Criminal Law, Evidence, Murder, Police and Prosecutors, Soering, True Crime

Elizabeth Haysom’s Changing Stories, Part I

The new four-part documentary from ZDFInfo seems likely to focus once again on the role of Elizabeth Haysom in Söring’s trial. This is to be expected, since the film is a propaganda vehicle for Team Söring, and Elizabeth is the most frequent target of their attacks.

Not without reason: Elizabeth Haysom changed elements of her story repeatedly, and confessed to lying with the intent to manipulate not only Jens Söring, but also investigators. Her credibility at the time of her and Söring’s trials was deeply compromised. Because she’s the weakest link in the case against Söring, Team Söring makes her out to be the absolute centerpiece of the state’s case, the sine qua non. The reasoning is as follows: If Elizabeth’s credibility is poor, and her testimony is essential to Söring’s guilt, then Sörings guilt is fatally undermined. This is what accounts for the obsession of Team Söring with Elizabeth Haysom. Even 35 years after the fact, they’re still trying to blacken her reputation with all the means at their disposal.

Yet Team Söring never discusses the overall context of her statements. They point out all the changes in Elizabeth’s story, but never explains why these changes took place. They gleefully broadcast excerpts of Jim Updike tearing Elizabeth apart on cross-examination, but never explain why. The reason for this is simple: the overall context of Elizabeth’s testimony and statements contains many elements damaging to Söring. Team Söring cherry-picks parts of her statements which make her look bad — and there are many of those — while leaving everything else on the cutting-room floor.

So let’s look carefully at that overall context. We’ll start with the facts: Haysom and Söring were questioned for homicide between June 5th and June 8th, 1986, in the Richmond police station. Söring confessed to killing the Haysoms as part of a plan hatched with Elizabeth; she would stay in Washington, DC, creating a flimsy alibi, and he would drive to Loose Chippings and kill her parents. After holding out for several days, Elizabeth gave in and confirmed to Detective Kenneth Beever that this was the basic plan. Her story at this point differed slightly from Söring’s, which is expected, since they were always questioned separately and not permitted to communicate about the case. However, both stories largely harmonized.

Haysom did not contest her extradition back to the United States, which took place in April of 1987. It’s important to note that Haysom could not have been sentenced to death under Virginia law at that time (or now). In a 1980 decision called Briley v. Commonwealth, the Virginia Supreme Court  held that “only the person who is the immediate perpetrator may be a principal in the first degree and thus liable to conviction for capital murder…. Thus, in order to convict [the] defendant of capital murder, the jury [is] required to find that he actually fired the fatal shot.”

Haysom could therefore not have been sentenced to death, because there was no evidence she personally killed her parents. On August 24, 1987, in the Bedford County District Court, Haysom entered a guilty plea to two counts of being an accessory before the fact to capital murder, a crime which carried a potential sentence of between 20 years and life in prison. There was no formal deal with the prosecution; that is, there was no agreement that the prosecution would recommend a certain sentence in return for her guilty plea. This is extremely unusual in American criminal trials — criminal defense lawyers would never counsel a client to plead guilty without a promise from the prosecution for a light(er) sentence. Only Haysom could make such a fateful decision.

Everyone in the courtroom recognized how unusual her decision was. Judge William Sweeney examined Haysom at great length to make sure she understood that she was sacrificing her right to a trial on her guilt or innocence, He also warned her that he would determine her sentence, and she could get up to two life sentences if the judge believed that was the appropriate punishment. He also warned her that her guilty plea would make any appeal of her conviction impossible. She accepted all of these warnings. The prosecutor, Jim Updike, offered the testimony of several witnesses to prove to the court there was a sound factual basis for her guilty plea.

Obviously, Updike was also eager to gain publicity as district attorney, and introduce television viewers and courtroom spectators to the evidence against Haysom and Söring. Updike’s motives are invariably criticized by Team Söring — how dare he seek publicity! But as with so many objections by Team Söring, this one is based on disingenuous naiveté. Was Jim Updike eager to convict Söring and Haysom? Of course he was — why wouldn’t he be? Was Jim Updike proud of the fact that he and his investigators had solved the most notorious murder in recent local history? Of course he was — why wouldn’t he be? Was Updike interested in broadcasting his success to voters who would decide whether to keep him in office? Of course he was — why wouldn’t he be? Team Söring apparently believes all of these motives are sinister, but, to put it in blunt American terms, they’re full of shit. Jim Updike obtained fair, rock-solid convictions of Söring and Haysom which were upheld unanimously by all appeals courts. If that’s not a significant professional achievement, and a sound argument to convince voters they elected the right man, what is?

