Criminal Law, Mental State, Murder, Police and Prosecutors, Soering, True Crime

The ‘Voodoo’ Story and Söring’s Confessions

Doing some research in the press archives, I ran across several stories in the British press mentioning the “voodoo” allegations. I’d never actually been all that clear on what these were, but they were lurid indeed: “Blood was smeared in a triangle on the living room floor, furniture was turned to face north, the figure 666 was carved on the floor, and the killers were said to have danced barefoot in blood.” (Telegraph, 18 December 1986). “British police found that the room where the former University of Virginia students last stayed was littered with cult memorabilia.” (Toronto Star, 7 June 1986). As late as June 26, 1990, the Telegraph was reporting that “The walls of their [the Haysoms’] Virginia mansion were daubed with blood, and “666” — the sign the Devil — was gouged out of the floorboards.”

Of course, none of this was true; the British press were simply recycling some theory or rumor they’d heard from someone, possibly a Haysom family member. It turns out these allegations played a significant part in Söring’s confessions. As we know from his autobiography, Jens Söring was reading the English press at this time and was well aware of these “voodoo killing” accusations. And this turns out to play an important role in his confessions. As Terry Wright observes in his report, Söring was obsessed with these false allegations (Detectives’ Report, pp. 191-192):

The newspaper (The Daily Mail) claimed they were held on suspicion of “voodoo killings”. Soering’s UK lawyer showed this newspaper to Soering before he went into court that morning. Later that day, during the first interview we asked Soering for background information about the relationships between Elizabeth Haysom and her parents, and the relationship between him and the Haysoms. In the second interview we read extracts of letters written between Soering and Haysom prior to the murders. One such entry, written by Haysom before the murders, referred to voodoo. None of us officers thought it likely there was any cult involvement: It was just something to be aware of if the interview went that way. But, Soering was shown that newspaper headline that morning and a few hours later we were quoting a letter written to him containing a reference to voodoo. As we went through the interviews, he was intent on convincing us that he was not part of any cult or involved in any witchcraft. He was trying to convince us, even though we didn’t think he was. There is no doubt in my mind that Soering had convinced himself that Annie Massie was a witch and that she and others had followed him into the crime scene.

The Wright Report cites part of the confession in which Soering tries to get Gardner to tell him whether the “atrocities” are a separate offense:

Soering: “Well I’ve been told and … okay it’s hearsay for my part. I’ve been told first of all by the newspaper and then I’ve heard it from various members of the Haysom family, alright, who have been in closer contact with you during the investigation. Alright I’ve heard that there were atrocities committed in the house and on the bodies, alright.”

Gardner: “Okay.”

Soering: “And I was wondering whether taking into consideration what I told you I guess off the record at an earlier point, alright. Even though at this point there’s no way to substantiate that, alright.”

Gardner: “Okay.”

Soering: “Will they be treated as separate offences or the same offence and..”

Gardner: “Okay I understand what you are saying, in other words what you’re talking about basically is three different, possible three different charges. I think this is what you are saying. The murder of Mr. Haysom. The murder of Mrs. Haysom and then what you refer or what you call voodooism, the spreading of voodooism at the death scene?” Soering: “Yes that’s what the newspapers call it.”

Soering was asked to break down his statement into two parts. We were giving him a chance to deny the murders. He refused to do so. He would not deny murdering Derek and Nancy Haysom. The only thing he would deny was murdering the Haysoms and then “doing voodoo”. It was the second part of his statement, “doing voodoo”, that he was talking about when he said he could see someone considering pleading guilty to something they hadn’t done.

Soering: “How many years would that work out to be in fact.”

Gardner: “I don’t know. I’d be afraid to quote you, but the point that I’m making or the question I’m asking is do you feel there is a big difference, and obviously there is a big difference in these two charges that I have expressed to you. But do you feel there is a difference. I don’t know how to word this or how to ask you. In other words do you feel that what you can tell me or what you said you’re willing to tell me will make the difference to whatever the charge is? Soering: “Absolutely. I mean to me seems there would be a big difference, alright, if someone had a longstanding, deep disagreement with another person and during the confrontation with that person where both parties, all parties are to some extent under the influence of alcohol, alright.”

Gardner: “I’m listening.”

Soering: “If that’s the case, okay I’m being hypothetical, alright. Umm if there are emotions such as anger and revenge perhaps, alright, on if fact one of the parties, okay. And the murder was committed, I think there’s a huge difference between that and say the same thing happening and then afterwards, I don’t know, phone calls being made and the group assembled for some sort of ritual, alright.”

Gardner: “Uh huh.”

