserve parachutes failed to deploy.

The dive was captured by a video camera mounted on Van Doren's helmet. Van Doren dropped from a height of over 2 miles (3.2 km) landing in a garden in the town of Opglabbeek. Police later established that the cords of the parachute had been cut.

The case was entirely circumstantial. Clottemans became a suspect when she attempted suicide just before she was going to give a second statement to police a month after the incident. Police later learned that both Van Doren and Clottemans had a sexual relationship with Somers.

The prosecutors alleged that Clottemans had the opportunity to sabotage Van Doren's parachute the week before the fatal jump, when Clottemans, Van Doren, and Somers all spent the weekend at Somers' home, with Clottemans sleeping in the living room while the other two were in the bedroom.

According to the allegation Clottemans would have had the opportunity to cut Van Doren's parachute's cables, as the parachute was in the apartment, and experts estimated that it would have taken no more than 30 seconds to have cut the cables with scissors. While normally the three would jump together to create a formation, during the jump in question, Clottemans stayed on the plane a few extra seconds and watched Van Doren's dive from above.

Investigators were not able to determine if Van Doren knew that Somers also had a relationship with Clottemans. For her part, Clottemans told the Belgian media in 2007 that "[she] always knew that [she] was number two for Marcel and that Els was number one. [She] never had a problem with this at the time as [she] had such a low image of [her]self that [she] could only ever imagine being number two."

Clottemans was charged and arrested in January 2007, but released on bail in 2008. Her trial began on September 24, 2010 with jury selection and ended on October 20, 2010 with a conviction. Interest in the trial was so large, that "a room next to the courthouse had to be used for journalists to follow the proceedings through remote video."

After the trial began, Clottemans, who maintained her innocence, was placed on suicide watch. On October 21, 2010 Clottemans was sentenced to a 30 years imprisonment. In sentencing her to 30 years rather than life, the judge took "her feeble psychological condition" as extenuating circumstances. Clottemans appealed the verdict on the ground that she was interrogated by police without the presence of her attorney. The appeal was denied in May 2011.


Belgian parachute murderer loses appeal

By Philip Blenkinsop -

May 3, 2011

(Reuters) - A Belgian teacher sentenced to 30 years for the murder of a skydiving love rival lost an appeal against her conviction on Tuesday.

Els Clottemans was found guilty last October of cutting through key parts of the parachute system of Els Van Doren, 38, before the two jumped with their mutual lover in November 2006.

Clottemans had appealed on the grounds that investigators questioned her for more than 100 hours without a lawyer present.

Van Doren, married with two children, smashed into a back garden from around 4,500 metres (15,000 feet) in the air when her main and reserve chutes failed to open in the jump recorded by a video camera on her helmet.


Els Clottemans, Belgian Skydiver Who Doctored Parachute Of Love Rival, Gets 30 Years

By Robert Wielaard -

October 21, 2010

BRUSSELS — A jealous schoolteacher who doctored the parachute of a love rival causing her to plunge to her death was sentenced to 30 years in prison Thursday.

In sentencing Els Clottemans, 26, the judge said the only mitigating circumstance in the 2006 skydive murder was her feeble psychological condition. Clottemans attempted suicide in 2008.

She was sentenced a day after she was found guilty of murdering Els Van Doren by sabotaging her parachute so neither it nor a safety chute would open during a Nov. 18, 2006, jump.

A jury at a courthouse in the East Belgian town of Tongeren agreed with the prosecution that jealousy motivated Clottemans.

She and Van Doren were members of the same parachute club. The killer and her victim were intimately involved with the same a man, a Dutch skydiver, whom Clottemans wanted for herself.

The jury said Clottemans acted with premeditation and that, as an accomplished jumper, she knew very well how to disable a parachute. Evidence at the trial showed she sent anonymous letters about Van Doren's love life to mutual friends and that she was psychologically unstable. Clottemans faced a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Her trial opened Sept. 24 with the accused sitting nervously near the mud-caked parachute bag and helmet that Van Doren wore on the day she died.

The jury saw video footage from a camera mounted on her helmet, that Van Doren had shot during what would be her last jump.

She and Clottemans were among the last four jumpers to leave the Cessna plane.

The video showed how the victim looked up, yanking at her gear, hoping to see an open canopy above her.

Neither parachute opened and she crashed into a garden in the East Belgian town of Opglabbeek and died instantly.

Throughout her trial, Clottemans maintained her innocence.


The skydiver's fatal attraction

Belgian woman sentenced for sabotaging her friend's parachute. The motive? Jealousy.

By Paul Ames -

October 21, 2010

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The skydiver’s horrific final moments were captured by the video camera on her helmet.

