This post does not purport to be a comprehensive account of the Haysom case, nor anything remotely close to such an account. While it is here for anyone, a casual reader who knows little or nothing about the case will find much more information elsewhere. To that end a number of useful links and sources are provided below.
The tragedy of the Haysom murders occurred in 1985. Self-evidently there has been much time since then for memories to fade. The passing of time allows myths and legends to become encrusted, and often allows Jens Soering’s relentless lies and propaganda to go largely unchallenged, perhaps even accepted, by default or indifference. But they really shouldn’t be.
Principally this is a necessary response to a piece of work shown in 2016 at international film festivals, and which gives voice to Soering’s lies. It is a German documentary film, The Promise (“Das Versprechen”), written and directed by Marcus Vetter and Karin Steinberger. The film was shown at the Virginia Film Festival on 5 November 2016 and its thesis is that Jens Soering could be entirely innocent of the Haysom murders. The good people of Virginia who see the film and have any interest at all in the Haysom case deserve better. What follows is by and large the information you won’t see or hear in The Promise. Everything is sourced and referenced, and can be checked by anyone with the inclination to do so.
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The Basic Facts
On 21 June 1990, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, USA, Jens Soering was convicted by a jury of the March 1985 murders of Derek and Nancy Haysom. The trial judge, following the jury’s recommendation, sentenced him to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment. He remains in prison.
Soering, together with his then girlfriend, the Haysoms’ younger daughter Elizabeth, had first been arrested in London, England at the end of April 1986 on fraud charges. Each would be sentenced to one year in prison for those offences. During the course of their fraud enquiries the English police also discovered evidence strongly indicating that both Soering and Haysom were implicated in the murder of her parents. A two-man team consisting of lead investigator Ricky Gardner and Commonwealth Attorney James Updike was then sent from Virginia to London, Gardner to interview the pair about the murders while Updike advised from the sidelines.
In due course they confessed to their respective roles: Jens committed the murders, while Elizabeth remained at their hotel in distant Washington DC to establish an alibi for them both. Having served her prison sentence in England, Elizabeth, suffused with shame and remorse, did not resist extradition back to Virginia in May 1987. When indicted she faced up to her personal share of moral responsibility for the crimes and pleaded guilty to two counts of being an accessory before the fact. Her plea was unreservedly accepted as correct by the lead investigator, the prosecutor and the judge. She was sentenced to two terms of 45 years imprisonment on 8 October 1987, the sentences to run consecutively. She, too, remains in prison, notwithstanding the fact that Judge William Sweeney sentenced her on the basis of the parole regime then in force. The Virginia Parole Board has in effect resentenced her, in palpable disregard of Judge Sweeney’s intentions, which in any jurisdiction with a more developed system of administrative law would be wholly unlawful.
Jens Soering’s actions could not have been more different from those of Elizabeth Haysom. Having repeatedly admitted committing the murders, he faced the prospect of being executed in the electric chair if he were returned to Virginia. It is little wonder, then, that he resisted extradition, aided by some of the most distinguished lawyers England had to offer. In a landmark case, the European Court of Human Rights held by 19 votes to 0 in Soering v. the United Kingdom (1989) that Soering’s extradition to the United States would risk his exposure to the “death row phenomenon”, which would be a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (“No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”). In order to get his man back to Virginia, therefore, prosecutor James Updike had to provide a binding assurance not to seek the death penalty for Soering. Initially, and with no shortage of personal bile on his part, he fiercely resisted that option; but in the certain knowledge that there was no other way to place Soering before a Virginia court the necessary assurance was eventually given. Soering was finally extradited involuntarily to the United States in January 1990.
At his trial Jens Soering utterly denied murdering the Haysoms, a denial he maintains to this day. He is lying. Nevertheless, along the way his lies have enabled him to gather recruits to his enthusiastic band of supporters, most notably German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In 2010 Soering’s co-religionist and 2016 American Vice-Presidential candidate Tim Kaine agreed to repatriate him to Germany, with the very real prospect of early release thereafter. Kaine’s decision was taken during his last week as Governor of Virginia, but was then immediately countermanded by his Republican successor, Robert McDonnell.
