Note: Elizabeth Haysom’s statement was written before the announcement of her release by the Virginia Parole Board.
As I have observed before, many people were the victims of Jens Soering’s relentless campaign of lies and defamation, but none more so than Elizabeth Haysom. There was no untruth about her too sordid for him to manufacture, thereafter to be endlessly recycled by his eager disciples in Virginia (joined by devoted Facebook Frauen along with certain contributors to the German language forum); yet throughout it all she has said little and rarely responded publicly to his many vicious slurs. At least in part that may be because she remains suffused with guilt for her secondary role in the murders and felt, quite wrongly, that having to endure constant lies being told about her was just the way it is – but that’s purely speculation.
Nevertheless, this seemed like the right time to offer Elizabeth the opportunity to respond, finally, with her own reflections on the case and Soering’s morally bankrupt conduct, and I’m pleased to say that she accepted the invitation. It is perhaps surprising that she isn’t even tougher on him in the circumstances, as she would have every right to be, but these are her thoughts.
This post has also been translated into the German language on its own page.
Please note: the copyright in this work is owned by Elizabeth Haysom and it may not be reproduced without permission.
Reflections by Elizabeth Haysom
For the last couple of months I have been participating in a victim impact group. The group has been both difficult and illuminating. I was stunned to learn that victims and co-victims of violent crimes have so few rights or safeguards under the law. Instead, the American judicial system is geared to protect the accused, which is, of course, essential, since too many innocent people are wrongly convicted and incarcerated. But with the weight of protection directed towards the accused, victims are treated with ambivalence. They have far fewer protections in the legal gamesmanship of the system.
What this has meant for the co-victims in my own case (my siblings, uncles, cousins, close family friends) is a near-constant encounter with the horror of my parents’ murder. Instead of being allowed to grieve or be angry, they have had to contend with an onslaught of public statements, interviews, articles, books, lawyers, film-makers – the full panoply of the true crime entertainment industry – as well as grotesque legal machinations stomping through their lives, their pain, their privacy. And for more than 30 years. Consequently, my nieces and nephews have had to grow up in the shadow of this relentless attention. Surely we can agree that compounding the suffering of victims never serves justice?
Nor, mind you, has this intrusive barrage served the truth, but has abetted the evolution of a lie.
As a guilty party, perhaps I am fair game, little different from a woman placed in the stocks in a medieval market square. Nevertheless, in his distorted history, with its needless additional ugliness and salacious mendacity, Jens paints a self-portrait. He has shown himself to be above nothing in the ruthless pursuit of his own ends.
Through the years, I have witnessed the overturning of several cases where innocence was established beyond doubt or the investigation was found to be thoroughly corrupt. In none of them did anyone resort to blaming or accusing innocent bystanders, especially when those people were no longer alive and therefore unable to defend themselves. If we were to examine who those wrongly convicted people were, we would learn that they were mainly uneducated, or mentally ill, or from a minority group. The system best protects those who are able to marshal and command an array of resources.
My own experience with the police was that even though, at first, I refused to co-operate, refused to comment or answer questions, they never failed to abide by the letter and spirit of the law. Nobody bullied me. Certainly the police were frustrated and tried to persuade me to answer, but then gave up and returned me to my cell. They no longer needed me because Jens was freely telling all.
Ours was a simple crime: I provided the alibi while he visited my parents. I was the catalyst for his actions and thus helped to destroy precious lives. My actions were revolting and when I testified I was not yet able to face the full extent of my reprehensible words and deeds. My intention was to be truthful but I had not yet completely mastered the habit. Worse, telling those stupid lies about buying and taking drugs then gave Jens further material with which to fabricate his alternative history, and he has fully exploited my moments of failure.
For a long time after my sentencing I was profoundly depressed. Appalled by my own actions, I turned inwards. I gave very little thought to the emerging power of social media and its ability to create and shape new realities. I was trying to make sense of the catastrophic disaster of my life, not develop an international brand. I thought what I had done was quite awful enough; it never occurred to me that it could be massaged into something even worse.
As the years passed I focused on trying to come to terms with my crime, to change and become someone who might stand for something better. I struggled fiercely with how I could possibly ever atone, ever demonstrate my profound remorse to my family. Focused on serving my punishment and making the best of it, I was oblivious to the full extent of the rewriting of my whole history. And I underestimated the influence of that history – real or not. I truly believed that the steady, plodding details of my daily conduct, the development of habits of kindness and integrity, hard work and caring for the well-being of others – that those actions would speak louder than Jens’s words.
