In some respects the Harding report can perhaps be seen as a successor to the 2012 report to the Virginia Parole Board by PI David Watson, which was a similar farrago of error, inaccuracy, speculation and misrepresentation. Nevertheless, although an overtly partisan piece of work, Watson’s report was still duly cautious in places and at least recognised the stark problem of relying on his “hunch” rather than evidence. Harding, for his part, shows few such reservations.
Purely as a side issue, it is also worth noting that in a 2015 interview with Nathan Heller of The New Yorker (“Blood Ties”), Watson seemed much less confident about his conclusions than when advocating on Jens Soering’s behalf to the Parole Board:
“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.”
Given the barrage of error, misinformation and motivated reasoning in the Harding report it’s difficult to know quite where to start.
Amid two introductory pages of rather unseemly boasting he tells us this:
“In 2007, I was selected as one of the “Top 10 Cops in America” by Parade Magazine and the International Association of Chiefs of Police and presented an award in New Orleans.”
This is to set up the good old argument from authority (or, strictly, here, from purported authority). It won’t work.
“I have spent more than 200 hours reviewing this case.”
Which includes watching a propaganda film and selective reading from Jens Soering’s exercises in creative writing. While the case in its essentials is relatively simple and straightforward, the documentation generated since 1985 makes 200 hours nowhere near enough time to have spent on it.
One further thing should be observed straight away. Although Sheriff Harding deploys various techniques to make his case, one in particular can be seen as a recurring feature of this report. It is that he uses allegations and assertions, whether true or not, merely for prejudicial effect.
The palpable contrast between probative value and prejudicial effect has long been recognised in the law. Generally speaking, if the latter clearly outweighs the former then any such evidence is always likely to be inadmissible and therefore excluded from consideration. Courts are (or should be) alert to the principle that evidence given mainly to create prejudice proves little or nothing.
Looked at another way, this can also be seen as a version of the informal logical fallacy commonly known as “poisoning the well.” Or, in ordinary language, it’s just a smear tactic, and as such has no merit whatsoever. Yet this is one of Harding’s go-to tools and he reaches for it repeatedly, as will be seen.
With that in mind, let us begin.
Harding: “I make two observations in this case based on my years of investigative experience and my extensive work on this case: 1) Soering would not be convicted today on the evidence that has since surfaced or was improperly submitted or omitted from the jury and 2) the evidence appears to support a case for his innocence.”
Response: (1) Sheriff Harding is not a judge and has no authority to say whether Soering would be convicted today; he only has a tendentious personal opinion. (2) The evidence really doesn’t support a claim of innocence. Undoubtedly there were some real problems with the trial itself, one of which Harding doesn’t even mention. The fact that the Haysoms, particularly Nancy Haysom, were known socially to Judge William Sweeney would result in an immediate quashing of the verdict on grounds of impropriety in some other jurisdictions, including England, and a retrial ordered. It is fortunate, however, that in this case no substantive injustice occurred.
Harding: “Who left the blood at the crime scene is unknown at this time.”
Response: Ah, yes, the blood. What exactly does this prove? It certainly doesn’t prove Soering’s innocence, of course, but it does bring to mind the well known aphorism that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
We know that the only injury he suffered was to his hand and this was not in itself major, such that it was not until he had left the house for the first time that he realised it needed dressing. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the great majority of the blood left at the scene was that of Derek and Nancy Haysom, resulting from the massive injuries Soering had inflicted on their bodies, and in particular their necks.
He made every effort to remove or cover over traces of his presence, and was sufficiently forensically aware to take his glass, cutlery and plate from the house and throw them in a rubbish container about a mile away, along with the knife and items of clothing.
Interview with the German prosecutor in the presence of defence counsel Dr Frieser at Chelmsford prison, England on 30 December 1986:
Soering: “… Everything I threw away I threw away the second time.”
Prosecutor: “The glass and the plate and such things, [so] that one would not know that a third person had attended the supper?”
Soering: “No, because of the fingerprints.” 
Note that all references here followed by square brackets relate to that confession, translated from the original German, and its corresponding page number.
At Soering’s trial it became the Ogier testimony (as translated again, on that occasion by James Ogier, professor of German at a nearby college).
The DNA evidence
But now we also have “new evidence” in the form of DNA analysis, which follows on from all the other loud shrieks of new evidence over the years. Where does that take us?
It’s curious how often in contested proceedings both sides can produce eminently qualified experts to support their case, each of whom then gives quite contradictory opinions about the correct interpretation of the same evidence.
On the Commonwealth side there are DNA results produced by Bode Cellmark Forensics, and adopted by the Virginia Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS). What do Bode do?
“Through work with federal agencies, Bode Cellmark has delivered advanced forensic solutions including:
- Mixture deconvolution (resolution of individual DNA profiles in complex mixtures)
- Portable, rapid DNA analysis (validated human identification analysis in less than 45 minutes).”
And yet Dr Moses Schanfield of George Washington University, in his review of the evidence dated May 1, 2017, disagrees with Bode’s conclusions. There’s nothing so very startling about this: he was employed to denigrate the findings of others who went before him and he has duly delivered.
For example, in 2016 Betty Layne DesPortes, then President-elect of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, cautiously expressed doubts about what the DNA results actually established:
“She said it appears the “probative” value of the DNA results in this case is limited by a number of open questions.
“On their face, given the circumstances of collection and storage, it does not appear that they independently support an actual innocence claim,” DesPortes said.”
Well, she certainly had to be rubbished by Dr Schanfield for her temerity:
“For reasons I will get to in the next part regarding DNA, the lawyer raises too much speculation. In part, this can be explained because the lawyer did not have the benefit of reviewing the DFS records. I have read the lawyer’s email to you where the lawyer offers several different possibilities to explain what the DNA results could mean. Once again, more speculation and less science.”