After her guilty plea, Haysom was duly convicted of two counts of being an accessory before the fact to capital murder. After her conviction, her trial on punishment alone was set for October of 1987. That is, the only question at her trial would be whether she received the lightest possible sentence — 20 years in prison — or the harshest sentence, life in prison. The trial did not address her guilt of the crime, since she had already been convicted. There was no jury present, since judges assign punishment in non-death-penalty cases in Virginia.

It was at this trial that Haysom made a foolish tactical decision (one of so many made by both her and Söring) — she tried to downplay her guilt. Her lawyers, Andrew Davis and Hugh Jones, called her to the witness stand and asked her to explain her relationship with Söring and why her parents had been killed. This was the “direct” examination — friendly questions from your own lawyers. Haysom’s testimony went on for hours, and is too long to describe in detail here. We will surely see tons of it in the upcoming ZDFInfo documentary. In general, Haysom’s testimony had three themes:

First, she portrayed herself as hopelessly addicted to hard drugs at the time of the crime. She claimed she had “scored” heroin and LSD while waiting for Söring in Washington, D.C., and that she was a regular and heavy user of hard drugs at that time. Haysom evidently believed this would be considered mitigating evidence.

Second, she portrayed relationships between herself and her parents as positive and close. She readily acknowledged that they had provided her with an outstanding education and many opportunities for travel, and that they loved her and she loved them. She claimed relations with her parents were good as late as the weekend before their murders. She confessed to resenting their controlling parenting style, but denied this was a reason for her to want them dead. It’s useful to recall that many of Haysom’s own family members were in the courtroom, watching her testimony.

Third, she claimed she did not know in advance that Jens Söring planned to kill her parents, or that she wanted this to happen. She admitted that she had manipulated him into resenting her parents, and that she wanted her parents out of her life, but she did not want them murdered. She claims she was surprised and horrified when Söring returned to Washington DC and revealed he’d killed her parents. She claimed she felt guilty now (in 1987) because, in retrospect, she should have known what Söring was capable of. She should have detected the warning signs that he was an unstable and dangerous personality, and never manipulated him into hating her parents. However, she denied that the pair had hatched a plan to kill them in advance, or helped Söring create an alibi, or had encouraged him to kill her parents.

So, to sum up: I was out of my mind on drugs, but I still loved my parents. I’m guilty because I failed to recognize the risk that Söring might kill them, but I didn’t want them dead.

This strategy backfired. First, American juries and judges aren’t impressed by “the drugs made me do it” defenses, so nobody cared overmuch whether or how many drugs she’d taken. Second, her new story as of October 1987 directly contradicted mountains of evidence — the letters she and Söring had exchanged, their travel diary, Jens’ 1986 confessions, and her 1986 confessions. The strategy also destroyed much of the good will she might have gained by pleading guilty to the crimes — it looked as if she was now trying to weasel out of the guilt she had earlier bravely and honestly acknowledged. In particular, her testimony in October 1987, if it had been believed, would have made her guilty only as an accessory after the fact, a much less serious crime than the one she had just pleaded guilty to. What is the point of accepting your conviction for a crime, then giving testimony in which you deny having committed it?

Naturally, when prosecutor Jim Updike heard this testimony, he was disgusted. She was suddenly portraying herself as the dutiful daughter who was shocked — shocked! that Jens Söring killed her parents. Haysom, to put it bluntly, was changing her story and lying in order to try to get a lighter sentence. Updike set out to destroy her new version of events. I have attached some excerpts of Updike’s cross-examination below, to give you an idea of its overall feel.

