A few people have been in touch to ask for a response to Sheriff Harding and his little gang’s recent press extravaganza on 8 April 2018, and the – gasp! – eventual confirmation that some form of suspect profile relating to the Haysom murders had been created. This time former FBI agent Stanley Lapekas had been drafted onto the team in the forlorn hope of adding extra firepower. It was billed on Facebook as something “BIG”, but turned out, quite predictably, to be just another attempt to throw dust in everyone’s eyes, really not requiring any response.
Moreover, this is not normally a request site, but in view of the Virginia media’s enduring lack of any critical analysis and their willingness to swallow with relish whatever pap is force-fed to them – well, OK, so just this once…
It was hardly a shock that evidence of a suspect profile having once existed has finally been found. This had been on the cards ever since the passage was discovered some little while ago in Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Updike’s letter of 18 June 1985 stating exactly that.
The profile was also prefigured, for example, in the New Yorker article by Nathan Heller on November 9, 2015:
“A suspect profile from the F.B.I. had identified the murderer as a female who knew the family. For a time, suspicion fell on the daughter of a local judge, whose engagement to Haysom’s older half brother Julian had ended, Chuck Reid had heard, under pressure from his parents… A few weeks before the murders, Reid was told, she had brought knives to a friend, and asked him to take them, because evil spirits were pursuing her.”
So in the event the blustering press conference had no great revelations to offer after all, bringing into question quite why it was called in the first place. In reality its significance was negligible, shrieking publicity value aside, and the reasons for that are far from elusive.
In the first place, profiles are not, and cannot be, evidence of anyone’s guilt or innocence. They are, at their very best, a hypothesis – informed speculation, preferably made by a forensic psychologist. As such they are investigative aids or prompts, and may provide detectives with directions to head in and specific lines of enquiry to pursue, but nothing more. Nevertheless, they can be of real assistance occasionally. What cannot be disputed, however, is that the history of profiles is extremely mixed: they’ve been found to be sometimes pretty accurate and sometimes totally wrong.
U.S. legal precedent also shows quite clearly that for a trial judge to admit a profile as evidence of guilt is more or less an open invitation to the appellate court to overturn any resulting conviction. They are emphatically not evidence of guilt, and to treat them as if they were would rapidly bring the legal system (and police) into widespread public disrepute. There’s no evading that.
In the case of the Haysom murders it didn’t require Sherlock Holmes to narrow the field down. There was no forced entry, no theft and no sexual assault. The killer had been invited into the house, and the murders were self-evidently personal. A careful look at family and friends seems like a good place to start in those circumstances, doesn’t it? No need for a profiling mastermind this time.
One of the most interesting things here is the part played by the late FBI profiler Ed Sulzbach. In the film Killing for Love he says that he “settled on her daughter”, meaning Elizabeth Haysom. Did he? We’ll return to that in a moment. What he actually seems to have been doing there was indulging in the favourite pastime of Jens Soering and everyone connected to his campaign, which is the rewriting of history to better suit their prejudices.
A major problem is that nobody actually agrees with Sulzbach, not even the egregious Chip Harding. In his 2017 report to the Governor he spoke of –
“… the enormous strength that was needed to over come 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.”
Harding Report, page 17.
Inevitably he has to deploy an element of hyperbole there to support his case. When you’re much younger than the victims, and your opening move, without warning, is to take out a knife and slash the throat of the stronger one, a man aged 72 who had consumed a large amount of alcohol, then it’s really not such a far stretch at all.
Where Harding is correct for once, however, is to postulate the sheer implausibility that a relatively small woman could have overpowered and killed the Haysoms on her own – and left the house without a scratch on her. That’s obviously right.
At that point it starts getting much more complicated. If your intention is to shield Jens Soering come what may, then of necessity you have to invent an additional person as an accomplice and/or actual perpetrator. Yet Ed Sulzbach missed that additional person’s presence entirely, let alone the two accomplices Harding now proposes. There’s the glaring disagreement between them.
And on the subject of those imaginary accomplices, we need to bear in mind the view of a fully independent DNA expert who was not paid by the Soering team. Professor Dan Krane was asked to review the evidence by the ABC television network for the 20/20 broadcast of 15 February 2018. In his view:
“There’s no indication that Jens Soering was present at the crime scene, but I think we can also say that there’s no affirmative indication of anybody other than the victims being present at the crime scene as well.”
