“One of the first things a serial liar wants to do is undermine your trust in the providers of fact that would check his lies. If you’re a criminal bent on asserting your innocence, then you undermine trust in the police; you undermine trust in the judiciary; you may be a murderer… but you claim it’s the system that’s against you.”
Simon Blackburn, Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University, author of On Truth (Vox, 14 August 2018).
What can be said with confidence is that news of Terry Wright’s huge report on the Haysom murders came as a very nasty shock to Jens Soering’s supporters. Originally addressed to the Governor of Virginia in connection with Soering’s fraudulent pardon petition, the report’s existence was publicly revealed for the first time by Andrew Hammel in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) as an exclusive for that newspaper on 18 December 2019. More about that in a moment. First, it may be helpful to briefly step back in time for a better understanding of how the report came into being.
Terry Wright’s Report
With the advantage of hindsight it’s quite clear that Jens Soering’s greatest misfortune occurred at the time of his initial arrest in London for fraud. He soon found himself meeting the inquisitive gaze of two first-class detectives from the Metropolitan Police (“Scotland Yard”), Terry Wright and Ken Beever, and that effectively sealed his fate, with repercussions which flow all the way down to the present day. Yet there was nothing inevitable about it. Detectives, like other professionals, come in all shapes and sizes, some more competent than others, some more diligent, some, frankly, more honest. Things might have turned out very differently for him, but didn’t.
A little while later, of course, Wright and Beever were joined by Investigator Ricky Gardner after a transatlantic dash from Virginia. Contrary to the way he has often been portrayed by Soering and those who agitate so aggressively on his behalf, Gardner is well known to be a thoroughly decent man. He arrived to take principal responsibility for the American murder case, accompanied by Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Updike for on-the-spot legal guidance.
Much has been made of Gardner’s relative lack of experience at the time – a “rookie detective”, as several people have called him, including his much less distinguished former partner, Chuck Reid. The assertion is only ever made by Soering supporters in an attempt to undermine him. It also wildly misses the point. Gardner was already an experienced police officer and when he landed in London he was embraced by Wright and Beever, who were urban detectives in a major capital city. As the American, Gardner’s role was always pivotal, but he had also slotted into a three-man team, Ken Beever being the senior by rank and experience, having recently arrived at Richmond from the Flying Squad. Together they were eminently qualified for the job at hand, as events were to prove.
Another relevant factor was the different personal qualities possessed by the three investigators, each of whom brought substance and value to the case. What they shared, however, in addition to an earnest commitment to their duties, was an ethos of integrity and propriety in the way they conducted themselves. Nevertheless, a prominent feature of Soering’s later strategy was to denigrate the work of the detectives while at the same time attacking their characters. That was essential for a fabricated innocence campaign, and has since been continued at maximum volume by his supporters, at least in relation to Gardner. Even so, it has to be remembered that all the claims and allegations took four years to materialise, not surfacing until his involuntary return to Virginia in 1990. That was time he used to concoct his story.
Very clearly, Elizabeth Haysom was top of the long list of people who had to be traduced and vilified. Equally clearly, Ricky Gardner, as lead investigator, was in second place for the reasons previously discussed here: Terry Wright and Ken Beever were an ocean away in England, while Jim Updike, later constrained by the conventions of judicial office, maintained public silence. Gardner thus found himself a regular target of supporters’ fury, which he compounded in their eyes by stating, repeatedly and correctly, that Soering’s guilt was not in doubt.
It took an extremely long time, but the detectives, Gardner most of all, were totally vindicated. The Parole Board’s own investigation into the matter was deep and thorough – perhaps far more so than Chairwoman Bennett and Governor Northam would have wanted or anticipated – and revealed the overall professionalism with which the case was handled, so that 30+ years later the original investigation stands up to scrutiny. They got it right, and no amount of shrieking hysterics from delusional Soering devotees on podcasts, Facebook, the Allmystery forum or elsewhere can ever change that.
One important element of the pardon saga went largely unobserved. Even as Gardner took much of the incoming fire in Virginia, he was also serving as a kind of bomb shelter for others – and doing so willingly, it seems fair to say. While the focus remained on him, for many months things were quietly happening away from the public spotlight back in England, where Jens Soering had never been forgotten. Without fuss or fanfare, a comprehensive response was being prepared, devastating in its impact, and relatively few knew it was coming. Returning to haunt Soering like Banquo’s ghost, retired Scotland Yard detective Terry Wright took the stage.