Els Van Doren plunged screaming for more than half a mile as she frantically struggled to open her sabotaged parachute.

On Wednesday, a jury found fellow skydiver Els “Babs” Clottemans guilty of her friend’s murder, the crime motivated by a deadly rivalry for the affections of the lover they shared.

Clottemans, 26, had always denied the charge that she’d caused the fatal fall in November 2006.

“I’m really innocent and can only keep on repeating it” she pleaded in a final appeal to the jury. “For four years I’ve been accused of something I didn’t do.”

However, the 12 members of the jury in the eastern Belgian city of Tongeren took just four hours to find her guilty of premeditated murder.

The primary school teacher's face was ashen as the verdict was read. The victim’s tearful husband and teenage children hugged. Today, Clottemans was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The victim, Els Van Doren, had led a double life.

During the week the 37-year-old mother of two worked with her husband in the family jewelry store. Weekends she spent at the Zwartburg parachute club to enjoy her passion for skydiving and to meet her long-time lover, fellow club member Marcel Somers.

The three were friends, but unknown to Van Doren, Somers had also begun an affair with Clottemans. A week before the fatal jump, the three of them spent the night at Somers’ home in the Dutch city of Eindhoven. Van Doren shared Somers’ bed, while Clottemans was consigned to the sofa in the front room.

The prosecution claimed that she was infuriated by the couples’ lovemaking in the room next door, and took a pair of scissors to cut the strings of her rival’s parachute, which was stored in Somers’ apartment.

Somers and Clottemans both jumped with Van Doren from a Cessna light aircraft flying two and a half miles over the Belgian countryside on Nov. 18, 2006. Together with another man they were supposed to link hands and free fall in a star formation, but Clottemans jumped too late to join them. She was able to look down on the other woman’s fatal fall.

At first all seems fine on the video, but when the signal is given to open the parachutes, Van Doren’s fails to open. An experienced skydiver with more than 2,300 jumps behind her, she tries desperately to activate the reserve 'chute before crashing to her death in a garden in the northeastern village of Opglabbeek.

Media interest in the case has been intense over the four weeks of the trial and Belgian television networks carried the reading of the verdict live.

Defense lawyers argued that there was no forensic evidence linking their client to the killing. Clottemans had pointed the finger at Somers or Van Doren’s husband, Jan De Wilde.

Somers had told the court Van Doren was the “love of his life” and he bitterly regretted becoming involved with Clottemans. De Wilde said he’d learned about his wife’s affair only after her death and therefore had no motive for the killing.

The jury agreed with prosecutors that circumstantial evidence linking Clottemans to the crime was overwhelming. Her jealousy provided the motive and she had ample opportunity to tamper with both the main- and reserve-parachutes during the night at Somers’ apartment and the necessary expertise to sabotage Van Doren’s kit without the damage being visible.

“Els Clottemans carries an unspeakable anger within her,” Jef Vermassen, attorney for the victims’ family said in his closing arguments. “It has led to the most horrible type of attack: murder. She is totally intensive and feels no empathy.”


Murder at 13,000ft: The dramatic final moments of skydiving victim captured by her OWN camera

September 26, 2010

This is the dramatic footage showing the final moments of Els Van Doren, who was allegedly killed by a love rival by sabotaging her parachute.

It was played to a Belgian court in the trial of Els Clottemans who is accused of killing Els Van Doren, with whom she shared a passion for skydiving and a lover.

Clottemans, 26, denies the murder charges and accusations that she killed Van Doren to have the lover, Marcel Somers, to herself.

The case has captured the imagination of Belgians since Van Doren fell 13,000ft into a suburban garden in eastern Belgium after her parachute did not open on November 18, 2006.

The pair are believed to have met the handsome Dutchman at their parachute club in Zwartberg.

A married mother-of-two and skydiving enthusiast, Van Doren had jumped from a plane with Clottemans, their Dutch lover and another skydiver.

Clottemans jumped a fraction too late and did not join in airborne stunts with the other three.

When the sign was given to open the parachutes, Van Doren struggled with the cords, before hurtling toward the ground.

Van Doren plunged to her death a fortnight after spending the night in her lover’s arms – while Clottemans was forced to sleep on the couch.

On the night which is alleged to have led to the murder, Van Doren was in Marcel's flat when her rival showed up at the property.

Two weeks later, when Van Doren used it for the first time since the allegedly fateful night with Somers, she hurtled to the ground at a speed of 120mph and was killed instantly.

Her final moments were caught on film by her own head-mounted camera.

The trio had been due to perform tricks together in the sky, but Clottemans jumped a fraction too late and did not join the manouevres.

