February 12, 2007 12:00 PM

As police tell it, for the past five years Marcel Somers had been carrying on a quiet affair with Els van Doren, 37, a fellow member of a skydiving club near Zwartberg, Belgium. But his sense of discretion only went so far. A year ago Somers had started a clandestine romance with another skydiving enthusiast, Els Clottemans, 22, who also happened to be one of Van Doren’s best friends. Last November the love triangle shattered gruesomely when all three went for a routine jump from 13,000 feet. After releasing their hands from a formation, Van Doren began frantically trying to deploy her main chute as well as the emergency backup. “Marcel saw that her chute wasn’t open,” says club leader Jurgen Camps. “He saw her last five seconds. He couldn’t do anything. He could only watch.” Van Doren, who had a husband and two children, hit the ground at nearly 130 mph.

Investigators quickly concluded that the lines in Van Doren’s chute had been sabotaged. “The ropes and cords had been cut with scissors,” said prosecution spokesman Michel Zegers. Initially no suspicion fell on Clottemans, mostly due to her friendship with the victim. But she started to get closer scrutiny in December, when she attempted suicide shortly before she was due to appear for a police interview. It also turned out, say authorities, that she had access to Van Doren’s parachute a week before the death. Late last month Clottemans—who was once questioned, and later released, for allegedly trying to run over her American boyfriend in a separate incident—was arrested and charged with the murder of Van Doren. Said Zegers: “I believe we can call this a crime of passion.” (Clottemans has denied any involvement in her friend’s death.)

According to local news accounts, Somers had tried to keep his two girlfriends from finding out about each other, spending Friday nights with Clottemans and Saturday afternoons with the married Van Doren. All the same, says club leader Camps, “Mars is absolutely not a womanizer.” For the moment he is only grief-stricken, says Camps, “completely devastated” by the tragedy.

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