Treat Wikipedia with Caution
Both Soering and Haysom have Wikipedia pages:
Nitpicking aside, these pages contain basic information and are for the most part accurate as far as they go. Nevertheless, there is one error of major importance that must be corrected. Interestingly, it occurs only on his page, not on hers. It claims that “both confessed to the murders”. Whether from ignorance or an intention to mislead is unclear, but it is simply wrong.
Elizabeth Haysom never confessed to the murders because she didn’t commit them, nor was she present. The misrepresentation presumably derives from an interview at an early stage of the investigation in England. Soering and Haysom were arrested by Detective Sergeant Ken Beever and Detective Constable Terry Wright of the Metropolitan Police. The following exchange took place between DS Beever and Elizabeth Haysom in a police interview room:
DS Beever: “… You’ve written letters to [Jens Soering] willing your parents to death. You led the fool right into it most probably…”
Narrator: “Cornered, Elizabeth resorted to baiting her interrogators.”
Haysom: “All right, I led him into it. I did everything.”
DS Beever: “You knew he was going to do it, didn’t you? Did you?
Haysom: “I did it myself.”
DS Beever: “Don’t be silly.”
Haysom: “I got off on it.”
DS Beever: “What does that mean?”
Haysom: “I was being facetious.”
DS Beever: “You knew when he bought the knife that morning that he was going for a confrontation with your parents…”
Fortunately we have more than a transcript of this exchange. The television documentary “Lovers Leap – Crime Stories” actually has a recording from the original police interview. Haysom’s tone is initially that of a sulky teenager, bad tempered and certainly facetious. Her answers were crass and stupid, but in context, however, they were plainly not a confession. As can be heard on the tape, Beever understood that perfectly well.
Scams, Lies and Diplomatic Immunity
It is now Jens Soering’s claim that he initially confessed to the murders because he believed that, being German, he would possess some variety of hand-me-down diplomatic immunity derived from his father; and by so doing he would thereby save Elizabeth from the possibility of execution. The claim is absurd and deserves sardonic laughter, but some people who should know better have swallowed it whole.
At the University of Virginia Soering was a Jefferson Scholar, a distinguished award not given to the intellectually deficient. Even a mediocre student knows how to use a university library, and he could have ascertained his clear and obvious (lack of) diplomatic status within minutes. He didn’t. Spooked by the police investigation, he and Haysom then went on the run in October 1985, eventually ending up in London, where they were arrested in April 1986. Even more than a year after the murders this intelligent and capable young man had still not bothered to check his diplomatic status. Really? Uh, really?
In fact the prospect of diplomatic immunity was a complete non-starter from the very beginning and Soering always knew that, which is why he never made such a claim during the whole of his time in England, coming up with it only upon his return to the United States. By then he had had nearly four years to concoct a pitiful story for the credulous and gullible.
That he always realised his status only too well was revealed in the following conversation with Detective Sergeant Ken Beever soon after evidence of the murders had been uncovered:
DS Beever: “He says, ‘Can I be tried in Germany or in the United Kingdom for the offence of murder?’, and I said ‘Why do you ask such a question?’ And he said, ‘Well, if I’m tried in Germany for this I’ll probably get about five years.’ And his exact words to me were, ‘But if they take me back to Virginia they’ll fry me.’ I says, ‘Why is this your concern?’”
Narrator: “It was then that the British detective heard the words which stopped him in his tracks.”
DS Beever: “To my surprise, he said, ‘Because I killed two people, you know that.”’
“Lovers Leap: Crime Stories”
Soering now appears to want people to believe that he made “a confession”, i.e. just the one. This is nonsense and again serves to demonstrate the mendacious nature of his later claim. In fact he confessed on multiple occasions over at least an eight-month period (and possibly longer), most of the confessions occurring long, long after he would have been thoroughly disabused of any possibility of diplomatic immunity.
In the event he confessed to the English detectives, the American investigator, two English psychiatrists, his English lawyers, his German attorney and a German prosecutor, all in nauseating detail.