Soering: “Now you know, for to me, to me one of them you know is an act that is made impulsively and um you know.”

Gardner: “Okay in other words …”

Soering: “I wouldn’t obviously … it’s a gross understatement to call the first act revenge, not revenge but a mistake, alright. But I think there’s a big difference between doing that and then you know, and celebrating an act or whatever. Whatever one would call the rituals which according to Howard Haysom, or you via Howard Haysom and the newspapers took place. Alright.”

Gardner: “Uh huh.”

Soering: “That is what voodoo is, isn’t it. I don’t know.”

Gardner: “I don’t either.”

The press coverage sheds light on Söring’s motivations as of June 1986. He assumed the police had more than enough evidence to convict him of the Haysoms’ murders, and that Elizabeth was likely implicating him even further as he spoke to the police (she wasn’t). Thus, there was no longer any point in protesting his innocence; the cops wouldn’t believe him and he couldn’t set up a defense if he didn’t admit the crime. You can’t say “I didn’t kill them, but even if I did, it was because I was mentally unstable and intoxicated”. Well, you can — defendants try this every day — but it doesn’t work, and Söring was smart enough to realize this.

Thus, Söring set up his own two-part defense strategy. First, he portrayed himself as emotionally unstable, manipulated by his girlfriend, driven by “anger and revenge”. That was Part One of his defense strategy. Part Two was to deny any sort of satanic/cult influence and any responsibility for the “atrocities” later inflicted on the victims. It’s easy to understand why someone accused of a satanic ritual sacrifice would want to dispute that allegation — especially because the allegation was, in fact, false. As for the “atrocities”, Söring likely had no real idea what these were supposed to be. I can’t find any evidence Söring saw crime-scene photos between the murders and this interrogation. He may have had only a vague memory of what condition he left the bodies in, and presumed the newspaper reports about “atrocities” referred to some form of ritualistic mutilation of the bodies. Which would also be an untrue accusation from which he would want to defend himself.

Whatever you can say about Söring, he’s no satanist, and he didn’t go out of his way to mutilate the bodies in some symbolic way. And it was precisely his wish to make this clear that (partly) led him to decide to confess.

14 thoughts on “The ‘Voodoo’ Story and Söring’s Confessions”

  1. Haysom was observed by a family member matching her foot perfectly to a bloody foot print at the house.
    Can this be explained?
    And why would a family member put out a deliberately false story after having seen the crime scene?
    Soring was the master criminal who drove around Bedford undercover in a bright red car and got spooked by witches.

    Incidentally, looks like Haysom has removed her column from tumblr. Maybe going to incorporate them into a book? Fair play, they were interesting to read.

    1. “Haysom was observed by a family member matching her foot perfectly to a bloody foot print at the house.
      Can this be explained?”

      Depends on what you mean by “explain”. Haysom did a lot of extremely bizarre things at this time, because she was a very strange person. How do we know this? Because she conspired to kill her own parents.

      The family members didn’t deliberately put out anything false. There was tons of gossip, speculation, and innuendo about how the crime scene looked *when the cops found it*. The family was only permitted to see it much later. Nobody knows exactly where the “voodoo” idea came from. It might not have been the family at all. It might have been one investigator misinterpreting the evidence, but then the story was so sexy — Satan! 666! — that the local press, or local gossip-mongers, took it up. Who knows?

      The thing to remember is that many of the accounts of Haysom’s bizarre behavior came from the testimony and interviews of her family members. And at the time, most of her family members felt profoundly betrayed by her, not only because she’d brought about the death of her and their parents, but also because she’d lied about it and pretended to be grieving. They had every incentive, understandably, to make her behavior look as awful as possible, and to retroactively interpret everything she said and did in light of what they later found out. You can sympathize with their grief, but it’s hard to imagine less reliable sources.

      As for Söring being a “master criminal”, “master criminals” don’t confess and get sent away for life. That’s the exact opposite of what a master criminal is.

      1. Thank you.
        I was just wondering if anyone knows whether there was any truth in what Haysom did with her foot?
        I believe it happened when they all gathered for the funeral, but what interests me is who could have made that imprint, if indeed such an imprint existed?
        Did Elizabeth have the same shoe size as her mother?
        Maybe it was Mrs Massie?
        Irrelevant as Haysom can be excluded from the crime scene.
        I did wonder whether they could have driven there separately and returned separately with Soring staying to clean up, but the alibis make that impossible and anyway, Soring would have mentioned it in his confession.
        The master criminal was very much tongue in cheek

      2. You seem to be a bit confused here. The person who made the bloody sockprint was, in all likelihood, Söring. The bloody sockprint was left over on the floor after the commercial cleaning service had left; i.e. it was a faded impression left after much cleaning.

