I finished watching all four parts of the new ZDFInfo documentary on Jens Söring. It turned out to be more balanced than “Killing for Love”, although it was hardly a neutral presentation of all the relevant facts. Who’d want to sit through that?
The background of the documentary is pretty simple: Markus Vetter and Karin Steinberger spent a few years in the early 2010s in Virginia talking to people involved in the Söring/Haysom saga. These interviews formed the basis of a multi-part documentary on SWR, a regional German public television channel. That documentary was apparently broadcast (g) sometime in the mid-2010s, but I’m not sure if it’s still available.1 That documentary was then converted into Killing for Love, the 130-minute long 2016 feature-film documentary which embraced Söring’s point of view. This new documentary is basically an expanded version of Killing For Love, including some longer excerpts from interviews and some scenes which presumably had to be cut from the feature film. The only new footage is of Söring landing in Germany in December 2019, and apparently never-before seen footage of Elizabeth Haysom’s 1987 punishment trial.
The documentary is slightly less tendentious than Killing for Love, mainly because it features longer excerpts from the trial testimony, from other documents, and from an interview with Ricky Gardner, who manages to make a number of crucial points. Interestingly, Vetter presents very long excerpts from the testimony of Dr. James Ogier (who is mis-identified in the film as “Ocear”), the “German professor” who translated Söring’s confessions to a German prosecutor into English. That confession is quite a damning document — as you can read for yourself here.
Ricky Gardner notes that Bedford County authorities had no idea this confession existed — it was simply shipped over with a bunch of other materials. When they finally had the English translation checked and saw what it was, they were overjoyed.2 Like Killing for Love, the documentary also inadvertently shows how pointless Söring’s innocence quest is. We seen private detectives and lawyers constantly bumping up against dead ends, finding no confirmation for their increasingly complex and bizarre alternate theories of the crime. And finally, this documentary includes a lot more footage from Sörings interview, much of which is unflattering.
So this newest tilling of this very old ground is somewhat less nakedly propagandistic than Killing for Love. Yet it still contains some scenes which are misleading, either in and of themselves, or because the filmmakers leave out critical context. I’ll go through them topic-by-topic.
The FBI Report
We see Chuck Reid, the former Bedford County detective turned Team Söring member making a bunch of fruitless phone calls trying to get hold of the “FBI Report” which Ed Sulzbach, an FBI profiler, allegedly created in mid-1985. As we now know, no FBI profile was ever created. Sulzbach made a few notes offered a few speculative suggestions, and over the years the rumor mill magically transformed these notes and suggestions into an official “FBI Profile” which the Bedford authorities were keeping secret because it pointed to a woman as the person responsible for the crime.
We see the same baffling series of daisy-chain calls and messages we saw in Killing for Love, in which Reid and others try to locate this report. Surprisingly, the directors of this new documentary didn’t include any footage of the supposed “bombshell” in 2018, when the FBI, responding to a Freedom of Information Act Request, released a few scattered documents which included a reference to a supposed “FBI profile”. This is new information which has emerged since Killing For Love was released in 2016. But apparently the directors didn’t find it very persuasive.
They’re correct, it isn’t, as I’ve explained here before. The filmmakers also broadcast sections of the interview with Ed Sulzbach which appeared in Killing for Love. As in that film, the editing skips from one conversation to another, making it hard to understand what was actually going on. Here is the relevant portion of the most important part of the conversation, between Chuck Reid and Ed Sulzbach (timestamps from Killing for Love):
01:28:59:12 01:29:00:01Hello?01:29:00:08 01:29:01:17Ed?– Yes?01:29:01:24 01:29:02:13Ed,01:29:02:16 01:29:05:12this is Chuck Reid, how’re you doing?– Pretty good, how are you?01:29:05:21 01:29:07:08I’m doing fine, man.01:29:07:20 01:29:10:00Let me ask you a question to you Ed,do you remember01:29:10:10 01:29:12:11when you worked on the Haysom case with us?01:29:12:22 01:29:14:06I remember that well.01:29:14:08 01:29:17:10You and another agent did apsychological profile for us.01:29:18:04 01:29:23:10Yeah, I remember when I got there, there was a guy.He knew a lot about satanic cults or something.01:29:23:23 01:29:27:06And he’s walking around the body.“See this blood smear?”01:29:27:09 01:29:30:09He was reading this satanic shit into everything.01:29:30:12 01:29:33:18I came to the conclusion pretty quickly01:29:33:23 01:29:36:09that it was someone they knew very well01:29:36:23 01:29:41:03because Mrs. Haysomwas dressed in a nightgown with a robe.01:29:41:11 01:29:43:11I settled on her daughter,01:29:43:19 01:29:45:15and that’s who it turned out to be.01:29:45:23 01:29:48:02Ed, did you all do any paperwork on that?01:29:48:04 01:29:50:14The Sheriff’s Office couldn’t come upwith this information, and I tell them01:29:50:21 01:29:54:04you all’s profile came backas a female and an acquaintance.01:29:54:18 01:29:55:04Yeah.01:29:55:11 01:29:57:21Contact the Richmond office.01:29:57:24 01:29:59:11They can pull the file.