Jens Soering’s Confessions to the Murder of Derek and Nancy Haysom
Since the time of his return to Virginia following extradition from the UK it has been Jens Soering’s claim that Derek and Nancy Haysom were murdered by Elizabeth Haysom, possibly in conjunction with an unknown accomplice.
Television documentary “Wicked Attraction: Madness of Two” (also broadcast as “Couples Who Kill”) showed photographs of the Haysoms’ home after the murders. Notably, there were two place settings for dinner and three chairs pulled out from the table, the clearest possible implication being that the murders were committed by a single individual.
“Blood Ties” by Nathan Heller, The New Yorker, Nov. 9, 2015, pages 62 & 64:
“… At the suggestion of a parole investigator, Soering’s parole lawyer hired a private eye named Dave Watson, a gruff retired homicide detective. Watson took the case on the condition of his independence: he would not hold back any of his findings, even if they pointed to Soering’s guilt…
“… Dave Watson, the private detective, told me he thought that the police had focussed on ‘the right people.’ The question wasn’t whether Haysom and Soering were involved, he said, but to what extent.”
Beyond Reason by Ken Englade, St Martin’s Press, 1990 (Kindle edition):
The late Ken Englade’s 1990 book on the Haysom murders remains the best publicly available source of information. The book certainly has flaws, not the least of which relate to the purported actions, motivation and psychology of Soering and Haysom. The author never had the opportunity to speak to either (though he most likely tried), and consequently had to rely largely on his own speculation and supposition instead. This is a significant weakness.
However, when it comes to the investigation and the legal aspects of the case Englade is on much more solid ground and appears to have had impeccable sources. Indeed, various people intimately involved in the case are specifically thanked in the book, while others who could only assist anonymously are also acknowledged. This is where he is authoritative and convincing.
All the quotations and pages numbers below are from Beyond Reason unless otherwise stated.
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Elizabeth’s foot impressions did not match any taken at the scene. (Page 129)
When asked by the [Virginia] police if they could take his fingerprints and footprints – “Jens stalled, claiming he had exams coming up, and he was going to be too busy.” (135)
“Elizabeth may have been refusing to cooperate, but Jens soon abandoned his misgivings. Indeed he got almost chummy with his old enemy, Ricky Gardner. When Gardner asked the youth if he had suffered any wounds during the struggle with Derek, Jens’s eyes lit up. ‘Oh, yeah,’ he said, lifting his left hand. ‘Look here,’ he directed, pointing to two thin scars. ‘I got those at Loose Chippings.’” (184)
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“Jens met with Dr. John Hamilton, the medical director and consultant forensic psychiatrist at London’s Broadmoor Hospital, six months after he made his admissions to police and gave him a version of events. How it compared with what he told Gardner, Beever, and Wright and later a German lawyer is not known. But what he told Hamilton is this:
“He said that the Haysoms were not glad to see him when he showed up on their doorstep, but they invited him in nonetheless… Derek told Jens that he was not ‘their kind of people’ and that if he persisted in trying to see Elizabeth, he would remove her from the university and try to get Jens dismissed.
“When Derek said that, Jens said, Jens himself sprang to his feet. He said Derek also jumped up. Derek pushed him and yelled, ‘Sit down, young man.’ Derek caught him off balance, Jens said, and when shoved, he staggered backwards. His head and shoulders slammed against the wall. The next thing he knew, he told the psychiatrist, he flew at Derek, who had turned away from him. Jens had a knife in his hand and he slashed at Derek, cutting him deeply on the left side of his throat. Without uttering a word, Derek slumped into a chair.
“Frozen by the sight of his blood, Jens stood motionless, staring at Derek. Suddenly he looked up. Nancy was charging at him with a knife in her hand. He wrestled with her and took the knife away. But while he was occupied with her, Derek recovered. Rising from the chair, he attacked Jens screaming, ‘Are you crazy?’ Again and again he yelled, ‘Are you crazy?’
“The two began to fight. During the struggle, Jens lost his glasses and couldn’t see too well what was happening. By then, the floor was covered in blood, and he and Derek were having trouble keeping on their feet because they kept slipping in the gore. During the struggle, Jens cut himself at least twice on the hand, and his blood added to that already on the floor.
