The Söring case never stops fascinating people. Lately I’ve been listening to the newest podcast, called “Small Town, Big Crime“, presented by local CBS journalists Rachel Ryan, Jaclyn Piermarini and Courteney Stuart.
Most Söring-themed media products consist mostly of an interview with Söring, then interviews with his supporters, and a few snippets of Bedford County justice officials asking bemusedly: “What are you people still doing obsessing about a case which was solved decades ago?” STBC, by contrast, actually does investigative reporting — going out into the real world and trying to track down information which might actually prove some of Söring’s claims one way or the other.
The hosts take a much more objective line than most podcasts about the case; they are generally skeptical of Söring’s conviction, but they don’t engage in the obvious manipulation and bad faith which characterized “The Promise”. They follow up on some leads which go nowhere, and are then honest enough to inform the listener of that fact. They have made a few factual errors — for instance, claiming there was a “new DNA test” performed in 2016 which suggested the presence of two strange men at the crime scene. As we know, there was no new test performed in 2016, and the male non-Söring DNA at the crime scene belonged to Derek Haysom.
In any case, I reached out to the podcast hosts, and am going to speak to them tomorrow via Zoom. It’s a good sign that they’re willing to hear from a Söring skeptic, as I guess you could call me.
The podcast has taken an interesting turn recently, looking at William L. Shifflett and Robert Albright, the two “drifters” who were briefly touted as alternative suspects by Söring’s legal team during the mid-1990s. They even located Will Shifflett, Shifflett’s son, who actually served time (for “non-violent sex crimes involving minors”) in the same Virginia prison with his own father. Shifflett reports that his father (who he denies was a drifter) was enraged at being implicated in the Haysom murders by Söring, and even planned, at one point, to kill Söring over this issue. Later, they patched things up. Will Shifflett also claimed his father had sent mail to Elizabeth Haysom. However, Will Shifflett then does something very creepy which causes the podcast hosts to doubt his credibility. If you want to find out what that thing is, go listen to the podcast.
The most recent episode of the podcast, “The DNA”, also turns up a new piece of information: Drifter Shifflett’s DNA! Shifflett Sr. died in prison, and a DNA sample was taken during his autopsy. The podcast hosts were able to convince Shifflett’s son to release the DNA for testing against the DNA evidence found at the Haysom murder scene. The podcast hosts sent the STR data from Shifflett’s DNA report to Prof. J. Thomas McClintock, who provided one of the expert reports relied on by Söring’s lawyers during his pardon application. He’s not exactly the most impartial source, but nobody’s ever accused him of any kind of dishonesty in connection with the Söring case. McClintock is going to compare the DNA data from Shifflett’s autopsy with the data found at the Haysom murder scene. The next episode of the podcast will reveal what he found.
So, will there be a match? Definitive proof, finally, that someone besides Söring and the victims was at the crime scene? I’d estimate the odds against that as about a million-to-one — quite literally. But if definitive proof does finally arrive, I promise to post a video of myself wandering around Düsseldorf for an hour with a large sign reading “I, Andrew Hammel, was wrong about Jens Söring. He really is innocent!” In German and English.