The creators of Small Town, Big Crime have announced that in their upcoming episode, they will evaluate the Washington Marriott alibi and do some “forensic testing” of their own in aid of a new theory of the case which nobody they’ve talked to yet has endorsed. I enjoy putting predictions up on this site and seeing whether they pan out. So far, most have. I’ve put my prediction about the alternate theory below.
First of all, let me say my prediction does not emerge from anything the podcasters have told or asked me. I just happen to know what alternate theories are circulating out there, and which one is likely to have attracted their attention.
SPOILER ALERT: The alternate theory will be that both Jens and Elizabeth were at Loose Chippings.
This theory is not totally inconceivable. First, no evidence directly contradicts it. There’s no physical evidence definitively placing Elizabeth in Washington, D.C. at the time of the murders. Neither Söring nor Haysom were seen on surveillance videotape, since no tapes were made — the cameras were not recorded, but merely monitored in real-time by guards. The alibi movie tickets could theoretically have been purchased in advance; in 1985, movie tickets were just small pre-printed chits with no information on them but a number. Haysom claims she signed room-service receipts in Söring’s name, but these receipts no longer exist. The only things which exist are small paper chits listing for customers which list the number of room service orders, but those are unsigned and not time-stamped:
Christine Kim, the friend whom Elizabeth says she telephoned from the hotel room, never confirmed this fact, likely because she was only questioned years later.
What about hotel records? The manager of the Washington Marriott hotel in March 1985, Yale Feldman, testified on June 6, 1990, at Söring’s trial. He confirmed that five local calls from the Söring/Haysom hotel room were placed on March 30, 1985 (p. 139) but that it is not possible to tell when or to whom those calls were made (p. 140). On pages 140-141, Feldman testifies that under the pre-computer procedures in place in 1985, there was no way to tell when room service was ordered to the Söring/Haysom room, except that it was before 11 p.m. on March 30.
Feldman then confirms that there were security cameras in the elevators, but that they were just monitored in real-time by guards, not recorded (pp. 144-145). Under cross-examination by Neaton, Feldman confirms that all records relating to the long-distance call and the room-service orders were destroyed after 6 months, following company policy. The problem, as Feldman notes (p. 151), is that nobody began investigating Haysom and Söring’s stay at the Marriott until September 1986, after they had been arrested in London and confessed. This was a major blunder; crucial records were likely destroyed during that year-plus delay.
What we have, therefore, is a situation in which the primary evidence Elizabeth stayed at the Marriott in Washington, D.C. on the night of March 30th is her own testimony. And her credibility is impaired — she changed many elements of her story between 1987 and 1990, while sticking to the basic conclusion that she stayed in the hotel while Jens killed her parents. But she gave conflicting accounts of many lesser elements of this story, which Söring’s lawyers have exhaustively — and justifiably — highlighted.
Thus, it is impossible to exclude that Elizabeth might have driven down to Loose Chippings with Jens on March 30th.
I find this alternate theory almost plausible. Let’s look at what speaks for it.
First, at one point in his confessions, Jens specifically reaffirms to the detectives that Elizabeth wasn’t there during the killings, which begs the question of why he felt the need to issue this disclaimer. Further, Söring has always said he only slit the Haysoms’ throats, and someone else mutilated their bodies. Perhaps he killed them, then their enraged, drug-addled daughter mutilated their bodies in a fit of “overkill”. Although it’s entirely possible for one healthy young man to kill two unsuspecting elderly, intoxicated people in a surprise knife attack, it would obviously be easier if two people had staged the attack.
The FBI profiler Ed Sulzbach also speculated that Nancy Haysom would never have received strangers in an informal housecoat, suggesting they knew their visitor. This is thin gruel. The Haysoms knew Söring was their daughter’s boyfriend, and he could have convinced them by saying there was some urgent matter he needed to discuss relating to their daughter. Name me a parent who wouldn’t invite someone in for that. Nevertheless, the presence of Elizabeth would fit Sulzbach’s (irrelevant) theory.
Assuming Elizabeth repeatedly stabbed her parents, this would explain why Söring was obsessed with making the detectives believe he only slit their throats and didn’t mutilate them. He didn’t want to be blamed for the “atrocities” inflicted by someone else. It’s even sort of consistent with Söring’s “white knight” defense. In this version, he protected Elizabeth by denying her direct personal involvement in the actual murder of her parents, a crime both of them committed together.
Nevertheless, there are still big problems with the “both of them were there” argument. First of all, there’s no evidence Elizabeth was there during the crime. Of course her cigarettes and fingerprints were found in or near the house. Yet this proves little, since Elizabeth lived at Loose Chippings on school holidays and had visited there only a week before the murders. More interesting is a spot of blood found on a towel in the kitchen which may have been consistent with Elizabeth’s blood type, B. We see the two towels, one of which contained the bloodstain, hanging over the brown washing machine in this picture:
However, Mary Jane Burton testified that this type B blood fleck could have been type AB blood which had been diluted by water or luminol, so she couldn’t make a definitive finding that it was Type B, Elizabeth’s blood type. (Testimony of Mary Jane Burton, June 12, 1990, pp. 163-168). Even assuming the small, diluted stain on the towel was Elizabeth’s blood, it could have been left there at any time, for instance if she nicked herself while cutting something on the kitchen counter.
But there are even more problems. The front-porch lights were left on. Why wouldn’t Elizabeth turn them off, or tell Jens where to find the switch (in the master bedroom)? Further, why would Jens tell the police he was riding the elevator alone without pants if he believed the police had surveillance tapes, and would thus see Elizabeth on those tapes with him, or even on her own? If he wanted to protect Elizabeth from being accused of direct participation in the murders, why would he point the police toward tapes which could well implicate her? Finally, the presence of Type O blood left by someone during the knife attacks continues to implicate Söring. It’s not definitive on its own (it never had to be, given his confessions), but it is still proof.
All in all, the “both were there” theory can’t be definitively disproven, but it’s nowhere near as convincing as the theory in Söring’s and Haysom’s confessions.
Regardless of its plausibility, there’s another problem with the theory from Söring’s perspective: It doesn’t help him legally. Under the “both were at Loose Chippings” theory, both he and Elizabeth lose. If both were there and killed the Haysoms, both of them are guilty and both could have been eligible for the death penalty.
The only way this theory could help Söring is if he argues something like this: “Elizabeth and I agreed to go down to Loose Chippings to confront the Haysoms and get them to endorse our relationship. I knew of no plans for violence. But suddenly, during dinner, Elizabeth stabbed both her parents to death while I watched in horror, totally surprised. I tried to stop her and injured my hand and bled, but she was too strong. Afterwards, I helped her clean up the evidence — but that just makes me an accessory after the fact, which is punished by fine and short prison term.”
From the standpoint of coherence and fit with the existing evidence, this story would actually have been the best alternate theory for Söring — it explains pretty much everything. Yet the problem with this story, of course, is that it requires Elizabeth Haysom, a diminutive woman, to have single-handedly butchered both her parents, including her father, who was in good health and was 10 cm (4 inches) taller and weighed 25 kilos (55 pounds) more than her (Söring and Derek Haysom were about the same size).
It’s just about possible, perhaps, but hardly plausible.
In any event, if I’m right, Small Town Big Crime will soon be taking a look at some of these questions. Was I right? Stay tuned, and sign up.