        At trial the expert testified that the bloody sockprint was consistent with having been left by Söring, although it’s impossible to rule out it being left by thousands of other people, since blurry bloody sockprints aren’t distinctive.

        As for why Elizabeth might have compared her foot with it, who knows? Perhaps she was comparing it to see whether it was roughly similar to hers, or much larger. That would obviously be pretty relevant, since she knew the cops were going to question her closely.

        In any case, we know what happened: Söring killed her parents, alone, while she waited in DC and created a flimsy alibi. That’s the version upon which both their convictions were based, and neither of them has ever articulated a single valid reason for doubting it. This case is closed, and definitively proven with more evidence than in the vast majority of criminal cases.

  2. Thank you for the clarifications.
    I was indeed confusing a non existent footprint with the sockprint.
    It has been intriguing to read other contributions on here which point to a continuing conspiracy of silence between the pair.
    Soring certainly seems annoyed about something.
    And it’s not just this blog!

    1. Sorry to be a Correcting Charlie, but there’s definitely no conspiracy of silence. Haysom has largely avoided the media spotlight for decades and explained exactly why: Because she doesn’t want to draw attention to herself or her past, and wants to focus on the future.

      Söring has done exactly the opposite, courting press coverage at every single turn. He recently cancelled his social media accounts, but not because he wants to be silent about his case. He’s writing a book about it! It’s going to be the subject of 6 hours of nationwide TV reporting next month! He would still be online, but commentators began revealing information about his private life on his social media accounts. That’s why he closed them.

  3. Soering seems to be a bit of a control freak who only wants his approved library of information to be known publicly. And that kind of manipulation is not possible in today’s world. His social media accounts were clearly neither run nor monitored by professionals. It was the blind leading the blind. I hear they were shut down because of the negative reaction to his Black Lives Matter post. It should not have come as a surprise that people challenged him on this, given that he has allegedly made racist comments in the past. I am, however, surprised that none of his friends / advisers suggested to him to stay out of the BLM topic. Surely they know his past well enough and they must have a better understanding of how social media posts can backfire. The boy clearly needed guidance and help, and he didn’t get any. As for the whole voodoo stuff – whatever the dynamic between Haysom and Soering, it resulted in two people being slaughtered. Soering repeatedly confessed. Soering’s blood type was found at the scene. Soering’s foot could have left that print impression. His innocence claims seem to be without merit.

  4. “Mein Heinrich, mein Sufstonender, mein Hyazinthen Beet, mein Wonnemeer, mein Morgen und Abendroth, mein Aeolsharfe, mein Thau, mein Friedensbogen, mein Schofskindchen, mein Liebstes Herz, mein Freude im Leid, mein Wiedergeburt, mein Freiheit, mein Fessel, mein Sabbath, mein Goldkelch, meine Lust, meine Warme, mein Gedanke, mein Theurer Sunder, mein Gewunschtes Hier und Jenseit [?], mein Augentrost, mein Sutseste Sorge, mein Schonste Jugend, mein Stolz, mein Beschutzer, mein Gewissen, mein Wald, mein Herrlichkeit, mein Schwert und Helm, mein Grossmuth, meine Rechte Hand, mein Paradies, mein Thrane, mein Himmelsleiter, mein Johannes, mein Tasso, mein Ritter, mein Graf Wetter. mein Zarter Page, mein Erzdicher, mein Kristall, mein Lebensquell, meine Rast, meine Trauerweide, mein Herr Schultz und Schirm, mein Hoffen und Harren, mein Traume, mein Liebste Sternild, meikn Schmeichel Katzchen, meine Sichre Burg, mein Gluck, mein Tod, mein Herzenarchen, meikn Einsamkeit, Mein Schiff, Mein Schones Thal, Meine Belohnung, mein Werthester !, meine Lethe, meine Wiege, mein Heiliger, mein Lieblicher Traumer, meine Sehnsucht, mein Seele, mein Nerven, mein Goldner Spiegel, mein Rubin, mein Syrings Flote, meine Dornenkrone, mein Tausend Wunderwerke , mein Lehrer und Schuler, wie Uber Alles Gedachte und zu Erdenkende Lieb ich Dich.

    Meine Seele Sollst du Haben.

    Henriette

    Mein Schatten am Mittag, mein Quell in der Wuste, meine Geliebte Mutter, meine Religon, meine Innre Musik, mein Armer Kranker Henrich, mein Zartes Weifses Lammchen,

    Meine Himmelspforte

    H.

    ISN’T THIS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT?

