Criminal Law, Evidence, Murder, Soering

10 Söring Myths Part 5: The Deadly Drifters

Welcome to Part 5 in my little 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.

The year: 1995. Jens Söring has just made the worst decision a guilty criminal defendant can make (aside from committing the crime, of course): he has decided to go public with his theory of why he’s innocent. Criminal defense lawyers have nightmares about their clients even approaching microphones or keyboards. This recent Tweet sums it up:


Alas, despite the warnings from the dead lawyer and the random stranger, Jens Söring said something. He said over 200 pages of something, in an online book called Mortal Thoughts. You can read every single page of it here. However, you can’t find any reference to it on Söring’s homepage or official fan sites.

There’s a good reason for that: Mortal Thoughts contains a lot of very awkward statements by Jens Söring about his own case. The most awkward is likely Söring’s theory of who killed Derek and Nancy Haysom, the parents of his then-girlfriend Elizabeth Haysom. Söring had been convicted of this crime in 1990, but like so many convicted criminal defendants, he found the guilty verdict to be quite rude and a serious obstacle to his future plans. So Söring resolved to tell the world who really killed the Haysoms: their own daughter.

The prosecution’s theory of the case was that Elizabeth Haysom sent Söring off to kill her parents while she waited in a room in the Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C. While waiting there, she created an alibi by buying movie tickets and room service meals for two people. But Söring’s version is completely different. In his version, he and Elizabeth went to Washington, DC for an innocent mini-vacation. Suddenly Elizabeth drops a bombshell: She still owes her drug dealer, “Jack Bauer”, lots of money. But instead of cash, he wants her to perform a service. He wants her to pick up a big drug shipment in Washington, DC, then take it with her back to Charlottesville, Virginia, where Söring and Haysom were attending the University of Virginia. She insists she has to go alone to pick up the drugs from Bauer. So she takes the rental car they both had rented and sets off to meet her drug dealer. She’s away for hours, and only comes back to the hotel room at around 2:00 AM. And this, according to Söring, is what happened:

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.

Liz pushes past me without saying a word and sits down on the end of the bed, hunched over with her elbows on her knees. I sit down next to her and turn to my left toward her.

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…. Then I look at her exposed forearms resting on her knees. Her hands are clean, but there are dry reddish-brown smears on the arms…. I begin to believe her. She has killed her parents. The drugs made her do it…. I cannot think about Liz’s actions — I dare not think of how that blood got onto her forearms…. Derek and Nancy Haysom died at the hand of their own daughter.

That was Söring’s story in 1995 — but he wasn’t sticking to it, as we’ll see later. One problem with the story is, well, it makes no sense. Instead of picking up drugs from her drug dealer, Elizabeth decides to drive hundreds of miles from Washington, DC to Lynchburg, Virginia, stab both her parents to death single-handed, then drive back to Washington, DC. Driving mostly at night. While high on drugs. All while “Jack Bauer” is waiting for his drug mule, who never shows up. He must have been one of the kind, understanding sort of drug dealer, since he apparently didn’t mind waiting for hours, and disappears from the story forever.

It’s hard to picture a diminutive 20-year-old woman slicing her own parents’ throats, then mutilating their corpses. She would have had to nearly decapitate her own father. Of course, there were the famous “drugs” which “made her do it”. This was 1985, at the very height of the American “War on Drugs” hysteria, something Söring obviously experienced first-hand. Söring never identifies exactly which “drugs” were involved here, but other references in “Mortal Thoughts” are to Elizabeth experimenting with heroin, which is not known to provoke homicidal frenzies, and which is not exactly conducive to keeping awake while driving hundreds of miles at night. Alone.

But that’s what Söring said, in 1995.

Then this happened, as recounted in a November 21, 1996 news story:

A knife reportedly confiscated in 1985 from two drifters who later stabbed a Roanoke man to death will be tested to see if it could be the weapon that killed Boonsboro couple Derek and Nancy Haysom.

In an unusual development in Jens Soering’s appeal of his conviction for murdering the Haysoms, Bedford County Circuit Judge William Sweeney ordered Monday that the knife be sent to state forensic labs in Richmond, where it will be tested for the presence of human blood and compared with samples of blood from the Haysoms.

An evidentiary hearing is scheduled Dec. 9 for Soering, 30, a former University of Virginia honor student who is serving a double life sentence for the March 1985 stabbings of his girlfriend’s parents in their Bedford County home.

Soering claims he is innocent and has said he thinks the murder was committed by his former girlfriend, Elizabeth Haysom – who is serving a 90-year sentence for accessory to murder – and accomplices unknown to him.

Soering is seeking a new trial on grounds that Bedford police and then-prosecutor Jim Updike withheld evidence about the knife and the two drifters from defense attorneys during his 1990 trial.

A former Bedford County deputy, George Anderson of Montvale, says he stopped hitchhikers William L. Shifflett and Robert Lewis Albright on a highway near the Haysom home shortly after the Haysoms’ bodies were discovered.

Anderson has told Soering’s attorney that while he questioned the men, one of them hid a folding Buck knife in the back of his patrol car. Anderson confiscated the knife and has had it in his personal possession for the past decade.

A day or so later, on April 6, 1985, Shifflett and Albright stabbed to death 58-year-old drifter Marvin Franklin Milliken. When Shifflett was arrested, he had another large folding knife in his possession similar to the one Anderson said he had confiscated.