The viewer hears Ed Sulzbach say “I settled on the daughter”, but the filmmakers cut away immediately after that statement. This is grossly misleading, since it leaves the impression that Ed Sulzbach thought Elizabeth Haysom personally killed her parents.
He didn’t. In context, it’s clear what Ed Sulzbach means when he says: “I settled on the daughter, and that’s who it turned out to be”. He’s not saying he feels vindicated because he thought Elizabeth Haysom personally killed her parents. He’s saying he feels vindicated because it “turned out” that Haysom was, indeed, the driving force in her parent’s death. If Sulzbach had genuinely believed Elizabeth Haysom personally murdered her own parents, then he would have to also genuinely believe that Jens Söring was the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice. Surely he would have mentioned that in the interview. But he doesn’t, because that is not what he believes.
Sulzbach also puts a lot of emphasis on the fact that Mrs. Haysom was dressed informally, but seemed like the kind of person who would never “entertain” strangers dressed in a robe. I’ve never been able to understand what this was supposed to prove. First of all, Sulzbach knew nothing about the Haysoms. Second, Söring wasn’t a stranger, he was their daughter’s boyfriend. And third, it’s not as if Nancy Haysom ran to the door and opened it wearing her housecoat. Derek Haysom opened the door, let Söring in, and then called to his wife, who was painting upstairs. I can’t imagine why Nancy Haysom would feel the need to dress up to receive a surprise evening visit from her daughter’s boyfriend.
The bottom line: No FBI report was ever created, so nobody is hiding anything from anyone. And even if one had been created, it would be irrelevant, since FBI offender profiles are not admissible evidence in court. Therefore, even if a report existed, it would not have had to be turned over to the defense (Ricky Gardner is wrong on this point). This always was an irrelevant side-issue.
The Abandoned Car
Surprisingly, the directors go all-in on the mentally unstable Tony Buchanan! They show a long interview with him, and this time even show him pointing to a picture of someone who he says looks like the person who accompanied Elizabeth Haysom to get a bloodstained car repaired in the summer of 1985. I don’t think this last scene was included in Killing for Love. It’s hard to tell for sure, but Buchanan appears to be pointing at “Ned B.”. Ironically, although the filmmakers pixelated Brinkley’s face and the titles list him only as “Ned B.”, they apparently didn’t realize that Gail Ball outs him as “Ned Brinkley” in a part of the interview they left in the film. D’oh! In any event, Sörings lawyer Gail Ball tracks down “Ned B.”, a former school classmate of Haysom. He quite wisely declines to get involved in the Söring circus, first by email, and then in person. Tony Buchanan claims he got in touch with Bedford authorities sometime shortly after he saw the bloody car, but they deny this. And in a credibility context between Ricky Gardner and Tony Buchanan, Gardner wins hands-down.
Buchanan’s abandoned-car allegation leads to a moment of unintentional humor, as Chuck Reid, in a meeting tries to square the abandoned-car theory with the other facts and alternative theories. The result is the “car-swap” theory: Elizabeth and Jens rent a car to drive to Washington, D.C. Elizabeth then drives from D.C. to Loose Chippings in that rental car, Car #1. Somewhere along the way, she recruits 2 men — either her college buddies Ned Brinkley and Jim Farmer, or two random crazed drifters. She then hides the rental car somewhere, and drives another car — Car #2 — to the actual murder house (Why the switch? Where did this car come from?). After slaughtering her own parents, she gets back into Car #2 with her two college buddies and/or crazed drifters, dripping with blood. She then ditches the Car #2 somewhere in a field, breaking its transmission and getting its undercarriage covered in weeds and dirt. She leaves the murder weapon in Car #2 and doesn’t remove the bloodstains. She then gets back into Car #1 and drives back to Washington, D.C. Then, months later, she and an unknown male accomplice — college buddy? Crazed drifter? Someone entirely new? — bring Car #2, which has been sitting broken down in a field somewhere for months, to a complete stranger for repair. Yet they forget to remove the obvious evidence in the car which could put both of them on death row.
That’s the 2-car theory. Did you follow it? As I wrote over at Quillette: “All of Team Soering’s theories suffer from the same weakness: They are less than the sum of their parts, because they point in different—and often conflicting—directions.”
The bottom line: Tony Buchanan’s story is absurd on its own terms, and Buchanan himself has no credibility. This is an irrelevant side-issue.
The only new statements from Söring in this documentary are his anodyne glad-to-be-back comments at his press conference after his return from Germany. For whatever reason, the filmmakers declined to cite his Markus Lanz interview, perhaps because of rights issues, perhaps because that interview was pretty poorly received. However, some of the excerpts they play from Söring’s 2013 prison interview are revealing. Söring speaks repeatedly of how he was “betrayed” by Elizabeth after taking the blame for crime. He was especially outraged that she stated that he was impotent with her until after her parents were murdered (“And on top of everything else, she says I’m impotent!” he fumes). Every time he speaks of Elizabeth, you can see the hatred and resentment boiling just behind his eyes. He claims his rage stems from the fact that Elizabeth manipulated him into confessing to her crime, therefore sending him away for life imprisonment and ruining what could have been a promising life. Yet of course it’s also fully consistent with him hating her for having manipulated him into killing her parents, a decision which led to his imprisonment. Either way, he is still visibly angry.