Updike first sets out to portray Haysom as an ungrateful, pampered young woman who had no objective reason to hate or resent her parents. This brings us to the notorious sexual-abuse allegations which launched a thousands titillating newspaper articles. During her direct testimony, Haysom had coyly meandered around the subject of whether her mother had sexually abused her. This was obviously intended to argue for mitigation. There’s no question her mother took nude pictures of Haysom (as friends recounted, these were to be study subjects for later paintings by Nancy Haysom, an enthusiastic amateur painter), and that they occasionally slept together, but the question was whether this relationship had a sexual component. Haysom had given slippery, vague answers about this, hinting and suggesting, trying to portray herself as the victim of unnatural acts. Updike pinned her down and commanded her to clear her mother’s name right then and there, if there had been no abuse. Haysom agreed there her mother had not sexually abused her.

Updike then pointed out that Haysom’s new story clashed with dozens of pieces of evidence, including her and Jens’ prior confessions, and also made no sense on its own. If she had no idea what Jens was going to do when he drove down to Loose Chippings from Washington, DC, why did she confess to creating an alibi for him? If she was actually horrified and shocked that he killed her parents, why did she say nothing afterward? Why did she continue her relationship with him? Why did she decide to flee the country with him? If her relationship with her parents was so good, then why were her letters full of hatred, resentment, and statements about how she wished they were dead? If she was only an accessory before the fact — i.e., she only found out about the killing of her parents afterward — then why had she just pleaded guilty to the much more serious crime of accessory before the fact?

Haysom’s answers to these and other questions were slippery and unconvincing. She was forced to invent all sorts of absurd, pettifogging distinctions to try to reconcile her new version of events with her own past statements. Most courtroom observers found that her attempt to minimize her guilt had backfired badly; in fact, by the end of Updike’s cross-examination, Haysom had been forced to backtrack on many of her points. She was sentenced to two consecutive terms of 45 years.


A. …And when I discovered–I admit my sole purpose at this time was to continue to cover up for Jens and to continue to cover up my coverup, any participation that I had. And when I discovered, when Sergeant Beaver confronted me in the cell with Jens’s statement he was very careful to tell me a couple of details about Jens’s statement, and so I was fully aware of the fact that Jens had been talking to them. And my response was one of anger that Jens had let me down, that he had confessed while I was continuing to betray and lie and cover up for him, and meanwhile he was confessing. And I felt like I had been set up by him. And so what–my response was one of anger. And when I spoke to Sergeant Beaver in the beginning, yes, I did, I tried to put the entire mess on to Jens, I that I didn’t now what was going on.

Q For example, about the tickets, you responded, “Well, he just said buy a couple of tickets when you go, so I bought two tickets.” So your intent was just whatever Jens said do, you did it without knowledge of the consequences. During the first part of
the interview, is that correct?

A Yes, sir.

Q So Jens had confessed, you were mad at him, so you just decided to put him in a little bit deeper.

A Well it’s a little bit more complicated than that. At that time, as I still do feel, I felt
responsible for what happened, what took place. And I suppose I was also trying to shift the burden of that guilt and responsibility.

Q To somebody else?

A Yes, sir.

Q But then, Ms. Haysom, when the officer Sergeant Beaver outlined how it just didn’t make sense that you would have done all these things, buying the tickets, two tickets, buying two meals when Jens wasn’t even there, when he confronted you with it not making any sense, you changed your story again, didn’t you?

A Yes, sir.

Q And what did you say that time?

A I don’t remember. I believe I said–where does it start where I changed my story?

Q Okay, I think it starts on Page Twenty-Two, let me check to make sure. Yes, ma’am. That’s where he’s asking you to tell the truth. You see where I’m talking about? I’m just referring you to Page Twenty-Two as being the point–

A Page Twenty-Two?

Q Yes, ma’am.

A Oh, yes, he says yes, it’s got a ring of truth to it now.

Q Yes, where he says that.

A (Pause for perusal.)

Q And you state initially there at the middle of the page, he went down there with the knife with the possibility of killing them.

A Yes, sir.

Q And he says and you knew that, didn’t you, didn’t you? You respond, yes, I did.

A Yes, sir….

Q Question: “How long had you been talking about killing your parents?” Your response, “A month.”

A Yes, sir.

Q There you’re saying that you plotted the murder of your parents for a month.

A At that time, sir, and as you have very clearly pointed out that my letters from December, they obviously had something to do with the death of my parents. And my lack of doing anything about Jens’s various comments also had something to do with the death of my parents.

Q Yes. But if that’s true, Ms. Haysom, at this point in time why didn’t you tell Sergeant Beaver exactly what you’re telling His Honor today instead of a completely different story? Ms. Haysom, how are we supposed to know what’s true? You have told so many things, haven’t you?

