Keeping track of what Jens Söring says about his involvement in the murders of Derek and Nancy Haysom can be challenging. So I’ve put together a timeline, with the date of each story change in bold:
Here’s a brief description:
30 April 1986: Söring and Elizabeth Haysom are arrested in London, England on fraud charges. They give their names as Christopher and Lucy Noe. Crucially, Söring gives his permission for the London police to search the apartment he and Elizabeth were staying in. The police discover the letters they wrote to each other and their joint travel diary, as well as Söring’s genuine German passport.
5 June 1986: Söring and Haysom are ordered held for questioning in the killings of Derek and Nancy Haysom. By this time, he’s long since admitted his real name. On 5 June 1986, Söring confesses that he drove alone to the Haysoms’ home on 31 March 1985, that he met with them alone, that they were dead when he left the home later, and that Elizabeth remained in Washington, D.C. to set up an alibi. In later confessions in 1986, Söring stresses that he was drunk at the time of the offense and under severe emotional strain from his unhealthy relationship with Elizabeth and his anger at her parents. Söring’s legal team tries to arrange to have Söring tried in England or in Germany. These attempts fail, but they do result in the death penalty being taken off the table. As a result, Söring is extradited to Virginia for trial.
2 March 1990: At his pretrial suppression hearing in the Bedford County Circuit Court, Söring for the first time ever claims that he only confessed because Kenneth Beever threatened to harm Elizabeth Haysom. During his sworn testimony at this hearing, Söring never claims that he confessed falsely — he only claims he confessed under pressure, after Beever threatened Elizabeth and the police ignored his calls for a lawyer. After hearing four days of testimony and argument, and listening to all of Söring’s taped confessions, Judge William A. Sweeney rules that Söring was lying about Beever’s threat, and that the confessions can come in.
18 June 1990: The ruling that Söring’s confessions can be used against him at trial is terrible news for Söring and his defense team. In those statements, Söring confesses to murder, and the supposed mitigating circumstances — alcohol intoxication, emotional disturbance — are irrelevant in Virginia. So Söring needs a new story, and finds one. He now claims Elizabeth Haysom, without warning, drove to Lynchburg, Virginia, personally killed her own parents, and returned to the Marriott hotel room around 2:00 AM on 31 March 1985 with blood on her forearms, and immediately confesses to Söring that she killed her parents in a drug-fueled rage. Söring then tells the jury he agreed to confess to the murders himself to protect Elizabeth.
Söring has never before made any of these claims in public. This is an instance of “ret-conning”, short for “retroactive continuity“: “Retroactive continuity, or retcon for short, is a literary device in which established diegetic ‘facts’ in the plot of a fictional work are adjusted, ignored, or contradicted by a subsequently published work which breaks continuity with the former.” A retcon is also called a “soft reboot”, for obvious reasons. Söring attempts to put all of his prior actions, including confession, in a new light by providing a new motive for his actions.
Unfortunately for Söring, retconning may work inside the cinematic universe of a film franchise (although fans often notice and resent it), but not in real life. The jury concluded Söring was lying, and convicted him of capital murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.
For the next 30 years, Söring decided to mix together all three of his excuses for confessing to the murders: (1) I confessed (no claim of falsely) because they denied me a lawyer; (2) I confessed (no claim of falsely) because Beever threatened Elizabeth; and (3) I confessed falsely to protect Elizabeth from being sentenced to death. These are, if you like, the three legs of the stool supporting Söring’s false/unreliable confession claim. The problem here is the inconsistency of these excuses. If Söring wanted to confess to fulfill his “promise” to Elizabeth, then why would he need to be pressured by Beever or denied a lawyer? After all, he felt morally obligated to take the blame for the murders (as he claims), and actually did take the blame (as the record proves). Further, if he wanted to protect Elizabeth, why did he accuse her, in his very first confession, of being an accessory before the fact, a crime which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison?
What Söring’s doing here is what he often does: Piecing together little bits of evidence here and there, ignoring the logical inconsistencies. He can get away with this for two reasons. First, his supporters are willing to believe any semi-plausible story he tells because they like him and sympathize with him. Second, Söring is very careful never to put himself in situations in which he will face genuine critical questioning from informed sources.
So, for three decades, Söring has been allowed to rely on his internally inconsistent three-pronged explanation for his confessions. It holds up just well enough to convince his supporters. However, one leg of the stool was already beginning to wobble. When Söring decided in 2012 to publish the first edition of his German book “Not Guilty!” (a translation of his English-language autobiography “Mortal Thoughts”), he decided to leave out any mention of Kenneth Beever’s threat. Söring and/or his lawyers, agents, and advisors knew that German defamation law is a lot stricter than American law. Repeating a proven lie which contains a serious accusation of crime is a serious problem under German law, so either Söring or his publishers omitted the accusation against Beever. Söring does, however, keep the accusation in “A Far, Far Better Thing”, his updated U.S. autobiography co-written with the journalist Bill Sizemore, presumably because American defamation law is much more permissive of such accusations, especially when they’re made by prisoners trying to challenge their convictions.
February/May 2020: Now that he is free, Söring has changed his story for the fourth time. Confronted with possible legal action from Elizabeth Haysom and others, Söring’s legal and PR team warn him that he can no longer claim Elizabeth Haysom personally murdered her own parents and confessed this fact to him with her parents’ blood literally still staining her arms. This is obviously a huge problem since this claim was the centerpiece of (1) his June 1990 trial testimony; (2) all of his books about his case; and (3) The Promise, the 2016 pro-Söring propaganda film.
So now, Söring changes his story again, claiming he doesn’t know who killed the Haysoms. This provokes plenty of surprise and skepticism among people who follow the case, and accounts for the stumbling, awkward segment in Söring’s May 14 interview with Markus Lanz, in which Söring explains that he can no longer accuse Elizabeth of murdering her own parents for “legal reasons”. Let’s watch that again:
Söring now no longer claims Elizabeth killed her parents and confessed this to him. Yet this claim is the heart of his June 19, 1990 — Feb. 28, 2020 story. Without that claim, the rest of it barely hangs together.
Presumably Söring will come out of his social-media retirement at some point, assuming he still wants to publish a book and support a TV show. There’s no way to build an audience for books and films without social media. If and when Söring returns to the Internet, will he still stick with his June 18, 1990-Feb. 28, 2020 story, as damaged and incoherent as it is? Or will be find a new one? What will it be? Will he pull a Lance Armstrong? Stay tuned!