But that is not the world we live in. And I continue to be a misfit in it.
As an old punk rocker with a tiny bit of anarchy left in my soul (I cannot imagine where people got the notion that Pink Floyd was my favourite band), I have never been good at conforming; I’m not even good at trying. I continue to insist on following the off-beat rhythm of my own heart. Rather than courting you with voluminous words, managing your impressions, and promoting myself with brazen self-aggrandizement, I shall merely tell you what I always seek to accomplish: to learn from my awful mistakes, to make the best of my circumstances, and to honour the values of my victims. And if I am able to encourage and motivate others to do the same, so much the better.
When I was first imprisoned in England, in 1986, I was isolated and alone. However, to my astonishment, school friends, family friends, new friends who would over the course of 33 years become old friends, and family members rallied to my side and stood with me. Patiently, these people of wonderfully generous spirit have waited for me to take responsibility for the state of my life. I am reminded of when I was at school and corresponded with a former maths teacher. I had, as usual, been moaning about things and he deeply offended me by responding, “Elizabeth, take some responsibility for your life!”
I didn’t get it back then – nothing, as I saw it, was my fault. It took years of gentle prodding by those who loved me enough to eject me from my pity party so that I could figure out and recognize my own agency. It doesn’t need saying that I could have, should have, done so many things differently.
But before I fossilize myself in a tar pit of self-recrimination, I must mention a lesson my victims and friends have taught me. It is that wallowing in a morass of despair and helplessness is not remorse. Yes, remorse means digesting the unpleasant reality of culpability, but it also means meeting the challenge of change, of becoming someone better, living differently. I still have choices and options. Who I choose to be, the type of person I am, continues to fall within my own purview. If my victims and friends, courageous and kind people that they are, can forgive me for the awful choices I made, for my conduct and all its attendant betrayals – if they have not been twisted by anger, bitterness, hatred, cynicism, then how can I dare to be immersed in self-pity?
Fortunately, these remarkable people have also forgiven me for my floundering and wavering as I bumbled my way to a better version of myself. For I have not miraculously changed overnight. This has been a lengthy, arduous, untidy process of stumbling from mistake to mistake, staggering down a pitted road where I managed to step in every pothole. Yet my friends and family are steadfast. They demonstrate how to live life with decency – an unsexy, old-fashioned quality of character that I see and hugely admire in them.
I realize that I have been unusually fortunate. Not only have I benefited from loving, wise people who have gripped me tightly when I buckled, I have also enjoyed some amazing opportunities. I work at a job I adore – computer-aided drafting; I have been able to train a wide assortment of delightful dogs; my cousin Phyllis made it possible for me to complete my bachelor’s degree; and I have been granted the freedom of acceptance. I have experienced elements of mercy, for which I am so grateful.
My parents were good people, filled with energy and life, who loved books and music and heated debates. They went to films, plays and musicals as often as they could, and they instilled in me a similar passion. My dad had a love of ice hockey; my mother was a skilled stone mason. He had impossible handwriting; she gave perfect gifts. My parents were generous, funny, and excellent hosts. They were dreamers and adventurers: they dreamed of sailing the world. On his ham radio, my dad talked to the world. And like all people, my parents were imperfect, had moments of unhappiness, disappointment, and struggle.
Not in the smallest way did they deserve their horrible deaths, and I beg forgiveness if I have ever, in any sense, implied that they were to blame for the choices I made. Selfishness and the toxic dynamics of my relationship with Jens, my own weak passivity, were at the root of my role in the crime. Ultimately I was part of the problem and fully deserved punishment.
I have been angry and deeply frustrated by the warped reality Jens has built around our relationship and around our crime, but in the ascetic cocoon of prison I have been getting on with my life, while at the same time my family has had no safe haven and no closure. And yet, because they are exceptional people, resilient and fair-minded, they have flourished anyway. Articles should be written about how they have coped and managed with such dignity, but my family would be too modest and too private to air their their emotional grit. However long it has been for Jens and myself, it has been much longer for them.
Therefore I ask you, in the midst of all the melodrama of finger-pointing and blaming, in all the talk of pardons and parole – of who deserves what – to spare a quiet, gentle thought for all the victims: the truly innocent.
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