A Yes, I have, sir.

Q But the only logical explanation, it’s just like Ken Beaver pointed out to you that night, that Sunday night in England, this was the only logical explanation. And after a long pause you said well I’ll tell the truth, and at that one point, Ms. Haysom, you did tell the truth, didn’t you?

A No, I didn’t, sir.

Q You’re stating now that after Jens Soering left you got some acid or some drugs or something.

A Yes, sir.

Q And you had no plan to establish an alibi there in Washington.

A No, sir.

Q But yet you testified yesterday you returned to the Washington Marriott?

A Yes, of course, sir.

Q Why?

A It was where I was staying.

Q Yes, but after the Washington Marriott, you left just in accordance with the plan that we heard about there in England and went to the Rocky Horror Show.

A Yes, sir.

Q That was on the other end of town, wasn’t it?

A It was in Georgetown; the Marriott Hotel is not very far from Georgetown.

Q My question is why couldn’t you have just stayed over there, why did you return to the Washington Marriott?

A Stayed over where?

Q Where you were in that part of town where the theaters were and where you were supposed to meet Jens Soering.

A Because I went to the Marriott in the early evening. Was I supposed to walk around town all night?

Q You said here that you attended movies, you’re saying now that you didn’t?

A No, I didn’t.

Q Instead you went back to the Washington Marriott.

A Yes, sir.

Q And then you left the Washington Marriott.

A Yes, sir.

Q Why?

A To meet Jens.

Q Now why couldn’t you have met Jens Soering at the Washington Marriott? I mean he was supposedly was just going down for a little chat with your parents.

A There was no reason why we couldn’t have met at the hotel.

Q But you had agreed earlier where you would meet?

A Yes, sir.

Q So that part is the same as what you said in England.

A Yes, sir.

Q But there was no plan of providing an alibi you’re saying here today.

Q There was a plan afterwards, yes, sir.

Q A plan afterwards?

A Yes, sir.

Q On Page Twenty-Five of the statement of June the 8th, at the bottom of the page you made the statement, well I arranged the alibi.

A Yes, sir.

Q You say today that that’s not true?

A Yes, sir.

Q Did not want your parents murdered?

A No, sir.

Q Okay, so you’re over there near the Rocky Horror Picture Show and Jens Soering rolls back into town on the wrong side of the road, is that right?

A Yes, he was on the other side.

Q And you opened the door.

A Yes, sir.

Q And what do you see?

A I see him wrapped in a sheet covered in blood.

Q Covered in blood?

A Yes, sir.

Q You knew whose blood it was, didn’t you?

A No, sir, I didn’t.

Q Well he said he had gone down to see your parents.

A Yes, sir, he did.

Q Did you ask him what had happened?

A Yes, sir, I did.

Q And he told you, didn’t he?

A Yes, sir, he did.

Q He told you that he had murdered your parents?

Q Was there sexual intercourse between you and this man who had butchered your parents after you had attended their very own funeral?

A I was in a separate room in a single bed, sharing that room with my roommate. Jens came to me and he said that he needed me, that he was lonely, he was scared. And I went with him. At this time I was on prescription sedatives and tranquilizers, and I went with him. And up until this time he had been completely and totally impotent. And I got into bed with him and I went to sleep. And I woke up, sir, and yes, he was making love to me.

Q Making love to you?

A Well for wont of a better term.

Q What, are you saying he raped you?

A No, sir, because I didn’t struggle.

Q And this is that man known to you as the murderer of your parents.

A Yes, sir, that’s correct.

Q The funeral service, the remorse that we have heard about, the attendance at the service for your slain parents must have had no effect on you, did it?

A It did have a very profound effect on me, sir.

Q Then how in the world can you lie in the same bed with who had killed them and make love to the man?

A I don’t know, sir, I’ll never forgive myself and I don’t expect anyone else to either.

Q Once again, isn’t the only logical explanation that this lover had done as you had

A No, sir.

Q You said nothing about the murder of your parents?

A No, sir.

Q Said nothing about the involvement of Jens Soering?

A No, sir.

Q Instead you completely and absolutely lied to cover up for this murderer, didn’t you?

A Yes, I did, sir.

Q Why?

A Because I loved him and I needed him.