In that case maybe Sulzbach could even have been right: “I settled on her daughter.” Surely that was the whole point of the press conference, broadcast live, wasn’t it? Joy for all as Elizabeth Haysom was shown to have been named in the profile! Never mind that it would prove absolutely nothing; never mind that she was more than a hundred miles away; and never mind that it was most certainly not exculpatory evidence in respect of Jens Soering; she was to be named and that was all that mattered.
We were consequently treated to the unedifying spectacle of four posturing old men standing there on the stage like young boys who’ve just seen a schoolgirl’s knickers. Their excitement was palpable.
Now they had their victory, didn’t they? Soering’s female Facebook fans certainly thought so; they were thrilled beyond measure. Elizabeth Haysom had been named in the profile, which was exactly what they had anticipated and longed for.
Previously, Soering himself claimed to have been –
“infuriated by the belated revelation of a profile pointing to Elizabeth as the killer.”
A Far, Far Better Thing, page 241.
That was what Ed Sulzbach had said in the film, after all: “I settled on her daughter.” The fans had hoped for it, wanted it, and now they had it. She was named, wasn’t she?
Just to say it again: no, she wasn’t.
The whole thing was a smoke and mirrors trick, perhaps worthy of a Penn & Teller show but not a purportedly serious investigation.
The name of the suspect was in fact removed from the original teleprinter message in its revealed form. The reason for that is simple. The name on the profile, described in an affidavit as “said Mary […]” turned out to be that of a local woman experiencing mental health problems. (See both documents below.)
She was the one named in the profile; she failed a polygraph test (the results indicating “deception”); and she was totally innocent. It would therefore be completely unfair to name her more fully here and of no benefit to anyone. But it was not Elizabeth Haysom.
“… 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.)”
Harding Report, page 15.
So where does this leave Ed Sulzbach? The most generous interpretation possible is that he was an old man with a failing memory. In the alternative, unfortunately… what? Before filming began did some helpful person give him a hefty nudge and “remind” him of what he remembered? In a campaign as unprincipled and dishonest as Soering’s, anything is possible.
Even his reasoning as stated in the film was purest guesswork:
“My mission was to study the crime and come up with possible suspects. And Mrs Haysom was wearing her nightgown with a robe and it occurred to me that Mrs Haysom would never entertain strangers in such attire…”
[The film then cuts from the home interview to Sulzbach’s telephone conversation with Chuck Reid]:
“I settled on her daughter because Mrs Haysom was a very proper woman and I came to the conclusion pretty quickly that it was someone they knew very well.”
Doubtless Mrs Haysom was a very proper woman. However, Ed Sulzbach didn’t know her at all and had absolutely no way whatsoever of knowing the type of garment she might or might not have chosen to wear when entertaining strangers. Moreover, she wasn’t entertaining a complete stranger: she was entertaining her daughter’s boyfriend, whom she had already met twice before.
Besides that, Soering’s visit was unannounced and unexpected, so Nancy Haysom wouldn’t have been dressed for the occasion anyway. All the same, the robe she was wearing that evening – long, dark blue, with swirling patterns – was in every respect more than sufficient for the purposes of modesty and decency.
Nevertheless, Sulzbach had delivered his required line: “I settled on her daughter.” Well, he did the profile, and that’s not what the profile said. No matter how you look at it, he was simply not telling the truth.
Yet again the Soering campaign has been caught out attempting to mislead people.
Still, at least the eager journalists there at the press conference would have spotted all that nonsense and reported it, wouldn’t they? Actually, no. They had no inclination to question or examine; as usual, there was barely a squeak from them. Whether actively or by default, they collude in the Soering campaign’s unremitting dishonesty and report what’s fed to them like obedient servants. In the digital age you might just as well give Soering’s team their own news pages onto which they can drop their highly selective stories directly, thereby cutting out any need for human interposition.
What, in the end, was the point of it all? Their only real triumph, as such, was the apparent refutation of Ricky Gardner’s much earlier assertion in Killing for Love that no profile had been done:
“Chuck Reid absolutely misspoke when he said there was ever any profile done on this case.”
Gardner was also recorded in the film during a telephone conversation with Reid:
“Chuck, if we had’ve done one of those, that would have been exculpatory evidence.”