“At some point, Jens said, Nancy rejoined the battle. But he maneuvered behind her and cut her throat. She then staggered off and collapsed on the floor.
“Finally, the fight with Derek ended. Elizabeth’s father dropped in a heap on the floor, and he did not rise. Jens looked down and saw that he himself was covered with blood. Some of it was his own but mostly it came from Derek and Nancy.
“Because he was leaving footprints, he took off his shoes and padded around in his white socks. He bandaged his hand and tried to wipe away some of the shoe prints so they could not be used in identification. He assumed Derek and Nancy were dead, but he did not check to make sure. The last time he saw them, he asserted, they were lying close together at right angles to each other.” (Pages 203-4)
“Less than a month after meeting with the psychiatrist, Jens had a session with a prosecutor sent in from Bonn. As a German citizen, Jens claimed the right to talk to a German official.
“The tale Jens told then put him in a much more favorable light than anything he’d said previously. According to the prosecutor, Jens told him that ‘he had never had any intention of killing Mr. and Mrs. Haysom and … he could only remember having inflicted wounds at the neck on Mr. and Mrs. Haysom, which must have something to do with their dying later.’ He also claimed ‘there had been no talk whatsoever [between him and Elizabeth] about killing Elizabeth’s parents.’ (205)
“In addition to Dr. Hamilton, Jens also met with another psychiatrist, Dr. Henrietta Bullard from the West Berkshire Health Authority. He told her virtually the same tale he had told Hamilton. However, Jens did not meet with the psychiatrists simply to make additional confessions. He was subtly planting the idea that although he had killed the Haysoms, he was not responsible. The fault, he implied, was Elizabeth’s. She had, after all, talked him into it.
“Jens told Hamilton that Elizabeth had been ‘psyching him up’ to kill her parents for a long time, but at first, as far as he was concerned, the thought of murder was ‘pure fantasy.’ If he had been left to his own devices, Jens said, he would have picked a gun as the murder weapon…
“Before he knew it, he said, Elizabeth had convinced him that her parents had to be murdered, and she provided him with the knife to do it.
“Jens elaborated on this tale slightly when he talked to Bullard. He told her that when he went to Loose Chippings on March 30, he was ‘prepared for violence.’
“As he had done with Hamilton, Jens denied to Bullard that he had left any cult-style symbols in the house. He also said that he was at a loss to explain the widespread carnage that investigators found when they discovered Nancy’s and Derek’s bodies four days after he killed them. (224)
“… [Prosecutor] Updike had long before rejected any plan to try to prove that Elizabeth had been at Loose Chippings on the night of the murders. As far as he was concerned, none of the evidence really substantiated such a claim, and in the end it made no difference anyway unless he could also prove that she had actually participated in the crime…” (252)
At the European Court of Human Rights:
Soering’s team of lawyers at the ECHR was led by Colin Nicholls QC, a barrister pre-eminent in the fields of war crimes and extradition, among others. For such a distinguished lawyer to concede that his client had indeed admitted the crimes would have been unthinkable unless he had been specifically briefed to that effect.
“… The speakers for the three parties involved were Colin Nicholls, one of Britain’s premier experts on extradition, representing Jens; the German representative, Jans Meyer-Ladewig, and Sir Patrick Mayhew, the U.K.’s Attorney General who also represented the United States – which was not a member of the Council and could not take part in the discussion.
“First of all, Nicholls maintained, if Jens were extradited to Virginia there was a very good chance that he would wind up on death row. ‘He has confessed to the murders,’ Nicholls pointed out. ‘And the circumstances of the killings strongly indicate that the jury and judge will find them sufficiently vile to result in the applicant being sentenced to death.’