Q You loved him?

A Yes, sir.

Q After what he had done?

A Yes, sir. In fact I needed him more.

Q Can you love somebody for doing something you didn’t want them to do, something as atrocious as this?

A Sir, I blanked the entire episode out of my head, or tried to.

A …I believe that I am thoroughly guilty, thoroughly responsible for what happened. And I believe that as I said in my statements to Investigator Gardner that I deserve life for what I’ve done. I agreed with all of that, I agreed that I betrayed, lied, deceived, and I wouldn’t be in this position today if I had not done those things. And worst of all, I stayed with him, and worst of all, I stayed with him willingly, and continued for so long, even after we were in custody, to love him and to need him, and to support him, and to try every which way I could to prevent him from coming back here. But my attitude has changed on that.


11 thoughts on “Elizabeth Haysom’s Changing Stories, Part I”

  1. Very insightful article. Thank you very much.

    However there seems to be a little mistake: “If she was only an accessory before the fact”. IMO this should read “after the fact”.

  2. “There’s no question her mother took nude pictures of Haysom (as friends recounted, these were to be study subjects for later paintings by Nancy Haysom…”

    This is not an accurate statement. Friends were baffled by the photographs. Although there were highly accomplished artists among the friends in the art group who were familiar with life studies, and although they had been to a figure drawing workshop, noone knew anything at all about them.

    The first time Mrs. Massey saw the photos was when police showed them to her. She testified to this in the early October, 1987, sentencing hearing at Bedford. I was paying close attention. She began by stating that she assumed that if Nancy had taken them there would have been no harm in doing this, as nude studies were often enough done by artists. It was clear to me, though, that she found these photos to have been a bit off-putting, even surprising.

    Elizabeth Haysom’s second lawyer, Drew Davis, interrupted her at this point. He said. “The only question I had was: Did Mrs. Haysom take the photographs of Elizabeth?”

    A “You know, it appeared, they were in Elizabeth’s bedroom, I assumed she would. My husband and I found it very natural that this would be so.”

    I never got close enough to Bedford police to ask one basic question. Where were the photos found? Englade said they were found in the drawer of Nancy Haysom’s easel. Soering said they were in an envelope in a chest of drawers downstairs in the dining area, when she took them out, and in evident distress, but silently, showed them to him. Of course, here, Mrs. Massey states that police showed them to her after the crimes, and their search of the house, and that they had come out of Elizabeth’s bedroom upstairs.

    The facts are that noone in the art group knew anything at all about the photos.

    I personally think that Elizabeth Haysom took the photos. I am familiar with most of them, or so I believe. Some of these were placed under seal after the October 1987 hearing, but I saw these in the clerk’s office after the hearing. Others got loose.

    I have a carefully concluded position on this. It would take some time to go through my reasoning and my information. It would be a hard thing to prove. But I do not believe that her mother ever sexually abused her. You need to understand that Elizabeth Haysom was diagnosed with a BPD. She was a pathological liar. I brought up about perjury when I visited her. She burst out laughing. I personally found her to be a very charming psychopath. What these two did was as evil as it gets. This was a carefully prepared, long premeditated murder by sonnenkinder.

    1. Thanks for this interesting and enlightening comment! The whole sexual abuse/nude photos issue is interesting, but legally irrelevant. Perjury isn’t really a factor for anyone in this case. Perjury is notoriously difficult to prove, and prosecuting criminal defendants and witnesses for perjury is fraught with serious constitutional issues, since people have a right to defend themselves, and witnesses must testify.

      Prosecutors almost never bring perjury prosecutions in cases like this; they care about getting convictions for the underlying crime, not picking apart bits of inconsistent testimony. To prosecute Haysom, or anyone else, for perjury, it’s not enough to point to inconsistent testimony, since you can’t prove which inconsistent story was untrue. You have to show there is objective external evidence that X is true, that the perjurer *knew* X is true, and *intentionally* lied about it.

      You also have to prove the fact was legally material. But the issue of the nude photos/sexual abuse is legally irrelevant. Motive isn’t an element of this crime, so it doesn’t matter *why* Haysom encouraged and assisted Söring in committing the crime, so long as there is proof *that* she did it. This is one of the first things they teach you in law school, but many non-lawyers don’t understand this.

