Criminal Law, Mental State, Murder, Police and Prosecutors, Soering

10 Söring Myths Part 3: Söring’s Confessions Conflict with the Crime Scene Evidence

Welcome to Part 2 in my series of Ten Söring Myths. These are intended as a teaser for a very long article (over 15,000 words) which will shortly appear in German in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The article discusses a 454-page report authored by retired Scotland Yard detective Terry Wright, which exhaustively analyzes claims made by Jens Söring during his trial and appeals. Wright initially investigated Söring in 1986, testified at his trials, and has access to many primary documents.

Today we look at the reliability of Söring’s confessions. Since he confessed to American, British, and German investigators and two British psychiatrists in 1986, Söring has been insisting these confessions were all false, and were made solely to protect Elizabeth Haysom from the electric chair. As we learned in Part 1 of this series, Jens Söring’s new version of events, which he unveiled at his 1990 trial and elaborated on in his 1995 book Mortal Thoughts, is that Elizabeth Haysom, acting alone, murdered her own parents single-handedly.

Yet his confessions are still there, memorialized in hours of audiotapes and notes. One of them can even be read in its entirety here. To explain them away, Söring and his supporters have claimed that Sörings confessions conflict with the evidence left at the crime scene, proving he wasn’t really there. According to Söring, the only way he learned of the circumstances at the crime scene was from a brief description which Elizabeth — the person who actually killed the Sörings — gave him (“Mortal Thoughts”, p. 69):

Then Elizabeth described the scene of crime, and I tried to imagine how I might have been driven to kill her parents. She did not tell me why she had driven to Lynchburg or what had actually happened at Loose Chippings [the name of the Haysom’s house], and I did not want to know. We never mentioned the murders directly to one another again.

So according to Söring, his confessions are full of mistakes because his only source of information was a brief description of the “crime scene” by Elizabeth.

Is this correct? The answer is no. Sörings confessions are by and large consistent with the crime scene investigatory found, with only a few minor errors. The two errors are first, that Söring could not recall the clothes Nancy Haysom was wearing. This isn’t so much an error as a memory lapse:

Wright – “Jens, can you remember what they themselves were wearing… Nancy and Derek?”

Soering – “What they were wearing… (long pause) …. That’s a very hard question. Let me try to think. I think Mrs. Haysom was wearing jeans…. I think, ah .., but I.., like I said ah… it’s… I would say that part of it is very… very confused.”

Wright – “It’s vague?

Soering – “Yes, very confused.”

In fact, Nancy Haysom was wearing a flowery housecoat. The second minor error is that Söring, incorrectly recalled the orientation of Derek Haysom’s corpse, while accurately recalling its general location. Söring’s own sketch shows Haysom’s body crossing the door-frame from the dining room to the living room, with most of the body in the living room:

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In fact, Derek Haysom’s body was found in the same location — the doorway between the living room and the dining room — but rotated 90°, as the official crime scene diagram used at Söring’s trial shows:

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In his confessions, Söring stated that he had drunk several cans of beer on the way to the confrontation with the Haysoms to build up his courage, and then that he drank several “stiff” cocktails with them as the fight escalated. See pages 40-41 of this interview with a German prosecutor. He repeatedly warned investigators that his memory of the events was “hazy” and “vague” because of the alcohol he had drunk and the shock and stress of the fatal encounters. Further, Söring was quite obviously following a strategy of claiming the murders occurred during a type of rage blackout; his confessions are full of strange formulations in which Söring says he doesn’t remember stabbing people, but only seeing blood suddenly “appearing” or “dropping” into peoples’ laps.

Nevertheless, Soering was able to recall plenty of accurate details, more than enough to show that he was speaking from his own personal experience, not from some secondhand story told him by Elizabeth. Traces of Type O blood (Söring’s type) were found exactly where they should have been, Söring said he took off his shoes and sockprints were found at the crime scene, Söring tried to turn off the light above the front door but couldn’t find the switch, the list goes on. Soering’s supporters have a long list of other supposed problems with his confessions, but these are all either not problematic, or they’re minor discrepancies which don’t undermine the overall corroboration.