“Once he arrived on death row, Nicholls continued, Jens could expect to remain there for eight years or more until his appeals were exhausted. ‘The applicant was eighteen years and four months old at the time of the killings. At the time of the execution, if the proceedings run their course, he will be approximately thirty…’” (350)
Soering’s Trial in Virginia:
“… [Prosecutor Updike] summoned Ricky Gardner, Ken Beever and Terry Wright to the stand so they could testify about incriminating statements Jens had made soon after he was arrested in London. In one interview, which was recorded, Jens admitted he was at Loose Chippings on the night Derek and Nancy were murdered. But he would not admit he killed them.
“On the tape, Ricky Gardner asked: ‘Did you stab Derek Haysom with a knife? Yes or no.’
“Jens’s reply, clearly audible, was: ‘I really don’t want to answer that.’
“Two days later, there was another crucial session with investigators. That time, at Jens’s request, the recorder was turned off. It was during that meeting, Gardner said, that Jens confessed to fighting with the Haysoms.
“He had been arguing with the couple about Elizabeth, Gardner quoted him as saying, and when he abruptly stood up from the table, Derek shoved him. His head bounced against the wall, setting him off.
“‘I freaked out,’ Jens told the three detectives. It was then that he sliced Derek along the left side of the throat. ‘He said he saw blood rushing into Mr. Haysom’s lap and also onto his right hand,’ Gardner said. ‘He remembered Mrs. Haysom screaming, coming at him with a knife.’
“According to Gardner, Jens then detailed how he had grabbed Nancy and tried to use her as a shield against a resurgent Derek. In the process, Nancy was also cut on the throat. At that point, Gardner quoted Jens as saying, things began to get vague.
“‘He said the last thing he saw was Nancy Haysom going into the kitchen. She had her hands up [to her throat].’ Derek was looming in front of him ‘like a big bear.’
“It was then, Jens said, that he left. As he hurried out the door, Derek told him: ‘My God, you must be crazy, man.’
“If that tale were to be believed, both Derek and Nancy were alive when Jens exited Loose Chippings, but in that version he at least admitted cutting both victims.
“The fact that the interrogation session was not preserved on tape could damage his case, Updike felt, so he wanted some insurance. Over defense objections that Jens had not been warned in advance that his words could be someday be used against him in an American court, Updike succeeded in introducing records from an interrogation session that was taped. It took place on December 30, 1986, almost six months after Jens admitted partial culpability to detectives Gardner, Beever and Wright. Present at that session, held in the prison at Essex, England, was a prosecutor from Bonn, Germany, one of Jens’s German attorneys and a British policeman. Although no Americans had been there to read Jens his Miranda rights, he was given the British Caution, which essentially is the same thing. The fact that he also gave the interview in the presence of one of his own attorneys also undoubtedly played a part in Judge Sweeney’s decision to allow the jury to hear what Jens had said. The session had been conducted in German but it was translated into English by James Ogier, professor of German at a nearby college in Roanoke.
“According to the English language transcript, read in a deep monotone by Ogier, Jens again incriminated himself. But with the German prosecutor, unlike in his interviews with British and American investigators, Jens offered details which would tend to lessen his responsibility. Even if he had committed violence upon Derek and Nancy, he said, it may have been because he had been drinking or because he had been provoked by the Haysoms. Normally, Jens drank very little. But during the drive from Washington to Boonsboro he had consumed three beers. When he got to Loose Chippings and was invited inside, Derek and Nancy offered him more alcohol. He downed three gins while they sat at the table and argued about his and Elizabeth’s future.
“‘I do not know anymore what the triggering point was,’ Jens said in German, which sounded stilted when translated, ‘but something was said and I flew off the handle and wanted to run out of the house. I had only one instinct: I wanted out. I cannot take such stress too well.’
“Moments later he confided to the German prosecutor that it had all been an accident. ‘I had no intent to kill those people, and it was an absolute unexpected horror experience.’
“Still later he claimed he was ‘not one hundred percent sure’ he had committed the murders.
“Updike did not introduce as evidence the psychiatric reports that had been part of the record before the European Court when Jens was still fighting extradition. In those reports Jens told similar tales of what happened that night at Loose Chippings. But when he took the stand, he denied it all.” (363-365)
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TV documentary: Crime Stories: Lovers’ Leap
Narrator: “…to the men who worked so long to bring Jens Soering to justice the identity of the real killer of Derek and Nancy Haysom is a closed case.”