Shifflett, 37, and Albright, 34, are serving multiple life sentences and will not be eligible for parole until 2002. Albright is in Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, and Shifflett is at Keen Mountain Correctional Center, where Soering is incarcerated.

The news story, doubtless drawing on statements from Söring’s lawyer, now refers to “accomplices” in Söring’s scenario, in which Elizabeth Haysom murders her own parents. A handy bit of emergency retconning.

But Söring had just written a book stating that Elizabeth Haysom personally killed her parents, without a single reference to accomplices of any kind.

Ouch. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why criminal defense lawyers begin sweating blood when their clients talk about their cases.

In any event, the knife proved not to have any relevant evidence on it, which is hardly surprising, since Deputy Anderson had possessed it for a decade before turning it over to be tested. Of course, the only reason the knife could possibly have been relevant if is Shiflett and Albright had killed the Haysoms. But if they killed the Haysoms, then why did Elizabeth Haysom claim she had done it? And where did the blood on her arms come from?

After retconning, we now arrive at Söring Story Version 3.0: Elizabeth somehow spontaneously convinced two drifters she’d never met before to murder her parents, and participated enough herself to get completely covered with blood. And then she ditched the two accomplices, who obediently disappear forever. She tells her boyfriend Söring nothing about any of these remarkable events. Also, Elizabeth apparently convinced the two alcoholic drifters to kill her parents for free, and successfully prevented them from stealing any of the liquor, jewelry, and other valuables lying around in plain sight in her parent’s home. And performed this amazing feat of persuasion while high on drugs herself.

Söring’s legal team soldiered on resolutely, filing an appeal claiming Sörings rights had been violated because nobody told his trial lawyers about the knife during his 1990 trial. The Virginia Supreme Court was not impressed:

[T]here is no connection whatever between Albright and Shifflett and the Haysom murders. The convict only has proven that the men were present in the same county where the Haysoms were murdered near the time of the killings, and that the vagrants may have possessed a knife that may have been similar to the one used to kill the Haysoms. As the [lower-court] judge pointed out, “There are no confessions, no matching blood on the knife, no matching fingerprints, no stolen articles, no connection between these two men and Elizabeth Haysom, and no logical explanation as to why two drunken robbers and murderers would kill the Haysoms without taking valuables, vehicles and liquor.”

Also, except for the stabbing of the victims, the Millikin and Haysom murders were dissimilar, as the habeas judge stated. The respective murders differed in motivation as well as method. The Haysom killings, committed earlier in time, involved slashing of the victims’ throats with severing of carotid arteries and jugular veins. Millikin’s throat was stabbed, not slashed, and he was sexually disfigured, a circumstance not present in the Haysom crimes. Albright and Shifflett were motivated by a desire to rob their victims. The Haysom murders were not motivated by robbery;  many valuable items in plain view were left intact in the Haysom home.

Additionally, in order to entertain a reasonable doubt based on the theory that the Haysoms were murdered by Albright or Shifflett, or both, acting with Elizabeth, the jury would have to disregard the overwhelming evidence presented at Soering’s criminal trial that he alone committed the murders. For example, he confessed repeatedly in great detail, and the majority of those details fit the facts developed by the criminal investigation: the slashing of the victims’ throats compatible with the manner he said he held the knife; the injuries he sustained during the violence at the time of the murders, which injuries were later observed at the funeral; the exterior lights left burning by the murderer controlled by a switch in a back bedroom, a location unknown to a stranger to the home like Soering, but known to a family member like Elizabeth;  and documentary evidence (letters and diary entries) implicating him in the crimes, just to mention a few of the many circumstances consistent with his confessions. Moreover, Soering had a motive to kill his lover’s parents, who opposed his relationship with their daughter. And, his flight to Europe after avoiding the police, resulting in the forfeiture of valuable scholarships, is also consistent with his admitted guilt.

After this resounding rejection, which was echoed by the federal court a few years later, we heard very little about Shiflett and Albright. The idea of potential accomplices was shelved — until 2016, that is, when “DNA evidence” supposedly pointed to “two unknown male perpetrators” at the crime scene. But as we’ve already seen, that evidence doesn’t exist. And Team Söring also doesn’t appear interested in reviving Shiflett and Albright as alternate suspects, since it obviously didn’t work the first time.

So now we’re at Söring Story Version 4.0 (I think), in which Elizabeth apparently spontaneously convinced two random males who weren’t Shiflett and Albright to help her kill her parents. Random males whom nobody has ever identified. To explain who they might have been, Team Söring generally engages in suspiciously general hand-waving about two men from the “drug scene” Elizabeth was supposedly involved in. I’ll leave you to contemplate how plausible this newest version is.

Stay tuned for Part 6: The Bloody Car.

3 thoughts on “10 Söring Myths Part 5: The Deadly Drifters”

  1. Anyone who has watched 24 will know that Jack Bauer was an understanding sort of fellow

  2. Too bad you didn’t talk to Mr. Shiflett nor Mr. Albright, the overnight guests at the Raft. Nor did you speak nor listen to the three other volunteers they spoke to. Documented to Roanoke police and and Commonwealth Attorney Betty Jo Anthony.

    They were there.

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