Clottemans became a prime suspect when she attempted suicide hours before she was due to make a second statement to police, a month after the incident.

Detectives claimed in 2005 that Clottemans sent anonymous letters to Van Doren's husband, bombarded Somers with anonymous phone calls and once tried to kill herself.

In 2007, Clottemans told the Belgian media: ‘I always knew that I was number two for Marcel and that Els was number one. I never had a problem with this at the time as I had such a low image of myself that I could only ever imagine being number two.’

No hard evidence has surfaced so far to support the murder charge, but prosecutors hope circumstantial links will secure the conviction.

Chief defence lawyer Vic Van Aelst said prosecutors 'have nothing' to tie his client to the death.

'They have to prove they have something, but they are trying to do it since four years and it is not going very well for them,' he added.


Prosecutors: Skydiving love triangle led to murder

By Raf Casert - Associated Press

September 24, 2010

BRUSSELS—The two women shared the same first name and were close friends. They both had a passion for skydiving. And they both loved the same man.

Prosecutors say this love triangle led to high-altitude murder when Els Clottemans sabotaged her friend's parachute in a fit of jealousy as they skydived together, sending her romantic rival plunging to her death in a horrifying fall captured on video.

As her murder trial opened Friday, Clottemans sat nervously in front of the mudcaked parachute bag and helmet that Els Van Doren wore as she frantically tried to open the chute before hitting the ground in November 2006 from a height of 13,000 feet (4,500 meters).

The video camera mounted on her helmet showed how Van Doren desperately looked up, hoping to see an open canopy. Seconds later, she crashed into the low shrubbery of a suburban garden in eastern Belgium and was killed instantly.

Clottemans, a 26-year-old schoolteacher, has vehemently denied the murder charge and accusations that she killed her friend to claim for herself Dutch skydiver Marcel Somers, whom both had slept with.

The 68-page indictment read out by Prosecutor Patrick Boyen said there was enough evidence for the murder charge.

"As skydiver, she had the knowledge and opportunity to sabotage the parachute," the indictment said. It alleged she made two key cuts to Van Doren's parachute.

"On top of that, she had a relationship with Marcel ... who also had a relationship with the victim, giving the accused a motive to have Marcel for her alone," the indictment said.

Chief defense lawyer Vic Van Aelst said prosecutors have nothing but circumstantial allegations.

"I read no guilt and I see no guilt," Van Aelst said.

"We will not deny that Ms. Clottemans has had some problems," he said. "But she certainly is not a psychopath."

A jury was selected Friday, and the trial in the town of Tongeren is expected to last a month.

Clottemans became a prime suspect when she attempted suicide hours before she was to make a second statement to police a month after Van Doren's death.

At one time, the 38-year-old Van Doren was so close to Clottemans at the skydiving club that she decided to have everybody call her younger friend "Babs" so there would be no more first name confusion.

On Nov. 18, 2006, Van Doren, an experienced skydiver with 2,300 jumps to her name, leapt out of a Cessna with Clottemans, Marcel and another skydiver to perform aerial maneuvers during their fall.

Clottemans, however, said she jumped a fraction too late to join the other three. When the sign was given to open the parachutes, Van Doren struggled with hers and hurtled toward the ground. The helmet-mounted camera recorded her desperate attempt to release her reserve parachute.

"The first question a family normally asks is whether the victim suffered, whether she knew what happened. We don't have to ask. It was filmed. Try to deal with that as a family," said Jef Vermassen, a lawyer for Van Doren's family.

A married mother of two, Van Doren spent most weekends away from her family, skydiving and hanging out with Somers at the skydiving club or his home. After the two became lovers, Clottemans also became their friend and eventually also slept with Somers.

A week before Van Doren's death, all three stayed at Somers' home, with Clottemans sleeping in the living room while the other two were in the bedroom. Prosecutors say that during that weekend, Clottemans could have sabotaged the parachute.

It was not clear from the trial's first day if Van Doren had known that Clottemans had slept with Somers.


Woman skydiver on trial for murdering love rival

A woman skydiver has gone on trial accused of murdering her love rival by tampering with her parachute and causing her to plunge 13,000ft to her death

By Bruno Waterfield -

September 24, 2010

Els or "Babs" Clottemans, 25, is alleged to have murdered her married skydiving partner Els Van Doran, 37, in November 2006, after apparently growing jealous that they were both having an affair with the same boyfriend, a fellow parachutist.

Parachuting with both women, the lover, Marcel or "Mars" Somers, 25, watched in horror as Mrs Van Doran, a mother with two children, crashed over two miles to her death into a garden in the Flemish Limburg town of Opglabbeek.