Did he remember to mention anywhere that she’s a lawyer?
And then –
“… none of the people in the state lab are experts in serology and should not have addressed your concerns.”
OK, duly rubbished too.
“The DFS… contention is pure speculation unsupported by science based on the ABO blood types of these samples.”
In reality this is an issue that can only be resolved by experts in the field. It may just be that further experts are required in this case to come along and similarly rubbish Dr Schanfield’s interpretation of the evidence.
However, there is no reason to doubt the honesty and good faith of his findings. That being so, it is interesting to observe that even on their own terms they just don’t establish what is now being claimed for them by Soering’s supporters.
Schanfield: “Given these high potential error rates (25%-81%), it is simply bad science to speculate about a “common male contributor,” who is not Jens Soering.”
And yet it doesn’t require a biological science PhD to understand that “error” and “potential error” are really not synonymous. The findings might be wrong: equally, they might well be right. What’s next?
Schanfield: “So there is a 69% chance, a different contributor could have left that 6FE. Again, that contributor is not consistent with Jens Soering.”
Even on Dr Schanfield’s own analysis, rudimentary arithmetic still leaves 31%, doesn’t it?
Schanfield: “… The remaining 11 loci (69%) could easily have different values, indicating different contributors…”
Could easily have? And could quite easily not have, evidently.
Schanfield: “It is my opinion…”
Yes, and other opinions are also available.
Schanfield: “I am being paid by you at my regular hourly rate of…”
Excised from the document – but believed to be $225 an hour. Nice!
On careful examination it is absolutely clear that, even on the most partial reading, this report comes nowhere close to giving Soering and his supporters what they crave, and an honest report was always going to be incapable of doing that. In consequence the extravagant claims made for it by Sheriff Harding (see below), and others too, are hyperbole and wishful thinking. Wishing doesn’t make it so.
And then, lastly, just a few months ago the ProPublica website drew attention to concerns about the potential for errors in certain types of DNA analysis:
“The National Institute of Standards and Technology announced last week that it is launching a new study of certain types of DNA analysis used in criminal prosecutions. These methods, “if misapplied, could lead to innocent people being wrongly convicted,” according to the institute’s statement. NIST will invite all public and private forensics labs in the U.S. to participate by testing the same set of complex DNA samples, and will compare the results, which will be published online next summer. Its goal is to develop a new set of national standards for DNA analysis.”
On October 3, 2017 the website of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) had reported:
NIST to Assess the Reliability of Forensic Methods for Analyzing DNA Mixtures.
“The process of interpreting DNA mixtures and touch DNA can be subjective, and there are currently no clearly defined standards for doing so. The result: different analysts might come to different conclusions given the same evidence.”
Harding: “Updike did not tell the Jury that Soering told police a number of statements in his confession that did not match the evidence at the scene evidence.
An example of unreliability would be 1) Soering told the detectives that Nancy Haysom was wearing jeans the night of the murders, but in fact she was wearing a flowery housecoat.”
Response: In certain respects he was very bright and it’s entirely plausible that he was laying the ground for repudiation at a later point. Equally, however, his memory may just have been faulty, and all the more so for having consumed a significant amount of alcohol beforehand and at the house. By his own account his memory was really extremely poor:
Soering: “I can only say that I can not remember exactly what happened in Washington itself this weekend. [Page 11]
“I think, there remains a few pictures of this evening [of the murders] here and there, let us say, which I can remember. In between there are quite enormous gaps, and partly there is something missing within the pictures itself.” 
“I mean, I can remember the whole affair only very, very poorly.” 
“In any event I remember that, I think it is possible that the fight lasted less than 1 minute. In my memory it appear to be like half an hour, because I myself had absolutely no knowledge how I got into this situation and what I did there…” 
“I can tell you only that I have two vague memories of the bodies.” 
“What happened then I can hardly still remember.” 
“I can only say that I personally have not much confidence in my own memory… I had no intent to kill those people and it was an absolute horror experience and I can remember very little and what I can remember of this weekend is all very vague.” 
“As already said, I came from the wall with a horrific rage in me and the next thing I remember is that I stood behind him and the total shock and terror that this blood was there in his lap.” 
Prosecutor: “Who actually took the car back afterwards? You two together? Or only she?”
Soering: “No idea.” 
“… I can not remember with which knife I injured them. With which knife I have injured them, I believe anyway that this was their knife.” 
Nevertheless, as even he himself acknowledged:
“The “confession” was lengthy, and many details were accurate.”
Jens Soering, Mortal Thoughts, 1995 (p. 176).
Harding: “2) Soering says he cuts each victims throat and runs out of the house. Their throats were cut, but in addition Derek was stabbed 11 times in the chest and 14 times in the back, and Nancy stabbed multiple times as well. Soering never talks about that, and this point is not questioned at the time his alleged confession is given. Tr. Transcript pg. 48- 49. I am amazed this was not questioned.”
Response: It was.
Prosecutor: “From the autopsy reports available here it emerges for example that Derek had received a stab into the heart.”
Soering: “Yes, I was asked about this too. I can not remember all those things. I believe very many stab wounds were established, I can not remember stab wounds.”
Prosecutor: “Then the neck wounds only?”
Soering: “Yes, only the neck wounds.”
Prosecutor: You can not remember all the stab wounds which are listed there, abdomen, stomach, the heart area?
Soering: “I can not remember these. I believe, I can not say any more to it at this point in time. I still have further theories of my own, but I can not remember it. I have explained today exactly what I can remember.”
Prosecutor: “Except for the knife.”