Possessing a quick, incisive mind and a fastidious eye for detail, Wright had a professional lifetime investigating serious crime, which included a secondment to the UN/EU Mission in Kosovo and a five-year attachment to the FBI Laboratory at Quantico (plus service with another agency in Charlottesville, Virginia). He applied that experience to a root and branch re-examination of every aspect of the Soering case. Ken Beever and Ricky Gardner were active consultants in the endeavour, naturally, and give its closely-reasoned findings their unreserved endorsement, but it was Terry Wright as the consummate details man who did the heavy lifting on this occasion.
The product of that intensive work was the detectives’ report to the Governor, via the Parole Board, which is a searing refutation of Soering’s claims. At more than 450 pages it is the definitive exposition of the evidence, a measured but unsparing demonstration of just how worthless the various reports and letters submitted by his supporters always were. (The same applies to the nauseating German propaganda effort that became Killing for Love, and to Bill Sizemore’s wholly discreditable book.)
Many visitors here have shown a deep interest in learning the truth, and for them the report will be essential reading now that it is being made publicly available. It represents a superlative example of an expert detective’s rigorous analysis, leaving Soering more exposed than a naked man in a Minnesota winter, as well as all the bumbling amateurs and corrupt apologists who tried so hard for so long to exonerate him. The contributions of those people to the pernicious innocence myth will be reviewed here in due course.
Andrew Hammel and the FAZ
It can be no big surprise that Andrew Hammel, as an American lawyer living and working in Germany, took a close interest in this case. Moreover, he is highly qualified to comment with authority from a disinterested perspective. What he brings is a distinguished academic record combined with practical experience as a former criminal defense attorney in Texas, a state famous (or infamous) for its harsh criminal justice and record number of executions in the United States (Virginia being in second place, a long way behind).
Hammel’s initial foray into the case was a long post on his personal blog, which detailed his scorn for the claims of innocence made by Jens Soering and his supporters. That was to be expected from someone with an insider’s working knowledge at the sharp end of the American legal system, as well as familiarity with its German counterpart. The same theme was subsequently explored in an equally long article for the FAZ on 25 November 2019 and updated the next day.
The article was excellent, needless to say, but not everyone was happy about it. The Soering team, huffing and puffing with indignation, sent coordinated letters of complaint to the paper, one from Chip Harding and the other from Annabel Hagemann, chief propagandist and cheerleader on Soering’s English language Facebook page. Harding’s letter amounted to little more than a repetition of the egregious lies and errors in his 2017 report to the Governor, while Hagemann’s continued her perennial role as a squawking parrot in the background. What her letter lacked in substance it made up for with ignorance, irrelevance and insults.
As a result of those criticisms, completely devoid of merit though they were, Hammel was given early access to Terry Wright’s report to assist with his response. In the meantime he published a second article in the FAZ (see PDF below) which mentioned the report for the first time in public without revealing its contents, triggering alarm and consternation in the Soering camp. That’s no wonder when their mendacious narrative, years in the construction, was about to collapse like a house of cards. The lies, distortions and misrepresentations, the bluster and the slander – in other words, the aggregated bullshit – would ultimately count for nothing.
In respect of Harding specifically, the overall worth of his opinion on the case was pointedly encapsulated by Terry Wright in two sentences:
“In Harding’s opinion the evidence supports a case for Soering’s innocence. His opinion is based on a superficial, substandard and inadequate examination of only a part of the evidence in the case, and on the opinions of reporters, authors and TV programme makers who don’t have direct knowledge of the case.” (Report, page 363.)
In these circumstances it was right to give Andrew Hammel an exclusive with the Wright report, which is what has happened. In advance of this post a third and final article of his has now been published on the FAZ website amounting to some 17,000 words or roughly 32 standard pages. It combines masterly analysis and synthesis of the report with a response to Harding and Hagemann in restrained language entirely appropriate for a serious newspaper. However, nobody need be in any doubt that Hammel’s response is withering, thereby delivering a severe public spanking to both his critics and the wider Soering network. In doing so he brings to bear his accumulated expertise as a lawyer and academic together with fluent German language ability, resulting in many fresh insights along the way. This is an article that will provide the quality benchmark for future German reporting on the Soering case.
At the same time as Andrew Hammel’s article, the FAZ also published the Wright report on its own servers by agreement, giving German speakers the first opportunity to read it. Having given the paper that exclusive, it is now time to publish the report for English speakers in the United States, the UK and elsewhere. It is available below.
The report is posted here with permission. All rights in it and relating to it remain the sole intellectual property of Terry Wright.
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