Human beings are resilient creatures. We can survive an unbelievable amount of physical damage and can withstand terrible emotional turmoil without going mad. Often times, these trials and tribulations can even make us stronger in the long run.
Mark had dealt with a lot in his young life. He was in his early twenties when he was diagnosed with HIV, but he didn’t let that defeat him. He soldiered on, found love and success. But everyone has their breaking point…
Couldn’t Take It
Mark had spent more than a year in a Bristol hospital. He’d been home before that, but his condition necessitated a change of scenery and more round-the-clock care. He was waiting, something he did all the time now, for a private ambulance to arrive. It was taking him to Belgium, so that he could be euthanized.
A year before he decided to end his own life, Mark was a happy 29-year-old recent graduate student living with a woman he had loved for more than half a decade. Mark had met 48-year-old Berlinah, on a dating website for people with HIV, a condition they both suffered from. Despite the age gap, they fell in love…
Woken in the Night
It was while the two were living together in Bristol that the incident first happened. One of their neighbors recalled the night it occurred in horrifying detail. Mr. Sweet heard his neighbors, the nice couple down the hall, arguing loudly. He described it as sounding like foxes fighting. He heard screaming and pain, and someone shout, “Help me.”
Calling for Help
Sweet came out of his flat with a golf club to see what was going on. When he reached the hall, he saw Mark holding his face and moaning, crying like he was in excruciating pain. He came closer and tried to see what was wrong. Mark removed his hands and what Mr. Sweet saw shocked him to the core. The young man’s face was melting away…
The neighbor called 911 and Mark Van Dongen was rushed to the hospital. They did the best they could for him, but it was already too late. Mark’s vision was blurred by the attack and much of his face and mouth had been destroyed, but he wanted to see his face. He asked for a mirror and as soon as he beheld his visage, he let out a blood-curdling scream.
Extent of Injuries
As far as the doctors could tell, Mark’s face had been melted by some sort of acid. He lost sight in his left eye and most sight in his right as well. The nerve damage was so great that he was left almost paralyzed and only able to move his tongue. He couldn’t speak well but he knew enough to say that he knew who had assaulted him…
Naming the Assailant
Bed bound and barely able to talk, Mark Van Dongen still had enough ability to spell out the name of his attacker. The person who had thrown acid on him was none other than his longtime girlfriend, Berlinah. The police already had their own theories about that of course, this just cemented their suspicions.
Poured His Own
While Mark was in the hospital, police were questioning Berlinah Wallace. They asked her why she didn’t call an ambulance at first and her only answer was that she was “confused.” She denied having poured the acid on him and even went as far as to allege Mark had poured it himself in order to get her to drink it…
Take Your Medicine
Her story was that he was out to get her and was trying to kill her with the acid drink. She explained it as, “You know like ‘come and take your medication and go to bed,’ he wanted me to, to burn my insides.” There was enough evidence in Wallace’s past to indicate that this was nothing more than a blatant fabrication.
Afraid of Wallace
The truth was, Mark had loved her, but they had grown apart over the years. Not only because he was much younger but also because he was afraid of her. He once told his father that she’d poured boiling water on him in a rage and his friends and coworkers saw the scars of many an argument upon his skin. Something else had been going on this time around though…
Despite five years together, the two had decided to split up prior to the attack: a month earlier in fact. Regardless of that though, Mark had agreed to continue to support Wallace financially, until she got back on her feet. He moved on and began seeing another, younger woman. Wallace didn’t like that, not one bit.
Google It, Amazon It
Investigators uncovered that she had begun searching for images of acid attack victims on Google soon after and even ordered the acid from Amazon. That night, the two actually tried rekindling their romance. Things looked good and it appeared they might even work it out, but it was not to be. At 3 am that night, Wallace came to the bedroom and poured the acid over him as he lay in bed, shouting, “If I can’t have you, no-one else will…”
Cleared of All Charges
Berlinah Wallace was charged with murder but in an unbelievable turn of events, she was found not guilty of the crime. She had ruined a life yes, but she hadn’t actually committed murder. In the meantime, Mark’s father, Kees van Dongen came from Holland to stay with him. At first Mark communicated by tickling his father’s hand but eventually, his voice returned in some fashion.
A Hellish Life
Things got worse from there though. Mark’s wounds were becoming infected. His lower left leg had to be amputated, but it didn’t happen all at once. It came in waves. Even after one part was cut out it would spread further up until they had to take the whole thing. He went through skin grafts and painkillers and excruciating unbearable itching. Finally, he got even worse news…
Kees van Dongen wanted his son to be able to have a normal life, but as time went on, that became less and less likely. Then one day, Mark got the worst news imaginable. The doctors told him that the paralysis he was suffering from would never be cured. The nerve damage was too extensive. The fact that he’d never move his arms again finally broke him.
A Different Ceiling
Soon after that, Mark spoke to his father and begged him to let him complete the application for euthanasia. “Dad, I’m tired of fighting – I’ve suffered so much pain and I can’t take anymore. Please let me go.” he said, adding. “My life has come to nothing and there is nothing left. All I have is a different ceiling to look at.” After his death, things changed for Berlinah as well…
Mark Van Dongen’s death was all the prosecutors needed to try Berlinah Wallace for murder. It was by her violent, selfish actions that Mark was brought to that level of despair and hopelessness. Fifteen months after the attack, Wallace was charged with murder and brought to court to face the jury.
A jury of 10 men and two women took a nail-biting 15 hours and 30 minutes to finally reach their decision. They came back with a unanimous verdict of guilty. The charge was throwing a corrosive substance with intent and because it ultimately resulted in a death, the sentence would be serious…
The prosecutor spoke about the heinous nature of acid attacks. Saying that they were perhaps the most devastating thing one person can do to another. They ruin not only faces and bodies, but lives and livelihoods. Due to the extremely serious nature of the offence, sentencing would have to be reviewed first, but it is likely she will receive a harsh sentence.
Meanwhile, Kees Van Dongen was called to the stand to give a victim impact statement. With tears in his eyes, he explained everything his son had gone through in his last year on Earth. He added that throughout their whole relationship, he had treated Wallace as if she were his own daughter. Now though, he believed she should be locked up for life.