Soering: “Yes, except for the knife, but also there…” [unfinished sentence] [41-42]
What Soering frankly described as happening at the house was a frenzied fight to the death and, as already noted in the previous post (“Confessions”), would have left his mind spinning in absolute turmoil. One might reasonably expect an experienced police officer to have some appreciation of this.
And see again the repeated memory failures, above.
Harding: “3) There was blood evidence indicating someone likely took a shower after the murders, but Soering never mentions doing that.”
Response: “Likely took a shower…”
Having already driven to the rubbish container, Soering says he then went back to the house and cleaned up his injured hand in the bathroom.  Using the shower for that purpose, if he did, is not the same as actually taking one, of course.
That he returned to the house, just as he said, was supported by forensic findings:
“The size and shape of the prints [outside the house] indicated both sets were made by the same person. To investigators, this meant one thing: The killer had been in the house twice. They theorized he attacked the Haysoms, left, and then came back. They speculated the second trip was to make sure they were dead by slitting their throats.”
Ken Englade, Beyond Reason (p. 31). St. Martin’s Press, 1990. Kindle Edition.
Harding: “I could continue to give examples, but I would just be repeating most of what is contained in a report done by an expert in the field: Dr. Andrew Griffiths. He was initially hired by Soering’s attorney Steven D. Rosenfield, but he stopped charging a fee after he realized the strong likelihood that Soering was innocent.”
Response: So please see the previous post dealing with the conclusions of Dr Andrew Griffiths.
Additionally, however, Harding claims that Griffiths “realized the strong likelihood that Soering was innocent.” This is a glaring misrepresentation because that’s not at all what Griffiths actually said. In his letter to the Governor he was highly circumspect in the way he expressed himself:
“… I did not conduct an investigation of all the case evidence, but only of the confession. Consequently, I am not in a position to speak to Mr. Soering’s guilt or innocence…”
Is it unreasonable to expect a senior police officer to have a slightly more careful approach to the truth?
Harding: “Months after the trial was concluded, Soering’s lawyers made contact with the movie theater that had sold the tickets for the 10:15 p.m. showing of “Stranger than Paradise.” The tickets had specific numbers on them. Box office records showed the chronology of the tickets. On March 30, 1985, records showed ticket numbers 27014 through 27263 were sold for the 6, 8, and 10:15 p.m. shows. Soering’s tickets bore numbers 27149 and 27141.
The theater representatives felt confident that the earliest those particular tickets would have been sold was 8 p.m. It is clear that the fact the tickets were found in Soering’s room, and his version of when he purchased them was corroborated by the theater, would tend to make him believable over Haysom, who was constantly changing her story and had no corroboration. Updike produced no evidence that tickets were bought earlier. “A Far, Far, Better Thing”, p. 198.
Haysom’s truthfulness in this statement is highly suspect because there is no evidence corroborating it.
In addition, it is odd that she spotted Soering at just the moment he arrived at the busiest time on a Saturday night in Georgetown. That was either some extraordinary coincidence or pure fabrication.
His father did discover the cancelled check when cleaning out his son’s room months later and produced it to the authorities. However the check showed the cashed date only on Saturday and not the time. Too much time had passed: as with the room service bill, no hotel employee could remember.”
Response: It is notable that these assertions come from Soering’s own writing, and by his own admission he has lied repeatedly and relentlessly (and see below). He is a totally untrustworthy source and everything he says needs to be checked with meticulous care.
Further, “months after the trial” presumably takes us into 1991, six years after the events in question. The theater representatives felt “confident” six years later about when those tickets were sold. Really? Is there a signed statement from a named person to that effect? (Competent cross-examination of such a witness would no doubt be illuminating.)
In any event, at its best this amounts to no more than speculation and proves nothing. So again nothing at all amounting to actual evidence, as also with the times of the check and room service.
“In addition, it is odd that she spotted Soering at just the moment he arrived at the busiest time on a Saturday night in Georgetown. That was either some extraordinary coincidence or pure fabrication.”
Prosecutor: “Did you call her in advance or did you meet her accidentally?”
Soering: “No, we intended to meet there in the street in front of the cinema.”
Prosecutor: “How did she know when you were returning?”
Soering: “She was very shocked how I looked. She then said that I was extremely late, but this I can’t remember exactly.” 
So Haysom met him exactly where they had arranged to meet. In what sense, precisely, is that odd?
Harding: “E. Haysom confessed during one interview with law enforcement that she killed her parents. “Q – You knew he was going to do it, didn’t you? Did you? A – I did it myself. Q – Don’t be silly. A – I got off on it. Q – You did what? What does that mean? A – I was being facetious. Q – Ok then. Now tell me the truth, please, without being facetious. You did hate your parents? A– I did not hate my parents.”
Here, the investigator possibly stopped a full confession. I have never seen an investigative response like this when interviewing a murder suspect. Updike did not address this in his closing argument. Commonwealth vs E. Haysom, Tr. Transcript pgs. 109-110.”
Harding: “It is beyond belief to me that law enforcement did not follow up on this astounding confession by E. Haysom. Like the absence of confronting Soering with the many errors in his confession not matching up with the evidence, nothing more was done with Haysom’s confession.”
Response: “Here, the investigator possibly stopped a full confession.” No. Seen within the proper context of the interview it was plainly not a confession, however much Harding seeks to distort the exchange. The investigator in question, Detective Sergeant Ken Beever, was a resourceful and highly experienced detective with a thorough grasp of the case.