  5. “Voodoo” was in the house. Someone had drawn some symbols in blood. And more. Also, a ‘V’ had been cut in Derek Haysom’s chin. Updike didn’t try to prove that there had been satanism. But he did tie together a motif of V’s, if you will. He connected voodoo to Elizabeth and Jens and showed that voodoo had been on E&J’s minds in December. He did not try to prove that Soering had done a Satanist grimoire . But as Andrew Hammel emphasizes–and I just reread it in Updike’s closing arguments–Soering feared going to trial on satanism atrocity charges as well as capital murder. (And how would atrocity charges work out in Germany?) Was what Soering feared life imprisonment in a mental hospital for the criminally insane? I do think Soering had to remember cutting the V in Mr. Haysom’s chin. I think it was all mostly a ruse. And it worked. It did slow the investigation down. Though there are some questions still about the voodoo, as far as I am concerned.

    The family got the house back in the days after the funeral. It had not at that point had professional cleaners and then a contractor renovate the house for auction. The footprint that became known as the LR-3 had been carefully photographed. We know that for sure. I had thought all along that the LR-3 had been cut out of the floor, but now I don’t know where my source is on that. There were two other prints, not as good. I am a little puzzled here. Elizabeth must have been comparing her foot with one of the other two? Either that or they simply left that LR-3 because they had its image. That would surprise me. But I don’t remember seeing the cut out floor section in court, though they did have the kitchen vinyl floor. It would have been sanded off later when the whole floor was redone if it was still there. I know for a fact that the floors were redone.

    Mr. Hallett, the state (footprint) impressions expert, said that the LR-3 was a good print to study. The balls of the feet had come down firmly on a hard wood floor and the foot had been wearing a sock that was sopping wet with blood. I don’t know how many photos were submitted to the jury, but there must have been at least five, of different persons’ feet. I have a number of these as photocopies. It is perfectly clear that most of these can be excluded almost at a glance. Also, I think that Jens’s footprint is distinctive and can be easily matched to the LR-3. I can go on about this, but won’t. It is definitely not Elizabeth’s footprint. It would be interesting to see an overlay, but I have never seen one. Still, I could tell you what the overlay would show. Basically, Elizabeth’s foot is smaller in certain key areas, not as wide in the pad area behind the toes, which I think would be called the metartarsal pad. I don’t have any doubt at all on the footprint matter. That is Soering’s foot. It is absolutely wrong to say that that COULD have been his footprint. It IS his footprint. It does not matter what any expert said at any time. The judge left that decision to the jury. Hallett was a qualified impressions expert who testified decisively in at least two other murder cases that I know of, and there were more. I heard his expert testimony some five years later over at Buckingham; it was accepted in both cases, not even challenged on appeal in the capital murder case at Manassas. Judge Sweeney made sure that the jury in the Soering trial made the decision about the facts of the case. Webb and others can say what they will. The jury made that decision. It was theirs alone to make and it was the right decision. If you gave me thirty photos of footprints to match with the LR-3, and Soering’s was one of them, I feel certain that I could pick it out.

    1. I see there is a glitch about Mr. Hallett’s testimony. He did not testify about the Soering footprints–giving his opinion on whether or not they could be excluded–because the Judge was acting with an abundance of caution. The issue was the current status of Virginia law in re socked footprints. Since he wasn’t entirely sure, he simply let Hallett make some explanatory comments about how to look at footprints. The judge stated that while he recognized that Hallett was a qualified expert witness , nevertheless, in this case he would not allow him to testify as an expert witness. That overlay of the sample of Jens Soering’s footprint which could be placed over the LR-3, which had been made by Hallett, has been angrily and strenuously challenged , but it was accepted as having been allowable by the appellate courts. So Hallett was not allowed to draw any conclusion. It was Updike who drew the conclusion. And the jury considered what the arguments in court were, then looked at the photos, and made their decision.

      But it needs to be said that Robert B. Hallett routinely had qualified as an expert witness in a twenty year career with the FBI as a special agent who worked in impressions. He had retired in 1990 and had gone to work for the state of Virginia doing the same impressions work, He would testify across the state of Virginia as a qualified expert witness for ten more years. I think he must have retired about 2000. He died in 2007. His inability to defend himself after this point, as has been the case also with Jim Farmer, has permitted the relentless and unscrupulous attacks to be made by Harding and the Soering team on his character and qualifications. Harding has again and again stated vehemently that Hallett was not qualified as an expert , was a complete fraud, and should never have been allowed to give any testimony at all in court. It’s amazing really. I did not know that this kind of thing could be done! Others on the Soering team have said that Hallett was doing ‘magic tricks.” This is simply not true. You would never know that Robert B. Hallett had a successful thirty year career in impressions with the United States government and the state of Virginia!

