For the last three weeks Belgium has been in the grip of a horrific murder trial, which will go down into history as the ‘parachute murder’. The facts date from November 2006 and this is what happened:
Two women, E1 and E2, who are members of a parachute club, have an affaire with the same man: M, who’s also a member of the club. E1 is married and has two teenage children. E2 is a young single woman of 22. Both women pretend to be ‘best friends’. E2 knows that E1 and M are lovers. E1 however is not aware of the fact that her ‘best friend’ has affaire with M too.
In November 2006, the trio and several other club members set out for a day of parachute jumping. The two E-s, M and another man are the last to leave the plane. During the free fall they want to make a circular formation holding hands. E2 is the last one to jump. However, instead of joining the formation, she stays behind, over-viewing what is happening below.
At the required height the formation breaks up and all parachutists pull the knob that opens the ‘pilot chute’, which in its turn is supposed to open the main parachute. However, when E1 pulls the knob, the pilot chute comes loose and floats away. E1’s main chute therefore doesn’t open. The others see how, desperately E1 tries to open her emergency parachute, which … doesn’t open either. Ten seconds later E1 hits the ground and is killed instantly. At first everybody thinks it is just an unfortunate accident, until the enquiry shows that the strap that attaches the pilot chute to the main parachute has been cut and that somebody has tampered with the emergency parachute.
There are three suspects: E1’s husband, who wasn’t anywhere near the scene of the crime but who had had access to his wife’s parachute; M. who could have cut the strap when E1 was spending the night in his apartment a week before the fatal jump; and finally E2 who was at M’s apartment that same night too, but who slept on a mattress in the living room, while E1 and M shared the bedroom. E1’s parachute was within easy reach all night!
For three years the detectives tried to solve the mystery. E1’s husband was quickly ruled out as a suspect as he didn’t have the necessary technical knowledge to tamper with his wife’s parachute. Moreover, he was very much in love with her and knew nothing about her illicit affaire with M. M himself was also very smitten with E1 and therefore had no motif to kill her. Which leaves us with E2 who had the knowledge, the opportunity and the motif, as she was extremely jealous of her rival who was M’s favourite.
There are many other elements that supported the detectives’ conclusion: E2’s strange behaviour during and after the fatal parachute jump, her psychological profile and the fact that she lied about several facts.
This month, four years after the fatal ‘accident’, E2 has been brought to trial. A jury of twelve has been confronted with the elements the detectives have collected and the reports of several psychiatrists, called in by the prosecution as well as the defence.
The public opinion was divided over the matter. As there was no real material proof of E2’s guilt, she stood a 50/50 chance of being acquitted. It took the jury four hours to reach a verdict, which was pronounced last night, shortly after 7 p.m. Any idea what the outcome was? And what would your verdict have been?