See the account in Beyond Reason (pp. 172, 175-176):
““Would you just care to discuss with me briefly how well you got on with members of your family?” Beever asked. “No,” she shot back. He managed to look surprised. “Do you think it’s anything sinister in me asking that?” he asked innocently, mindful that he was trying to lull her into a confession. “No,” she replied in a tone that let him know she knew what he was trying to do. The cat and mouse game was underway…
Gardner was a relatively inexperienced interrogator. Beever was not. Gardner had always worked in a rural, relatively unsophisticated setting, but Beever had come up the ranks in a different world. It was the difference between urban and rural; Beever was a city cop with wide exposure to a plethora of crimes and criminals. In the process he had become more cynical, but he also had learned to judge suspects shrewdly and to estimate correctly how far he could push them. Elizabeth was playing tough, but Beever knew it was only an act; given time and the right nudges, she would tell them what they wanted to know. There was one other factor to consider, too: Beever had the tremendous advantage of having read Jens’s and Elizabeth’s letters— both those written in Virginia as well as those written after they were jailed in London— before he interviewed either of them, a privilege Gardner and Reid had not had when Elizabeth was within their grasp in Virginia. Beever intended to take full advantage of that.”
It is simply impossible to gain a proper understanding of a long interview without seeing the questions and responses in their proper context. Context is everything here, and this is what Harding is so keen to disregard, as are many others.
In fact, when considering the entire course and content of a challenging and skilful interview, it can be seen that Beever, while pushing Haysom hard in order to uncover the truth, was alert to every shade and nuance of her responses. Clearly it suits Harding’s purpose here to rip Haysom’s irritated response from its context in order to distort its meaning, which amounts to nothing more than a tired and lazy deployment of motivated reasoning.
Viewed in its proper context it was a crass response, ill-judged, petulant and undoubtedly facetious, as she said. It was simply not, however, a confession. Beever understood this very well, as indeed did detectives Wright and Gardner, and prosecutor Updike. But Harding, who wasn’t there, claims to know better.
Harding: “As mentioned under Motive below, a trained and seasoned F.B.I. agent said that the crime was committed by someone the Haysoms knew well and felt it was a female. He made his assessment before Elizabeth and Jens left the country and before they were suspects.”
Harding: “In addition, it is undisputed, except by Ricky Gardner, that Ed Sulzbach was a Special Agent of the F.B.I. called to the crime scene; that he authored a suspect profile; and that he told documentary filmmakers that he considered E. Haysom the likeliest killer. (“I settled on her daughter,” Exhibit 13.) In a letter Updike wrote another suspect’s attorney dated June 18, 1985, he refers to a statement he has included that he could use to aid getting a search warrant. The statement says “Special Agent Edward F. Sulzbach of the F.B.I. who is trained in the field of compiling profiles of criminal suspects viewed the scene and the evidence gathered during this investigation and stated that the suspect was a female and knew the victims.” Exhibit 54.”
Response: One might be forgiven for thinking that Ricky Gardner was best placed to know of the existence (or not) of such a profile.
And since in the same documentary film Ed Sulzbach observed that “the FBI never throws anything away…” it raises two simple questions: where is it, and why has no one from the FBI ever been able to produce it in all these years?
Suspect profiles in any event have a very mixed history. In studies of the effectiveness and validity of profiling over some decades in the literature of the American Psychological Association they’ve been found to be sometimes helpful and sometimes well wide of the mark. Also not actual evidence of anything, of course.
No matter. Let’s assume, hypothetically, that the profile did exist as stated. Now there’s a big problem. Notwithstanding Soering’s initial efforts to blame Elizabeth Haysom alone, even Sheriff Harding quite rightly doesn’t buy that one, and boldly opts instead for not one but two active male assailants. Strangely enough, Ed Sulzbach seems to have missed their presence entirely, which must have been very disheartening. In the end Harding cites Sulzbach to reinforce his opinion when in fact they strongly disagree.
Harding: “Updike’s argument was misleading and fictitious. First, the period of time was a mere three months that Haysom and Soering were dating and second, no such writings purported to have mentioned any hatred toward the parents. Second, not even E. Haysom testified that Soering hated her parents. Third, no evidence whatsoever was admitted into evidence, that I could find, showing Soering hated the Haysoms. Fourth, no evidence was admitted showing that Soering had a temper or showed rage at any time.
There was no evidence put on that revealed that Soering hated the Haysoms. Indeed, here was an 18 year old, smitten with his first girlfriend, who had been dating her for only a few months. Chuck Reid, one of the original lead investigators, said his instincts told him there was no way that this meek kid could have carried out such brutal murders. Interview in “The Promise.””
Response: Talking of misleading and fictitious…
So that obviously settles it, then, doesn’t it? Or does it? As Chuck Reid himself pointed out, “I call it the way it is and the way I see it, then you can decide for yourself.” (Killing for Love.)
A major difficulty, once again, is that his “instincts” are just not evidence and no more forensically valid than those of the woman in the house on the corner. They count for very little. One of America’s “Top 10 Cops” should know that.
Moreover, Chuck’s instincts and admirable resolve to call it the way it is are, unfortunately, demonstrably changeable, and he expressed no such reservations in an earlier film about the case, Couples Who Kill. Talking about the sudden flight of Soering and then Haysom to Europe, Reid said:
“As much as we wanted them to make a move in some way or other to prove the point to us that we was on the right track and they were guilty, I was like, oh gosh, now what do we do?”
“We just have to bide our time and hope for the best and wait till something happened. We know they left for a reason and we know they’re guilty.”
So there’s Chuck calling it the way it is.