    2. Frank,
      you ask “how would atrocity charges work out in Germany?
      Was what Soering feared life imprisonment in a mental hospital for the criminally insane?”

      The answer is: Atrocities to dead bodys is a crime here (“Störung der Totenruhe”) but compared to a double murder a really minor one.

      Killing 2 people usually agravates the guilt (“besondere Schwere der Schuld”), so the convicted murderer is not elegiable for parole after 15 years, but a court decides (after these 15 years) how many years the inmate has to serve additionally. That is usually 5 to 10 years.

      Soering was 18 , means a juvenile. In this case, the court CAN decide to sentence him as a juvenile, meaning up to 10 years.

      To be thrown in a mental clinic is a real danger in Germany: That depends on an examination done by psychiatrists, which the court follows almost every time.
      There was a case here some years ago, where a man was suspected to have cut his neighbours car tires repeatedly with a knife (and some other things).
      He ended in a mental hospital for the criminally insane for several years before his innoscense (!) was proven (Fall Mollath).

      Bottom line: In Germany you can get out of a “normal” jail much easier than out of a mental clinic.

    1. Chris,

      Thank you for your comment. And your reference is a good one. That would be: Volume 95 of the Virginia Law Review, March 2009, Number 1 : “Invalid Forensic Science Testimony and Wrongful Convictions” by Brandon L. Garrett and Peter J. Neufeld. “This is the first study to explore the forensic science testimony by prosecution experts in the trials of innocent persons, all convicted of serious crimes, who were later exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing.”

      Please note that Robert Hallett doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with DNA. I have not read this case, but I think that what happened was this: a footprint was found by the Snake River, Idaho, in mud, and nearby was the body of a nine- year old girl . The footprint was preserved, perhaps a cast was made, and Hallett examined it. He identified a certain size and a type of shoe–a boat shoe, perhaps something similar to a Sperry topsider, with that unusual sole for footing on a wet deck. He identified wear in certain areas. Charles Fain’s shoe was brought to him. It was the same size. It was a boat shoe. Hallett stated that he believed the worn points that he had detected on the crime scene model sole matched the same wear pattern on Fain’s shoe. The issue that Garrett and Neufeld found with Hallett’s testimony was not that Hallett was wrong when he said that “It was possible that this shoe made this impression.” It was that “Not satisfied with his initial cautious conclusion, Hallett added that, although it was a common type of boat shoe sole, the wear pattern on the shoe individualized the print :

      Q. Okay, you also, if I understand correctly, that you said if another shoe made the impression, it would have to have the same characteristics as the actual left shoe that we have here?

      A. That’s correct , sir.

      Q. What are those characteristics?

      A. The same size, the same design, and having general wear in exactly the same locations.

      Q. Now, did you indicate that the wear characteristics are put there by a gait of a particular individual?

      A. You would have to have the same characteristic walk as the individual who owned those shoes. ”

      Now, at this point, I simply want to point out that law professors seem to make a fair point with the caveat : “This practitioner suggested that the effects of gait on the sole of a shoe is unique. No data supports such an opinion.”

      This opens up a vast area of argument in this particular area of forensic science (or is it art?) and I don’t want to get into it.

      Yet we are left by Hallett’s testimony with something troubling. What is the explanation for the remarkable resemblance of the crime scene shoe print with Fain’s? Is it that many people along the Snake River in Idaho wear a particular brand of boat shoe that has weak points in its sole material or design that causes a kind of predicable wear pattern? I would like to read the transcript of the case.

      No court found Robert B. Hallett’s testimony at fault. This capital murder case was overturned because ‘mito’ DNA evidence found that the FBI hair technician had been wrong to opine that the pubic hair found on the child’s body was from Fain. There was an exclusion. It didn’t match.

      There was also an issue with a very dangerous, very convincing jail-house witness.

      “Hallett is responsible for putting an innocent man behind bars” is not an accurate, or factual statement. He was not responsible for the failure of the Fain prosecution. (And it was death row.) His testimony was not rejected by a superior court judge.

      As for the intent of Judge Sweeney in the Soering trial regarding Hallett’s testimony, I think I need to go into this in more detail, presently. That remark by Jens’s lawyer, Gail Marshall, in the first Vetter troll-flick, that Hallett was a ‘tire tread’ guy is simply, hmmm, a retread, of Neaton’s sometimes amusing (at least to me) failure to rattle Hallett, who maintained a kindly Meister Eckhart kind of demeanor all through cross examination in court on June 13, 1990…

      This led Neaton to an unseemly and angry outburst. “I know the FBI teaches you this! “

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