The three had taken off from the small aerodrome of Zwartberg on a regular their Sunday skydiving trip. Unlike other jumps, when the trio would hold join a star formation before splitting up to open their chutes at 4,000ft, it is claimed that Miss Clottemans hung back when leaving the aircraft.

She allegedly then watched from above as her friend Mrs Van Doren, an experienced skydiver with 2,000 jumps, struggled to open both her main and reserve parachutes. The fall was captured on the victim's head-mounted video camera and footage of the jump, showing her frantic efforts to open her main and reserve parachutes provided key evidence for police.

Detectives found signs that both parachutes had been sabotaged.

Miss Clottemans is said to have befriended Mr Somers and Mrs Van Doren in 2004 and used to sleep on a mattress in his living room while he shared the bedroom with the other women.

Then a second affair allegedly began between Mr Somers and Els Clottemans, known as "Babs" to distinguish her from Els Van Doren.

At the weekend of the death, both women had apparently spent Friday night with Mr Somers. According to the prosecution, Miss Clottemans, slept in the living room was close to Mrs Van Doren's parachute, which was in the house's hall.

Their jump the next day was postponed from the Saturday until Sunday because of bad weather and Mrs Van Doren went home to her family. Miss Clottemans stayed with Mr Somers.

Belgian court psychiatrists have declared Miss Clottemans to be "a danger to society" and to be a "psychopath with dramatic features".

The accused, who was released from prison on bail over two years ago, is said by family and friends to acted "mature and calmly" since.

"My client has evolved since her release in January 2008 and does not behave like a psychopath. She started working as a teacher," said Vic Van Aelst, her lawyer.

Opening the trial, Mr Van Aelst insisted that prosecutors "have nothing" to directly tie Miss Clottemans to the death.

"They have to prove they have something, but they are trying to do it since four years and it is not going very well for them," he said.

Miss Clottemans denies the charge.


Belgian skydiver 'murdered love rival' during jump

September 24, 2010

A Belgian court has begun trying a woman accused of murdering her love rival by sabotaging her parachute on a sky dive four years ago.

Els Clottemans is accused of murdering Els Van Doren who fell 1,000m (3,200 ft) to her death while jumping with her and the man they both loved.

Ms Van Doren held hands in formation with her lover seconds before finding her parachute cords had been cut.

Ms Clottemans, 26, denies the charges laid against her.

The elementary school teacher showed no sign of emotion as prosecutor Patrick Boyen read the 68-page indictment in the courtroom in the Flemish town of Tongeren (French: Tongres).

She only spoke to confirm basic details such as her date of birth and profession while her lawyers issued a statement expressing their firm belief that their client had not killed a woman she regarded as a friend.

Helmet camera

Els Van Doren, then 38, died on 18 November 2006, crashing into a garden in the village of Opglabbeek after both of her parachutes failed to open.

Her horrific death fall was captured by her own helmet video camera, which only stopped recording at the moment of impact.

She had jumped over the Zwartberg area at 4,000m (13,000 ft) along with Marcel Somers and a second man. All three were experienced parachutists.

The three took each other's hands for a formation free fall they had rehearsed on the ground earlier along with Ms Clottemans, Belgium's Le Soir newspaper reports.

But Ms Clottemans missed them, having jumped a fraction too late.

The alleged murderer was reportedly able to watch as her three fellow jumpers separated at 1,000m to open their parachutes, with Ms Van Doren trying in vain to activate hers.

"Els tried to do everything to try to save herself," Luc Deijgers, who piloted the Cessna plane, told Belgian TV.

"She tried to open the reserve parachute but it wouldn't open. That never happens."

After establishing that the victim's cords had been cut, police arrested Ms Clottemans in January 2007.

Night together

Investigators piecing together the events leading up to the death believe Ms Clottemans wrote an anonymous letter and made anonymous phone calls to Ms Van Doren.

Laying out details of the love triangle, Mr Boyen said for the prosecution that Mr Somers had entertained Ms Van Doren, a married mother of two, most Saturdays while often seeing Ms Clottemans on Fridays.

According to Mr Somers, quoted in the UK's Independent newspaper, he had been trying to "shake off" Ms Clottemans.

A week before the fatal jump, the two women spent the night in his flat, Ms Van Doren sharing his bed while Ms Clottemans slept on a mattress or sofa.

Ms Clottemans would have had the opportunity of sabotaging the other woman's parachutes, which were in the flat at the time, investigators say.

Experts said it would have taken just 30 seconds to do so with scissors.

More than 200 witnesses are expected to be called to the trial, due to last four weeks.

A verdict is expected on 20 October.



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