But more importantly, when it comes to rage, anger and hatred Harding manifestly didn’t look hard enough, perhaps because it didn’t suit the conclusions he wished to reach. Or maybe it just highlights the fact that 200 hours wasn’t nearly enough time to do all the necessary research. In reality, like sand in the Sahara, there was a rich abundance of such evidence:
Soering: “I believe it was quite right that I hated the parents more and more… I would say that in the last month before this happened, there were talks, not very detailed, which arose from the feeling of hate. Man, we must really put them into a car and let them roll down the hill. The matter with these conversations was that I, in any event, did not take them seriously and it is for this, that I also said that I did not drive to Lynchburg with the intent to kill these people… Violence was strange to my character, but I have hated these people also very much and these feelings of hate I have expressed in conversations through fantasy games, as for example one should put them into a car and push them down a hill. Something with a remote controlled bomb, burn the house down…” [Page 30]
Prosecutor: “You are supposed to have said that you felt during the trip to Lynchburg hatred and anger for the later victims, the parents of your girlfriend, because they exercised pressure on your girlfriend to end the relationship. Is that so?”
Soering: “That is right without doubt. But this concerns a general feeling which was building up in me anyway over months…” 
Prosecutor: “In this context an anger built up in you – it was the woman you loved, with whom you wanted to spend your life, whom you wanted to marry.”
Soering: “Naturally.” 
Soering: “I think, I am now 7 or 8 months here in prison. I basically started to think about it only in the last few months, because until now I tried to forget the affair. I have discussed this with various people for example also with the psychiatrist, I think, if I had remembered more, I would have been able to tell this in the meantime. I only know that I came away from the wall with a tremendous rage.”
Prosecutor: “Did you feel humiliated by Mr Haysom or was it more your fury that you did not get any further? Was it a fury having been treated like a small child, or a fury for not being up to the situation anymore?”
Soering: “In reality it is both… A collective rage arose which resulted from the situation which was already months if not years old. That all erupted now.” [35-36]
Soering: “As already said, I came from the wall with a horrific rage in me and the next thing I remember is that I stood behind him and the total shock and terror that this blood was there in his lap.” 
Soering: “The way I see it, to say it cruelly, for many years certain problems have built-up inside me… and that because of the alcohol all these things erupted and the entire anger and all these problems were discharged.” 
How’s that for an awful lot of rage, anger and hatred?
Harding: “One of E. Haysom’s half-brothers and a close family friend also testified they suspected she was at the crime scene when the murders were occurring. Exhibit 27.”
Response: They “suspected”? That is merely prejudicial and obviously cited for precisely that reason. Their suspicions prove nothing and are not valid evidence; and the statements were made during a sentencing hearing, of course, not a trial.
The family friend, Annie Massie, subsequently attempted to voice that same “suspicion” at Soering’s trial and the judge properly ordered that the comment be disregarded and struck from the record.
And what about the majority of other family members who expressed no such suspicions? Presumably their views don’t count.
Harding: “I recently interviewed Carlos Santos, who covered the trial as a reporter for the Richmond Times Dispatch. I also recently spoke to reporter Frank Green, another reporter with the Richmond Times Dispatch. Both told me that, in interviewing E. Haysom in the years following the trial, she had admitted to committing perjury at Jens Soering’s trial. She admitted to them that her mother had been sexually abusing her for years prior to the murders. E. Haysom has never been prosecuted for perjury.”
Response: So Harding implicitly suggests that Elizabeth Haysom should be, or should have been, prosecuted for perjury for declining to acknowledge publicly the long-term sexual abuse she had suffered at the hands of her mother.
Had she been more calculating – or even just more tactically astute – she would have acknowledged and revealed the details of her abuse as a matter of significant mitigation, from which she could only have stood to benefit. Instead she hedged and sought to obfuscate in reply to Updike’s questions, but to no avail. With more than a whiff of prurience (and regrettably not for the only time), he wanted the full juice, and that’s what she would not give him. But yet again, context matters.
Haysom sat there having to face the fact that her mother had been not only murdered but savagely butchered by Soering, and she knew that she bore some personal share of the moral responsibility for his squalid actions.
Among others, Nancy Haysom’s two sons were also in the courtroom, both of them imbued with an overwhelming desire for vengeance, in contrast to the more measured attitude of the other Haysom siblings towards Elizabeth. For her to have revealed in court at that point what had been done to her would doubtless have only have inflamed their feelings – as well as being the very last thing they wanted to hear about their murdered mother.
To anyone who takes a Manichean or strict Old Testament view of events and people (as Updike, in his limited purview, certainly did), the world is a simple place, actions are easy to explain, and snarling vengeance is the overriding priority. That stunted approach makes it almost impossible to understand or accept that a person who had been involved in something so terrible may yet choose, as a matter of remorse and consideration for the feelings of others, not to reveal, in a very public forum, information that would have substantially aided her defence. Looked at more dispassionately, however, her reticence was unwise, and for that Elizabeth Haysom paid a heavy price.
In one sentence Harding reached the ugly moral nadir of his report.
Harding: “It must be concluded, that absent evidence to the contrary, not only was Soering not a contributor of blood found at the crime scene, but two men left blood at the scene. This theory has great weight when considering the enormous strength that was needed to overcome two fighting victims while inflicting such severe damage. It is a far stretch to think one small to medium size man or woman could have done committed these acts alone.”
Response: Not when you’re much younger and fitter, and then with no warning your opening move is to slash the throat of the stronger victim, a man aged 72 whose blood, like that of his wife, showed the consumption of a large amount of alcohol.
According to Steven Rosenfield, one of Soering’s attorneys, in a profoundly misleading TV interview on the Coy Barefoot program on August 28, 2016, the killer had to overcome a large and powerful man:
“Derek Haysom was about six three, two hundred and sixty pounds…”
Not true. In fact Derek Haysom was only five feet eight inches tall and at least a hundred pounds lighter than Rosenfield claimed, which is a distortion of the truth worthy of Soering himself. He has been involved in the case quite long enough to know that, and the error so flagrant that it is very difficult in this instance not to conclude that he consciously lied in the furtherance of his client’s cause.
