Welcome to Part 7 in my little series of Ten Söring Myths. These are posts 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.
Now we get to one of the most controversial aspects of the Jens Söring case. Exactly what sort of knife did he use to kill the victims? As with so many aspects of the case, you can find seemingly endless discussions of this subject on various online forums, and in some journalism about the case. The reason is that Jens Söring has created as much confusion as possible on the point of what weapon he used. And the reason he did this is to try to paint his killing of the Haysoms as a spontaneous, unplanned act of violence prompted by an angry argument — not a calculated attack planned out in advance.
To understand why the knife is so important, we need to set the stage. Söring and Elizabeth Haysom were arrested on April 30, 1986, in London. They had been making money by running a check-fraud scheme at upscale department stores. They gave consent to a search of their apartment, where English detectives Kenneth Beever and Terry Wright found references to the murders of the Haysoms in Söring and Haysoms’ joint diary and letters. Officials from Bedford County, Virginia flew to London to help with the investigation. On June 5, 1986, an English magistrate granted the police permission to question Söring and Haysom concerning the murders of the Haysoms. At 12:50 PM on June 5, Söring signed an official document stating that he did “not want to see a solicitor at this time”. An initial order to hold Söring and Haysom “incommunicado” was rescinded, since the British press has gotten wind of the connection of these two suspects to a famous, grisly homicide.
Despite signing a form stating he did not wish to see a lawyer, Söring was, in fact, allowed to speak with his English solicitor, Keith Barker, at 4:30 PM on June 5, 1986. Barker called in to the police station, and Söring spoke with him. We will never know exactly what Barker said to Söring, because the conversation is obviously protected by attorney-client privilege. Söring, for his part, has falsely claimed he was never allowed to contact his lawyer. However, as a lawyer, I can almost guarantee that if Söring told Barker that he (Söring) was now going to be questioned about a murder, then Barker almost certainly told him this: Do not say a word to anyone without a lawyer present. This is what every lawyer tells every client being accused of a serious crime, everywhere.
The proper conduct is modeled by the character Mike Ehrmantraut, an ex-cop turned hitman and fixer, in Season 1, Episode 6 of “Better Call Saul”. Ehrmantraut has been arrested and brought into a police interview room for questioning by a good cop and a bad cop. The good cop, named Abbasi, tries to get him to talk. This is Mike’s response:
But alas, Jens Söring didn’t choose this strategy. In his view, he had to start talking immediately. Why? Because he believed it was his only chance. He believed the police had found his fingerprints at the crime scene. He believed the police had footage of him riding the elevator back to the Marriott Hotel in Washington, DC at around 2:00 AM on March 31. 1985 with no pants on, because the pants he had been wearing when he stabbed the Haysoms had become covered in blood, and he couldn’t find any replacements. He believed Elizabeth Haysom was already telling the police about the plot to confront her parents and kill them if they didn’t withdraw their opposition to the relationship.
In other words, he thought the police already had enough evidence to convict him. The horrible irony, from Söring’s perspective, is that the police did not have all the evidence Söring thought they did. True, the police had many deeply compromising statements in the diaries and letters. However, Söring had managed to successfully wipe away all of his fingerprints at the crime scene and remove everything he had touched. The police had asked for the Marriott hotel’s surveillance camera footage, but it had already been re-recorded. Elizabeth Haysom, for her part, held out for three more days — until June 8, 1986 — before confessing. But Söring didn’t know any of this. Some Söring supporters have even gone so far as to suggest it was unfair of the police to allow Söring to believe they had a lot of evidence against him without telling him the truth. Those folks have a lot to learn about how crimes are solved.
Söring thought he was in deep trouble already. So he decided on another tactic: he would admit killing the Haysoms, but claim he had done so in a spontaneous drunken rage. He would support his credibility by admitting what (he believed) the police already knew and could prove, and then set up a defense. This is why he immediately confessed to Ken Beever that he “killed two people”. He knew there was no point in protesting otherwise. He proceeded, on June 5, 1985, to give a full confession to the crimes. He added to the confession in the following days. His confession is obviously designed to set up what is generally called a “diminished capacity” defense (which we’ll talk about in the next installment). First, Söring stated that he drank three beers while driving to Lynchburg to build up his courage. He then states that he drank several “stiff drinks” while talking with the Haysoms. This is quite plausible, since the Haysoms had very high levels of blood alcohol when they were killed. Söring stresses that he had very little experience with alcohol and was quite drunk.
When it comes to the actual killings, Söring’s narrative becomes vague and gap-filled. He usually insisted that he couldn’t remember actually stabbing the Haysoms, but suddenly saw “blood falling into Derek Haysom’s lap” and then remembers Nancy Haysom coming at him with a knife, then him possibly taking it away from her, then watching her stagger back into the kitchen holding her throat. Over and over, he claims he cannot remember the actual cutting and stabbing. Here is a typical excerpt from his interview with the German public prosecutor (PP):
He is trying to create the impression that he acted in a confused, drunken rage. This is why he is so coy about the murder weapon. He knows very well that admitting he brought a knife with him to Loose Chippings could be proof that he had formed an intent to kill them before even setting foot in their house. So he never describes how and where he got the knife. This excerpt from his interview with the German prosecutor is typical:
This vague, gap-filled story later proved useful to Söring: He now claims that his confession is vague as to certain points because he was making it up. His supporters claim he couldn’t describe the murder weapon(s) because he never saw it. The truth is that he wouldn’t describe the murder weapon because he believed that doing so might lead him to reveal facts which would show him guilty of premeditated murder. All Söring ever said about the murder weapon was that he apparently killed Derek Haysom with a knife of some sort, and that he may well have killed Nancy Haysom by taking away a knife she was wielding in self-defense and stabbing her with it. Söring consistently told of disposing of two murder weapons in his confessions, but never revealed exactly what they were or where he had them from.
Stay tuned for 10 Soring Myths Part 8: The Diminished-Capacity Defense.