Terry Wright: “Jens Soering maintains now that did not do the murders and that in fact Elizabeth did them and he stayed behind in Washington. I don’t believe that for one minute.”
Ken Beever: “No person will ever convince me, ever, that Jens Soering didn’t commit those murders, not at all.”
Ricky Gardner: “I think in Jens Soering’s heart of hearts and mind of minds, I think he has convinced himself that he did not commit these murders. I really, I really think that. I think Jens had it in him to kill. I think maybe just humans do. Maybe they’re born with it and she lit the fuse.”
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Jens Soering has a website, http://jenssoering.com/, set up and maintained by the “Friends of Jens Soering”, from where he able to disseminate propaganda. It seeks to mislead immediately, by saying that he has been in prison for 31 years, x months and y days. In a strict sense this is true enough, but it totally evades the fact that he was only tried and sentenced for murdering the Haysoms in 1990, which is the more relevant date. That is the point at which time began to run in respect of his life sentences. What happened before that is now unlikely to be of any concern or relevance to the Virginia authorities.
The website introduction states:
“As you will discover on this website, the Soering case is incredibly complex…”
It isn’t; in reality it’s quite straightforward, but only made complex by his throwing out of regular claims of supposed new evidence that turns out to be nothing of the kind. It is doubtless part of what he previously described as his campaign of noisy activism, and is designed to cast doubt where there is none. That it has influenced some journalists, among others, merely reflects their gullibility and lack of assiduous research, and it does them no credit.
Soering habitually employs two well known propaganda techniques. The first is “anomaly hunting” – a favourite of 9/11 Truthers and Holocaust deniers, as it happens – by means of which he seeks to give enormous significance to small apparent discrepancies, and usually they mean little or nothing when judged against the bigger picture. Minor anomalies are not at all uncommon.
Necessarily running alongside that, his other technique is obviously “The Big Lie”, enthusiastically adopted by Josef Goebbels, but taken, somewhat ironically, from Adolf Hitler:
“The great masses will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.” (Mein Kampf, English translation.)
What we are left with here is a man who made an active choice to commit two savage murders over 32 years ago and who has now been lying about them for 27 years. The people closest to the case know that. He chose to drive all the way to the Haysoms’ house, completely alone with his thoughts and plans; he chose to take a knife with him; he chose to take the knife from the car into the house; and once inside he chose to take it out and stab them to death. At every stage he could have made a different choice – but he didn’t.
The present contrast between Soering and Haysom is stark. He lies, agitates aggressively for his release, and writes a mixture of short books on the penal system, in which his analysis is for the most part sound and well supported, and manipulative religious tracts, likely to be of interest only to his church. A motley self-selection of priests and journalists then take the stage as useful idiots in his drama. There also has to be a lurking suspicion that at least some supporters (mainly in Germany) flock to the cause not because of any genuine belief in his innocence, but from basic though very deep distaste for the judicial and penal systems where he is situated. That is understandable. All the same, Soering’s great failing, in the end, is simply this: he just can’t bring himself to admit the appalling truth.
Elizabeth Haysom, on the other hand, notwithstanding a long history of cruel sexual abuse perpetrated by her own mother, accepted her personal share of moral responsibility, was profoundly remorseful, agreed to her extradition, and has served her sentence without complaint. In the process she has acquired a degree magna cum laude, a startling variety of skills, and expertise in a range of technical computer software, teaching and leading a small, select group of her prison’s brightest and most talented women. When she moved prison the entire program had to move with her. Few other English Literature majors and national prize-winning poets would be quite as comfortable with calculus and planetary motion as she is: Wycombe Abbey’s “star pupil” has lost none of her intellectual lustre. Ever since the enormity of what had happened finally struck her – albeit much too late, it might be said – she has shown both true contrition and quiet dignity, unlike Soering. As ever, she continues to outclass him. It is seriously open to question whether a secondary offender has ever served as long in prison, anywhere in the world. Her continued incarceration is a deeply ugly stain on the record and integrity of the Virginia Parole Board.
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