“At five-feet-eight and some one hundred and fifty pounds, Derek William Reginald Haysom was not physically imposing.”
Beyond Reason (p. 23).
It all just gets curiouser and curiouser for anyone who knows the evolution of this case. Upon his extradition to Virginia, Soering was emphatic that he stayed in Washington while Elizabeth drove to her parents’ home and murdered them. Just her, no one else. Indeed, that narrative had become an integral part of his plan:
“… [Elizabeth] now had the benefit of Jens’s correspondence, so she knew, at least in rough form, what his strategy was going to be. His first priority was to be extradited to Germany. If that didn’t work, his fall-back position was to blame it all on her.”
Beyond Reason (p. 228).
And he made full use of his years of free time in England to hone and polish that plan to the fullest extent possible, ready for use should he be returned unwillingly to Virginia:
“… I wrote a document entitled “Legal Notes and Arguments” between 1987 and 1989. Over hundreds and hundreds of pages I listed evidence and explanations and arguments in strict outline format, refining and rewriting countless times.”
Mortal Thoughts (p. 148).
When the enforced opportunity eventually materialised Soering then actuated his long-prepared version of events, even adding a little high drama to his script to give it spice:
“Elizabeth speaks in a monotone while staring at the floor in front of her. Over and over she repeats variations of the same phrases: I’ve killed my parents, I’ve killed my parents. But it wasn’t me, it was the drugs that made me do it, the drugs did it, not me…”
Mortal Thoughts (p. 66).
Of course, that version was always a total non-starter for the reasons Harding and others do actually grasp. It simply lacks all credibility, so rather more plausible mendacity needed to be added to the mix later. Yet in the beginning that was Soering’s claim – what might be called his standard version, mark I.
Then at his trial the possibility of another man, an accomplice, being involved was mooted, tentatively, by one of Soering’s lawyers to shore up the initial claim. In due course this would become his standard version, mark II. It was seen, for example, in the letter of 7 March 2011 from attorney Gail Ball to the Governor: “There were definitely two perpetrators…” Quite why Haysom would implicate an innocent man and at the same time cover for an unknown guilty one was never satisfactorily explained.
Similarly, in his rather desperate 2012 report to the Parole Board, PI David Watson also seemed to favour the Haysom-plus-one theory, although he did flit between options, even returning once to the old and discredited contention that the murders may have been committed by two apparently homeless drifters totally unknown to Elizabeth Haysom or her parents. (This had also been the subject of a somewhat vainglorious habeas corpus petition to the Supreme Court of Virginia, heard in 1998, which received short shrift from the Justices.)
Full-blown, standard version mark III had to wait for Sheriff Harding to take the stage. Like a parched man finding water, he lunged at the new DNA evidence, such as it is, and proclaimed to the world that it wasn’t Haysom alone; it wasn’t Haysom plus one; no, no, it was actually Haysom plus two accomplices!
He doesn’t tell us their identities or their motive, nor why Haysom has never mentioned these individuals, but he intuits their presence all the same. The house must have been getting quite crowded with murderers at the time. However, in a further letter to the Governor of 13 September 2017 he reports that an investigation is ongoing, although –
“I will say that none of it has been hugely successful in identifying additional evidence…”
No, and it never will be. The people he seeks don’t exist.
It is a feature of the Soering campaign that as soon as one theory gets decisively knocked down they regroup and come up with another one, totally unwilling to accept the harsh truth about their hero’s savagery. After all, he’s intelligent, articulate and cultured, right? Such a person could never do something so monstrous. And yet, in rage and fury, he did. Their faith is more emotional than intellectual, and as such is completely impervious to argument or evidence. For some, even a brand new, truly penitent confession by Soering, videotaped and uploaded to YouTube, would be seen as merely the illegitimate product of threats and coercion. They are true believers.
Harding: “At her sentencing, her court appointed doctors reported that Haysom had a personality disorder and lied regularly. E. Haysom’s trial testimony was presented to convince the jury that Jens was the murderer, but what part of her story is believable? The following factors help support a conclusion that E. Haysom was at the crime scene:”
Response: Just hold on there a moment. Before we even reach those factors it’s necessary to highlight two matters of indisputable fact. If we’re going to exchange medical diagnoses then it should be remembered that on the basis of psychiatric evidence from the Medical Director of Broadmoor Hospital Soering was diagnosed as suffering from abnormality of mind arising from disease of the mind, which doesn’t sound so great either, does it?
Moreover, when it comes to lying, Soering has by his own admission lied and lied and lied. Either he lied over and over again in England for nearly four years, or he’s been lying constantly since his return to Virginia. One has to choose which, but either way this conclusion is inescapable and shows him to be a self-confessed liar on the grandest of scales. Haysom was always a rank amateur by comparison.
“I was becoming a practised liar, completely enveloped in the folie a deux.”
Mortal Thoughts (p. 82).
Harding: “1) E. Haysom’s type B blood was found near her mother’s body; less than 11% of population has this type.”
Response: “… near her mother’s body.” How “near” was that, exactly? And whose blood was it anyway?
In 1985 11% of the American population amounted to 26,169,000 people (Wikipedia), which is not a small number.
But equally to the point:
“A single type B stain was found on a washcloth from the kitchen, but investigators felt that did not necessarily mean that a fourth person had been in the house. Because of the amount of time the stains had been exposed to the elements, it is possible that a type AB spot had deteriorated to the point where it was typed as a B.”
Beyond Reason (p. 28).
Harding: “2) Merit cigarettes, the type she smoked, were found outside the front door and back door.”
Response: This is asinine. It was her home, as Harding knows very well. When not at UVA she lived there!