When this matter is looked into closely some curious points begin to emerge. Going back quite some years, the only person who ever appeared to have had anything to do with the profile is Chuck Reid. He is the only one who ever spoke about it, for instance in the 2011 TV documentary On the Case and in the film Killing for Love (“Ed Sulzbach… was doing a profile for me on a murder case”). He was the person who took the named suspect for polygraph testing (“I took her down for a polygraph.”); and he was the one named in the draft affidavit, not Gardner. Wherever you look for personal knowledge of a profile, Gardner’s name is never to be found. Little wonder in those circumstances that he has always denied its existence.
Additionally, Ricky Gardner has long been the primary custodian of the case file, and there is no profile in it. The FBI, which apparently never throws anything away, can’t produce one. Even Stanley Lapekas, who uncovered evidence of a profile’s existence through a Freedom of Information request, can’t produce the profile itself, seemingly. All the available evidence strongly indicates that Gardner denied the existence of the profile for the simple reason that he had neither seen one nor been informed of its existence.
Indeed there still remain very serious doubts about whether a profile as most people would imagine it did ever exist. The term rather connotes some kind of document in the nature of a formal statement, put together by the profiler and then handed over to detectives. Gardner himself cogently explained the absence of any such thing in an interview with Bill Sizemore for A Far, Far Better Thing:
“They can’t find it because it was never done. And I’ll tell you why I know it was never done. We talked about doing it, and it was volumes of paperwork… It would have taken three college professors to fill out the questionnaires that you had to do, and we just didn’t take the time to do that…” (Page 241.)
What did exist, however, were what were described as “field notes”, the author of which has not been disclosed. And these were unearthed, quite remarkably, by Chuck Reid – at his home! The Soering team have not published them or revealed what they say, making it quite certain that the notes contain nothing of any advantage to their cause. Perhaps the opposite?
In any event, the discovery actually raises some questions for Reid to answer, questions which nobody seems to have been impolite enough to ask yet. For example:
Why does Reid still have the field notes at his home?
Why didn’t he hand in this material when he left the Sheriff’s Office (if not before)?
What steps, if any, did he take to ensure that the field notes retained at his home (and not, therefore, in the possession of the prosecutor) were disclosed to the defense?
Lastly on this, it should be remembered that the duty of disclosure in fact rested with the prosecutor, Jim Updike. Since he was clearly aware of and acknowledged Ed Sulzbach’s involvement (as shown by his letter), there is not the slightest reason to believe that any information was ever knowingly or improperly withheld from the defense by him. Moreover, why do Soering’s people constantly expect Gardner to answer for matters that were plainly not his responsibility?
As regards Ricky Gardner’s concession to Chuck Reid that the suspect profile would have been exculpatory evidence, there it’s necessary to respectfully disagree with him. Whatever else it may have been, the profile was not exculpatory evidence in relation to Jens Soering; manifestly it led to a dead end and was therefore completely redundant. That’s not to suggest that there wasn’t a duty to disclose any profile documents that might have existed (had anyone ever been able to find them). Rules of disclosure or discovery vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and Virginia will have its own.
It seems highly likely that there would have been an obligation on the Virginia prosecuting authorities to disclose the existence of a profile to the defense. Had they done so, however, it would have revealed only that at an early stage the investigation had focused briefly on a woman who was entirely innocent, which would have helped Soering’s case not a jot. It was nothing more than a passing wrong turn in the investigation, and in those circumstances was never capable of being exculpatory evidence.
Of the four men most directly responsible for bringing Jens Soering to justice, only Major Ricky Gardner now remains in the direct line of fire, and is thus the perennial target for the wrath and bile of the fraudulent innocence campaign. Jim Updike, constrained by the conventions of judicial office, observes public silence, while retired Metropolitan Police detectives Terry Wright and Ken Beever sit an ocean away in England, out of sight and largely out of mind and reach. That leaves Gardner tied to the whipping post alone to face the lashings of ill-informed, intemperate petulance. But it will pass.
The campaign’s sheer level of desperation now, shrill and demanding as it’s become, is beginning to suggest that something else altogether might be going on below the surface. It seems entirely possible that Sheriff Harding has finally come to understand that he is no longer fighting for Jens Soering’s totally unwarranted pardon: he’s actually fighting to salvage his own reputation, or whatever shreds now remain of it locally.
