They met on a dating website for people with HIV and spent five not-entirely-blissful years together. Co-workers sometimes saw scratches on Mark van Dongen, courtesy of Berlinah Wallace’s jealous outbursts. Enraged during one fight, Wallace had poured boiling water on him.
By August 2015, van Dongen had had enough, the BBC reported. He wanted out of the relationship, he told Wallace. A little later, he told his ex that he was seeing someone else.
That’s when, prosecutors say, Wallace began researching sulfuric acid.
In all, she looked at 82 websites about the corrosive substance, prosecutors said. Some of the sites showed bodies scarred black by the acid. She bought a bottle from Amazon.
About a month after he announced that he was dating again, Wallace lured her ex to her home under the guise of rekindling their relationship. The breakup had been an on-again off-again roller coaster, and van Dongen wanted to reiterate that he was moving on with his new girlfriend. But he ended up staying the night anyway.
And as he lay in bed around 3 a.m. wearing nothing but boxer shorts, Wallace stood over him with a glass mug full of acid.
She told him, “If I can't have you, no one can,” laughed, then tipped the corrosive substance onto his face and exposed body, the BBC reported.
Calling the moment “an act of pure evil,” a British judge on Wednesday sentenced Wallace, 49, to a minimum of 12 years in prison for the attack. Last year, van Dongen ended his life.
Speaking via a translator, the victim’s father, Kees van Dongen, told reporters: “I’m very pleased she’ll be locked up for a minimum of 12 years, but really it’s too little, because we as a family have been sentenced to life.”
The acid attack left van Dongen with gruesome burns over 25 percent of his body, including most of his face.
After the attack, he ran into the streets of Westbury Park in Bristol, half-blind and wearing only his boxers, his screams attracting the attention of neighbors.
“My doorbell rang a few times and I knew there was something desperate going on, and it was him,” Nic White told the court, according to the BBC. “He looked like he was covered in a clay sort of mud, which I later realized was his skin melting.”
Rachel Oaten, who decontaminated the injured man at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, said he let out a bloodcurdling scream when he saw his reflection.
“He said: ‘Kill me now,’ ” Oaten recalled, according to the Sun. “ ‘If my face is going to be left looking like this I don’t want to live.’ ”
But it wasn't just his face. The attack ultimately left him paralyzed from the neck down. One leg had to be amputated. And he spent four months in a coma. The only thing he could move with any real precision was his tongue.
When detectives asked who had attacked him, he used the organ to spell out the word “Berlinah.”
On the night of the attack, detectives found her at her home, sitting on the sofa, the Sun reported. When they asked about van Dongen, she motioned to the glass mug on the floor.
She told conflicting stories on that night and in her trial. She said she bought the acid to distress some jeans and to deal with a bad smell emanating from her drains. And she painted van Dongen as the abusive one — and the aggressor that night. She told investigators, then the court, that he had tried to get her to drink the acid, saying it was water.
“You know like ‘come and take your medication and go to bed,’ ” she said in an interview, according to the Sun. “He wanted me to, to burn my insides.”
She claimed that he had tried to stop her from leaving the apartment and that she had thrown the acid in self-defense, the Sun reported.
But her sheets told the real story. They were blackened by acid on his side of the bed.
In the ensuing years, as Wallace awaited her trial, her ex-boyfriend's suffering spiraled.
He spent months in intensive care, then more months in the burn unit.
He endured recurrent septic chest infections, intense pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and night terrors, the Sun reported. The muscle in one of his arms was slowly eaten away by the acid. Paralyzed, he couldn’t scratch himself.
His father made an 800-mile road trip from Belgium each weekend to see him, sometimes sleeping in his car in the hospital’s parking lot. The older man’s marriage disintegrated under the strain and he went bankrupt, according to the BBC.
With the help of a family friend, van Dongen was transferred to a hospital in Belgium.
For him, there were two benefits: His father could be with him everyday, and assisted suicide is legal in Belgium.
Doctors had told him that he would need a third tracheotomy, his father said. It would help him breathe but take away his voice.
“He knew he’d lose his voice,” his father told Sky News. “So what would he have left? Just pain and itching and another ceiling to stare at all day long.”
Van Dongen applied for euthanasia, and a panel of three doctors ruled that his “unbearable physical and psychological suffering” meant he was eligible.
On Jan. 2, 2017, 15 months after the attack, van Dongen ended his life.