  3. Well, first of all, thank you for all your good, and extremely dogged, work on the case! Also, your legal commentary is very important, and I am paying attention… 🙂

    I did not mean that I was in any way concerned that there had been perjury. I brought it up at Goochland to see her reaction, and it was spectacular. Actually, kind of funny. Even charmingly candid. We were, after all, in a prison.

    I have for many years been interested in the psychiatric angle. One of the most intriguing things said by the psychiatrist , a Dr. Showalter, was that Elizabeth’s testimony should be regarded as an “in vivo” demonstration. In other words, we were watching a (living) psychiatric illness display itself. We were not in court; we were in a lab. And there was a lot of truth in what she said. Yet it was very hard to see. Was she at any point in court actually psychotic? I don’t think so, but I have seen letters where she was, I think, and there were some visible psychiatric eruptions, as in linguistic slips, during her testimony. The psychiatrist(s) regarded her as being from time to time in and out of psychosis. But she was, and she is, very articulate , and was then, and I feel certain still is, a woman who seeks almost instinctively to charm and to dominate. She now has to try her best to act out her humility and contrition to those family members who have become responsible for her, and she will find this very trying. I have heard her described by some very good sources as being what is called in psychiatric terminology “a powerful woman.” This is hard to believe given the catastrophe she made of her life and the ruin she caused, but you would never know this talking with her. She could quite easily put one on the defensive. She could be patronizing, even in jail. Characteristic of the BPD, of course. I could go on about this, but what I found from listening to her responses to lawyer’s questions in court in 1987 was that in the process of answering one question she opened up other issues, raised questions, and even provided some answers to them, completely unexpectedly, even though the issues had not even been brought out for the judge’s consideration. I have some reservations about what her lawyers did, or did not do, if, as seems likely, this new, strange invention called ‘the Soering team’ –der troll gruppe?–must now take us back to 1987. (What a joke!) Her lawyers allowed her to create her own cv, and all they did was type it up, and it is full of BPD exaggeration. We have yet to see any certified record of her academic career from any British school or from UVA. What happened at Wycombe Abbey in her last twelve months there, or so, was never properly explained by the school. Or by anyone. Was it true that the school administration had decided or had strong suspicions that she was a psychiatric case? And needed treatment? If so, the fact is that they allowed her to stay on and have a chance to complete what for a number of years had been a very good school career (not that she finally did) shows that they were conflicted.

    This whole case is about psychiatric illness.

  4. Fascinating insights!
    Has she ever explained why she didn’t ask for an indication of sentence before pleading guilty?
    She has written that at that time, she had not mastered the art of telling the truth.
    Has she ever?
    I think within the last few years she has stated in interview that she was sexually abused by her mother. And Soring said for once she is telling the truth after 30 years.
    Why would she lie now? To get sympathy from the parole board for early release? But then why not play that card first time around in 1997?
    Why falsely blacken the name of your mother for whom you claim to have remorse?

  5. She apparently completed a degree in prison funded by a relative.
    And set up and ran a course in computer draughtsmanship which moved with her when she was moved to Fluvanna.
    By all accounts she is an expert in the field.
    So educational certificates and proof of her very high level of academic intelligence must exist

      1. “Leave them alone?” It’s SOERING himself who is dragging his personal life (and others) into the public eye; and he’s been doing this for decades! HE needs to leave people alone, especially those who are dead and cannot even defend themselves.

  6. Both are writers. Both have already written about it. Both intend to write more about it. In fact, Soering has made it a very public matter. Neither has any true remorse. EH was diagnosed with a severe psychiatric disorder. Can you grow out of a BPD over a period of years? Could EH live now and for the forseeable future a humble and a contrite life? That, for her and for her very nice family in Nova Scotia, is the question.

    1. NS is a wonderful province and I plan to revisit.
      Maybe I will see a scarecrow of EH next time?

  7. Frank’s name rings a bell but I can’t place it in the context of this story.
    I would be interested to know, if you are willing to answer, on what basis you were visiting EH?
    I believe it is pretty simple to arrange a visit, unlike in the UK where location and mugshots are not available online.
    I assume this can lead in some cases to a zoo like fascination.
    In the UK we might argue, what chance for rehabilitation?
    But I think prisoners are grateful for any visits whether altruistic or not and maybe enjoy the cat and mouse?

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