Söring also says that Elizabeth had a deal, and that this deal was intended to get her released from prison in 1995. The reasoning is as follows: Jim Updike promised to write a letter to the parole board supporting parole for Haysom in return for her testimony against Söring.3 He did in fact write such a letter. Söring insists that, with this letter from Updike, Haysom would have gotten parole at her earliest opportunity, in 1995. But by then, Söring argues, the “political situation” had changed drastically in Virginia, and nobody was getting parole anymore. Evidently, we’re supposed to reflect on the unfairness of Elizabeth, who actually killed her own parents, coming so close to being released early, while Söring rotted in prison.
Söring is wrong. Parole decisions are driven by dozens of factors: The severity of the crime, the defendant’s behavior, prison conditions, politics, the defendant’s prison record, the opinions of the victims’ families, etc. A supportive letter from a prosecutor just goes into that big mix of reasons; it’s not a “get out of jail free” card. There are thousands of people still languishing in prison in the USA despite favorable letters from prosecutors or judges in their parole file. And Virginia didn’t even mention the letter when it finally released her.
Bogus DNA Claim
At the end of the film, this ancient, misleading claim appears on-screen:
“In August 2016, DNA Experts confirmed that blood traces found at the crime scene belonged to two unknown males. Neither of them is Jens Söring.” This is why working on the Söring Truth Squad is like playing a game of Whack-A-Mole:
You discredit claim #1, and claim #3 pops up. Then, while you’re discrediting Claim #3, Claim #6 pops up. Then just when you’re done with Claim #6, Claim #1 pops up again. Don’t these moles ever learn?
I already tweeted both to Karin Steinberger and Markus Vetter explaining to them why this DNA claim was misleading, but they never responded. They obviously don’t care, since they included it now, long after it’s been fully discredited.
The bottom line: There is zero evidence of unknown males at the crime scene. The only arguments for this come from Söring’s own paid, partisan experts, and their reports are deeply flawed. Every independent expert asked to weigh in on the issue has concluded that there is no evidence of unknown males at the crime scene. Post-release, Söring has even tried to reach out to German DNA experts to support his claim, but they have told him the same thing the independent experts did: There is no DNA unknown evidence pointing to unknown men.
Things the Filmmakers Won’t Tell You
Here are some things the filmmakers carefully avoided mentioning, because they are powerful evidence of Söring’s guilt:
- Söring’s initial story of why he confessed, as detailed under oath in March 1990, was that he was denied counsel and extorted by British detective Kenneth Beever, who threatened to physically harm Elizabeth unless Söring gave up his demands for a lawyer. The judge found that Söring lied under oath about this, and Söring never mentioned this story during his trial testimony.
- Söring told police officers he believed Annie Massie, the Söring family friend, had sneaked into the murder house after Söring had killed the Haysoms and ritually mutilated their bodies, perhaps with a group of other people.
- Söring told police on June 5, 1986, that he had returned to the Marriott Hotel not wearing pants (he had to throw them away because they were bloodstained and he could find no replacements), and that there would be surveillance video showing him riding the elevators without pants. These remarks are, obviously, impossible to square with Söring’s story about only learning about the crime from Elizabeth.
That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Perhaps the one bright spot was the fact that Ricky Gardner got significantly more time in this documentary than he did in Killing for Love. He was actually allowed to make a number of cogent points without interruption. He notes that Söring’s footprint simply was a good match for the bloody sockprint at the crime scene. There’s no getting around it: they’re extremely similar. The jury inspected both the footprint and the sockprint at length, personally. Nobody was tricked or manipulated. At another point, during some wearisome exchanges about the FBI report or something similar, Gardner says, exasperated, why don’t people just look at the facts, instead of speculating about irrelevant side-issues?
But perhaps the best point Gardner makes is about the dog. In Sörings confessions, he coolly describes murdering two people, but then states that as he was driving to the trash container to dump evidence, he thought he had hit a dog. When he returned to the point in his car shortly afterward, he didn’t see any obvious signs of an injured or dead dog. This relieved him, but he was still concerned. He even asked police whether there had been any reports of injured or missing animals in the area.
As Gardner points out, this is the kind of detail which only someone who was there would think of mentioning. And Söring’s concern for the dog is a telling contrast to the nonchalant tone in which he described butchering two innocent people.
- In Germany, there are all sorts of complicated disputes and regulations about intellectual property rights, which result in articles and documentaries and features appearing and disappearing from the Internet at unpredictable intervals for no obvious reason. Of course this happens in any country with a functioning legal system for protecting intellectual property, but it seems especially pronounced here.
- For some reason, Gardner and others say that the German interview was conducted in October of 1986, when it actually happened in December.
- No evidence is provided for this alleged agreement. Even if it existed, it would not necessarily have been improper.