Harding: “3) The shoe print found at the crime scene in a bloody area was consistent with her shoe size.”
Response: “A few weeks later some of the lab reports came back. One of them formally eliminated [a woman with mental health problems] as a suspect on grounds that her foot impressions did not match any of those taken at the scene. A second report said the same about Elizabeth.” Beyond Reason (p.129).
“It would not be until November 8 that a report came in saying that Elizabeth’s footprints did not match any of those found at the scene.” Beyond Reason (p.134).
Chuck Reid: “The footprints of Elizabeth came back; they didn’t match what we had. It eliminated her; it didn’t put her in the house at the time of the homicides.” (Couples Who Kill.)
Harding: “4) She openly hated her mother.”
Response: So did Soering, as already demonstrated above at some length.
She was abused over a number of years, which is probably not the best or most effective way to cultivate enduring filial love, and she was also mentally ill at the time, just as Harding has pointed out.
And note, in passing, the email sent to a website by former neighbour Judy Cartwright, dated 21 May 2004:
“While living in Cape Breton as a child [Elizabeth] was a neighbor and attended school with my son. I am well aware of the unloving and cold home she was brought up in at that time. We in the neighborhood liked her and wished she could be more like other children. Unfortunately she was soon whisked off to boarding school…”
Harding: “5) She testified that she was aided by her roommate Christine Kim in devising an alibi time line.”
Response: This adds nothing. From the time of her eventual confession to the police Haysom has never denied her involvement or her personal share of moral responsibility for the crimes. Quite the contrary: it can be very forcefully argued that she is inclined to accept too much blame herself for crimes over which she ultimately had no control. In the end the decision to murder the Haysoms was Soering’s alone.
Harding: “6) She had the best opportunity to shower afterward and to change into clothes at her own house, thus leaving no blood in the rental car.”
Response: Hardly – not when she was in Washington, as she said, and Soering confirmed:
Prosecutor: “How did it then go on when you were on the way to Washington? What about Elizabeth?”
Soering: “Elizabeth was in Washington when I arrived, she was in the street.” 
And what about the presence of the two mysterious accomplices Harding has conjured – what were they doing? Presumably these selfless individuals, unknown to the Haysoms, attended purely for the purpose of murdering complete strangers with no thoughts at all of stealing anything for themselves, and conveniently travelled in their own vehicle too. Most considerate.
Harding: “7) She worked out a plea agreement favorable for her to lie because Updike wanted Soering tried.”
Response: So then perhaps she’s sunning herself on a beach in the Bahamas right now?
It’s totally untrue. This is an allegation made up by Soering to suit his own purposes and has no substance at all.
Steven Rosenfield, now one of Soering’s lawyers, would know this very well, because it was he who sought to interpose himself and make a deal on Haysom’s behalf:
“… According to both the prosecutor and the defense lawyer, an attorney named Steven D. Rosenfield was trying to barter Elizabeth’s testimony.
Two months before, Rosenfield had written Updike saying that Elizabeth would not testify for the prosecution, as she had promised during her sentencing hearing, unless Updike gave her “some acceptable consideration and assistance … for her cooperation.”
Rosenfield’s actions infuriated both Neaton and Updike, who went to Judge Sweeney to see if contempt charges could be filed against the Charlottesville lawyer. After a five hour hearing on May 16, Sweeney ruled that Rosenfield was not guilty of contempt. Still, what he had done smacked to him of “extortion, blackmail, obstruction of justice and… meddling.” While Rosenfield may not have violated the letter of the law, Sweeney ruled, his ethics certainly were questionable…”
Beyond Reason (pp. 358-9).
Haysom dismissed Rosenfield and no deal was ever done. It is highly arguable that she should have been much less accommodating and insisted on an appropriate deal for her urgently desired co-operation.
Harding: “8) She confessed to the killings.”
Response: She didn’t, and it is utterly disingenuous to pretend otherwise. See above.
Harding: “9) Her fingerprints were found on a vodka bottle which bottle near her father’s body. This bottle was located away from the other liquor bottles.”
Response: Once again, it was her home. It is therefore to be expected that her fingerprints would be found on items all over the house. In fact it would be extremely surprising if they weren’t.
Harding: “Based on the evidence I reviewed and the recent DNA findings, I feel that E. Haysom was at her parents’ home at the time of the murders and was assisted by two men. These two men accidentally left their blood behind at the murder scene. The DNA is representative of each of these men. They are there, I cannot see their faces, but they are present. I do not see the face of Jens Soering because there is nothing from him in the crime scene. E. Haysom has a much greater motive to kill her parents. She has told reporters that her mother sexually abused her for 8 years. Investigators found pictures her mom had been taking of her in the nude in her late teenage years. I feel sorry for her and all victims of child incest. This type of abuse can cause severe mental disorder. The psychologist that tested her shortly after her arrest concluded she showed signs of suffering from borderline personality disorder, a serious and detrimental mental illness. She admittedly had been using heroin and other illegal substances years. She had friends in the drug culture that she had developed over the years of living in Virginia. Jens Soering was not a drug user and had only moved to Virginia to go to UVA in the fall of 1984 – just 7 months before the murders. It is highly unlikely he would have had relationships with two men strong enough to get them involved in this crime of hate (nothing stolen and overkill attack style).”
Response: So let’s unpick that long paragraph.
Harding: “The DNA is representative of each of these men. They are there, I cannot see their faces, but they are present. I do not see the face of Jens Soering because there is nothing from him in the crime scene.”
Response: Was this at a séance or what?
This view is founded on a highly contentious interpretation of DNA evidence that is rejected by the Commonwealth, and quite rightly so. It is also completely inconsistent with the known facts of the case. Harding’s visualisation here is merely to serve his desired but erroneous version of events, which lacks imagination or insight.