Wright’s report also points to a few “Freudian slips” — sections of his interrogations in which Söring revealed information only the actual killer could have known. For instance, this exchange from June 5, 1986. Incidentally, Söring claims he told the investigators “as little as possible” from June 5-7, 1986, but he gave a full confession on June 5. In this exchange, he’s talking about his return from the Haysom’s house, “Loose Chippings”, to the Washington Marriott Hotel:

Beever: “Did you throw your clothes away that evening or early the following morning?

Soering: “Ah … I think both… I mean.”

Beever: “Are you saying both … both items or both …”

Soering: “Both times”

Beever: “In separate places? I, what sort of place did you throw them away?”

Soering: “Ah … trash …(inaudible) …trash bin … and stuff like that.

Gardenr: “Trash bins?”

Beever: “Between Loose Chippings and D.C.?”

Soering: “Um… “

Beever: “That would mean that you arrived back at D.C. with no trousers on, wouldn’t it?”

Soering: “Um … yes, there could be a video tape of the elevator, which does show me without my trousers on because that’s in fact what happened.

In fact, investigators had no recordings of Söring in the hotel elevator, but of course they did not tell Söring this. He believed there were highly suspicious recordings of him in the hotel elevators, and that the authorities had them already. Is this something he could have learned from Elizabeth? No. Here is Söring’s own account of Elizabeth’s return to the hotel after supposedly murdering her own parents single-handedly (“Mortal Thoughts”, p. 65):

Suddenly there is a knock at the door, and I rush to open it. Elizabeth stands in front of me, and with one glance I know there has been serious trouble. Her face is white and tense, her eyes wide. She is wearing different jeans from those she wore when she left Washington; this is the baggy pair with the big pockets on the legs. Her blouse looks different, too, somehow.

There no mention of the “real killer” using the elevators without pants. Further, this story is impossible to square with Söring’s 1986 version, in which he rode the elevator without pants. And how do we know that Söring’s 1986 version is true? Because he believed there were video recordings of him using the elevators without wearing pants in the early morning hours of March 31, 1985 — clearly inculpating him, personally, as the killer of the Haysoms. Söring said he rode the elevators without pants because he did.

This anecdote also reveals why Söring confessed: He believed he was already going to be convicted of the murders. He believed the authorities had his fingerprints from the crime scene (remember that he fled the USA and gave up his full university scholarship when the police asked him for his fingerprints) and videos of him in the elevator. He believed Elizabeth had already told the authorities everything. At this point there was no point in denying his guilt, so he moved on to the next step: building a defense based on diminished capacity. At this point we can consult a famous scene from one of the most realistic courtroom crime thrillers ever made, Anatomy of a Murder:

This is also why Söring’s parents hired two psychiatrists to evaluate him. The point of these psychiatric evaluations was not to prove Söring’s innocence, but to lay the foundation for a defense based on diminished capacity. To quote from the conclusion of Dr. John Hamilton’s report:

I therefore believe that at the time of the homicides Jens Soering was suffering from an abnormality of mind in which the predominant feature was an impaired appreciation of reality in this circumscribed but crucial area. It is my opinion that at that time he was suffering from such an abnormality of mind (arising from disease of the mind) as to  substantially impair his mental responsibility for his acts. Were he to be tried for the homicides in England I would be prepared to give evidence that he suffered from diminished responsibility in terms of section 2 of the Homicide Act 1957 and that he should therefore be liable to conviction for manslaughter rather than murder.

So, to sum up, Söring’s 1986 confessions were accurate, harmonized with the crime scene evidence with only minor discrepancies, and were given as part of Söring’s strategy of attempting to downplay his guilt by arguing that the murders were committed during a period of emotional instability and intoxication which reduced his criminal culpability.

In the next post we’ll look at Söring Myth 4: The Supposed FBI Profile.

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