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.”
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.”
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.