Soering certainly left very little at the crime scene. As noted above, he threw away his glass, cutlery and plate so as to avoid leaving fingerprints, as well as the knife and his outer clothing because it was “very bloodstained” .
He also used his feet to smear bloodstains that had settled around the bodies in an attempt to avoid leaving footprints.
Harding: “E. Haysom has a much greater motive to kill her parents.”
Response: Not when you take into account Soering’s rage, anger and hatred arising principally from their perceived threat to his relationship with Elizabeth.
We know very well Soering’s reasons for his hatred. What could have been the reasons or motivation for two men totally unknown to the Haysoms to take part in such a “crime of hate”?
Harding: “I feel sorry for her and all victims of child incest.”
Response: To quote Evelyn Waugh: “Up to a point, Lord Copper.”
Harding: “This type of abuse can cause severe mental disorder.”
Response: Quite so; and it is at least to the credit of the Virginia system on this occasion that she was given extensive psychological therapy in prison:
“Haysom told me that she’d had a great shrink a few years ago who helped her come to terms with her mother’s abuse.”
Nathan Heller, “Blood Ties”, The New Yorker, November 9, 2015.
Harding: “The psychologist that tested her shortly after her arrest…”
Response: It was actually a psychiatrist, but never mind.
Harding: “She had friends in the drug culture that she had developed over the years of living in Virginia.”
Response: Completely false. She was born in Rhodesia (as it was then) but grew up mainly in Canada and England. She did not move to Virginia until December 1983, just a few months before Soering.
Harding: “It is highly unlikely he would have had relationships with two men strong enough to get them involved in this crime of hate…”
Response: On what basis were his relationships confined only to weaker men?
We’re right back to the most banal and idle of idle speculation now, but even that still misses the point.
These fantastical, murderous, mystery men are figments of the imagination. Who are they and what would have been their motive for travelling to the Haysoms’ home and murdering people they didn’t know in a “crime of hate” (while neither stealing anything nor committing any kind of sexual assault)?
What possible reason could Haysom have had to blame Soering for crimes he didn’t commit and at the same time shield the (two!) actual perpetrators for more than 30 years? Nothing whatsoever about this hypothesis makes any sense at all. And certainly not when the real murderer spent four years fully acknowledging his guilt.
Harding: “… overkill attack style.”
Response: Exactly so. Once he had taken out the knife and slashed Derek Haysom’s neck it was a near certainty that at least one of them was about to die, so Soering was literally fighting for his life at that point – and he was also full of rage and hatred, as he acknowledged to the German prosecutor and his defence counsel.
Harding: “This was not a just outcome for the many reasons raised above. In my opinion, Jens Soering would not be convicted if the case were tried today, and the evidence appears to support a case for his innocence.”
Response: It simply doesn’t.
What’s being demanded by Jens Soering’s supporters is effectively a kind of utopian fantasy in which everyone is honest all the time, investigations are flawless, the right questions are always asked in the right order, and memories are perfect. This is not the world we live in. People make mistakes, exculpatory lies are routine, and evidence does not always present itself for examination in nicely packaged, pristine containers. For all that, however, Soering’s convictions are as safe as those of anyone in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia. For him, the insinuation of doubt in people’s minds via constant lies, distortion and misrepresentation has been tantamount to a full-time occupation since 1990, and manifestly he has not been entirely unsuccessful. All the same, he cannot eradicate the detailed history of this case, much as he wishes to – and he cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
In the end, for any report of this nature to have the slightest merit it must from the beginning demonstrate a wide-ranging command of its sources and an absolute commitment to a fair and rigorous assessment of all the evidence. The Harding report, much like others before it, fails quite comprehensively on both counts. It is in fact nothing less than a “hit piece” discreditably aimed at Elizabeth Haysom, the overriding purpose of which is an unwarranted attempt to exculpate Jens Soering. Indeed, had it not been so we can be confident that its contents would never have seen the light of day.
There is nothing at all wrong with advocacy pieces in themselves, as long as the facts remain inviolable and undistorted, but even here the report still fails, as shown. The simple truth is that this report is nakedly partisan from the outset, full of errors and thoroughly misleading, whether by accident or design. This may result from the author’s own prejudice or, alternatively, from the too often tainted sources of information with which he was provided. Nothing Soering writes or says can ever be taken on trust, even on matters of the utmost triviality where the lie or distortion has no real purpose except to reflect his preferred version of events and people. The majority of his adult life has been spent constructing this fortress of lies, so every line and every word of his has to be checked assiduously against better sources, and very few people ever bother to do that – including local journalists, to their abiding shame. Sometimes it may be that credulous attitude, rather than bad faith or outright dishonesty, which causes people to be very publicly taken for fools, but few leave his orbit completely uncontaminated.
Someone always thoughtful, but, disappointingly, without ever quite looking hard enough and joining the dots, it was Nathan Heller in the New Yorker (15 December 2017) who nevertheless perceived an important underlying reality:
“Soering, who likes to anticipate everything, tended to grow distraught when my reporting carried me into less known territory.”
You bet he did! He has a pressing need to control the narrative and, like a shepherd herding sheep, not allow people to wander off on unauthorised frolics of their own.
Ultimately attitude or motivation scarcely matter. Here, the responsibility was fairly and squarely on Sheriff Harding to investigate thoroughly before putting his name to such a deeply flawed and scurrilous piece of work, especially when he was intending to rely quite so heavily on the words of a proven and inveterate liar. This case vividly demonstrates, once again, that professional reputations of any kind are never enhanced by espousing the preposterous idea of Jens Soering’s innocence.
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