To that end he has enlisted a team of cronies from central casting as his trusty lieutenants, with Chuck Reid and Richard Hudson playing Crabbe and Goyle to his Draco Malfoy, and latterly recruiting Stanley Lapekas, perhaps summoned from retirement for one last turn in the spotlight, trying to swoop to the rescue like a geriatric Batman. It just doesn’t work, no matter the angle from which you view it.
Recently Harding said in an interview that he has “no skin in the game of Jens Soering’s case at all.” In fact it can be shown very clearly that he has on various occasions been profoundly disingenuous, at best, in his writing and speaking about the case. It suggests that he is deeply emotionally invested here, and in truth he could scarcely have more skin in the game if Soering were found to be his long-lost son. To call him partisan would be an understatement, which is obviously why he is so unconscionably selective in his use of evidence (following the lead of Soering and his lawyers). For examples see the post on this site responding to his report to the Governor. The report is a scurrilous document, still uncorrected many months later.
The possible motivation of Chuck Reid here is also interesting. Despite his assertions to the contrary, there is no doubt whatsoever that his current faith in Soering’s innocence is of much more recent origin than he’s willing to admit. Thus, in the documentary film Couples Who Kill, probably made around 2004(?), he expressed no reservations about Soering’s guilt:
“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.”
In the 2011 TV documentary On the Case Reid was still perfectly sure about who had committed the murders:
“Elizabeth wanted them gone. She found an individual who she could manipulate and use to do her deeds for her.”
But by this stage, a full 26 years after the murders, he had begun the process of reinventing and rewriting the facts to suit his own desired conclusions:
“And unfortunately, Jens, he was just madly in love with a girl he thought that really cared for him. She played him for a fool ’cause she knew that all she had to do was plant a little seed and back off and then pretend, OK, I was just joking about this, but in her own mind knowing he’s gonna do it.”
It just won’t wash. Reid played no further part in the case after 1985, and his claimed insights into either Soering or Haysom are completely imagined. He had no role in their apprehension, the London investigation and related interviews, or the subsequent prosecution.
There is no need to defend Haysom here because she stood up in court and admitted her part, so it’s not in question. Regrettably, however, many people, as a result of unacknowledged prejudices of their own, have used that guilty plea as an excuse to dump all the blame on her, Reid now among them.
In fact we know it’s completely untrue, and for proof we need only return to Soering’s own statements back when he was still willing to tell the truth, at least to an extent. Here’s just one example among very many:
“Soering describes himself as one who invests a great deal emotionally in individuals to the extent that he becomes jealous when they show any degree of affection to others. He describes them as “mutual parasitic relationships”.”
Report by Dr John Hamilton, page 4.
To believe that Soering didn’t make a conscious choice to kill the Haysoms, entirely of his own volition, owing to their perceived threat to his relationship with Elizabeth is delusional and demonstrates a dogged rejection of facts and evidence. She bore a personal share of the moral responsibility for what happened, as she fully acknowledged, but not an ounce more.
It seems quite possible that Reid’s late conversion to the Soering cause ultimately springs from years of festering resentment at seeing Ricky Gardner gain the lion’s share of investigative credit in Virginia for bringing the case to a successful conclusion.
Add to that his two failed attempts to become Bedford County Sheriff and a degree of personal pique doesn’t seem so very far from the surface:
“Reid also believes that [Sheriff] Brown is planning for an in-house successor once his term ends, if he’s reelected. Reid feels that, for this reason, a change is needed now.
Mike Brown was elected in a five-way race in 1995 after Sheriff Carl Wells retired. Chuck Reid was one of the unsuccessful candidates in that race, coming in third.”
John Barnhart, Bedford Bulletin, August 31, 2011.
Which “in-house successor” could he possibly have had in mind?
It’s a shame because Reid has clearly been a decent man with an honourable record. But it cannot be repeated often enough that promoting the absurd notion of Jens Soering’s innocence has never and will never enhance anyone’s personal or professional reputation, as we continually see. Soering has the uncanny ability to contaminate anyone coming within his orbit.
Still, there was one happy consequence of the press conference. Over the next day or so this site had more than 400 views, the highest ever, which cannot be entirely a coincidence. That’s real serendipity.
* * *