We’re fast approaching the one-year anniversary of the decision of the Virginia Board of Parole to release Jens Söring and Elizabeth Haysom. I thought it would be a good time to catch up on the year’s events, and take a look at where we stand.
I. Holdsworth Begins Cleaning the Augean Stables
Credit for initiating the Söring Truth Squad must go, above all, to William Holdsworth, the man behind Jens Soering Guilty as Charged. Long before I got involved, he had undertaken the thankless task of subjecting Jens Söring’s story to the critical scrutiny nobody in the American or German press had ever bothered with. While living in Germany, I had been approached by dozens of people about the case of Jens Söring. These folks knew that I had been part of legal teams which had gotten a few people released from death row, and wanted me to take a closer look at the Söring case. I’d always demurred, but in 2019 decided to give it a go. Was Söring really the victim of a miscarriage of justice?
It wasn’t long before I came across Jens Soering Guilty as Charged. It was Holdsworth’s posts — and the many first-hand documents he published (such as Dr. John Hamilton’s report, and the interview with the German prosecutor) — which revealed whole new aspects of the case, and cleansed any serious doubts I had about his guilt. It’s no coincidence that both Holdsworth and I are lawyers. Many of Söring’s strategy decisions — such as switching from a diminished-capacity to a full-on innocence defense, or claiming physical threats by English interrogators — are obvious to lawyers, but not to all laypeople. I even recognized some strategies I myself had employed back when I was a practicing lawyer.
II. Yours Truly Carries the Fight into the German Heartland
I reached out to an editor at the FAZ, who generously agreed to publish a fairly long article critiquing Söring’s innocence claims. As pure coincidence would have it, that article was published (g) on November 26, the day after Söring’s release was announced. In this piece, I argued that Söring’s innocence story was incoherent and ever-changing, that his DNA argument was bogus, and that there was no credible proof anyone else had been involved in the crime. While he was in ICE custody awaiting transfer back to Germany, Söring announced his plan after release was to tour Germany, giving interviews and speeches about how he had been railroaded by the flawed and corrupt UK and American justice systems, and claiming that Elizabeth Haysom, not he, had murdered Derek and Nancy Haysom.
It thus became clear to me and others that Söring planned to stay very much in the spotlight, and to tell his story to millions of Germans, this time as a free man. He would find willing and eager accomplices among the German press, none of whom had ever genuinely questioned his tale. I decided to keep an eye on Söring’s activity, but initially had no plans to publish anything further on the case until Söring had made a longer statement.
However, Team Söring then made a crucial mistake: Two Team members — the “Circle of Friends” (Freundeskreis) and Sheriff Chip Harding — submitted two “letters to the editor” totaling 14 pages in response to my November 2019 article. They claimed I had made numerous errors and downplayed evidence that Söring’s trial was unfair. The FAZ was justifiably concerned. I promised them a follow-up article addressing every single point made by both letters. In the meantime, I arranged to get a hold of the Wright Report (English version here, unofficial German version here). I wrote a short teaser article (f) for the FAZ to accompany Söring’s landing in Germany on December 18, 2019, then set to work on a much longer piece.
That piece was published (g) on January 22, 2020, and it was accompanied by a link to the full Wright report. It took me almost 20,000 words, but I set out all of the major findings of the Wright report and refuted all of of the claims in the two letters to the editor. I noted that every court to review Söring’s claims had found them inconsequential, that he had perjured himself in court at least twice, and that his DNA arguments had never been endorsed by any independent experts. I cited the Wright report something like 60 times.
To date, neither Chip Harding nor Söring nor any other Söring supporter has ever pointed out a single error of fact in any of my articles, or in the Wright report itself.
I think that’s a rather important point, so please indulge me as I repeat it:
To date, neither Chip Harding nor Söring nor any other Söring supporter has ever publicly identified a single error of fact in any of my articles, or in the Wright report itself.
III. The Tide Begins Turning
Meanwhile, big changes were happening within Team Söring. On landing in Germany, Söring was taken in by a Hamburg woman who came from a prosperous family committed to helping Söring. Söring hired a law firm and a PR firm to help him craft his media strategy. My articles were causing major headaches, and Team Söring began building a “dossier” to try to discredit me. They also laid down a firm rule: Nobody was to engage with me for any reason. Presumably, they thought that if everyone ignored me, I would give up and move on to other subjects. But I and Holdsworth weren’t the only gadflies: Elizabeth Haysom had hired a German lawyer who had put Team Söring on notice that any statement accusing her of personally murdering her parents might elicit legal action under German law.
Especially after the huge January FAZ article, I began getting dozens of emails and messages from Söring supporters. My article and the Wright report, they said, had highlighted dozens of aspects of the case which Söring had carefully hidden from his supporters. I also received inquiries from German reporters who were considering doing stories about Söring, but, after talking to me, decided not to. Several former supporters of Söring, disappointed by his mendacity, switched sides, and began providing Söring skeptics like me with information. I discovered Söring was still planning his media offensive, and had even gotten a book and TV series contract. Interviews with the newsmagazine Der Spiegel and the TV show Markus Lanz were in the works.
These interviews almost certainly turned out differently than Söring had hoped. One of the reporters for the Spiegel had reached out to me before the interview. I had what has now become a familiar experience: A hopeful journalist preparing to recycle Söring’s innocence claims hears them all basically disintegrate under critical scrutiny. Usually this leads them to spike the story altogether, but the Spiegel interview went ahead — albeit with Söring’s lawyer and PR flack in attendance, as the Spiegel itself noted.
The original draft of the article pointed out many facts Team Söring did not want emphasized, and Team Söring was shocked. There ensued a long email chain in which Der Spiegel and Team Söring went back and forth about what parts of the interview would be published, and what would be written in the “factual background” parts of the piece. The resulting article focused primarily on Söring’s prison time. Yet in response to questioning, Söring made another startling change in his story. After three decades of blaming Elizabeth for the murder of her parents, he suddenly changed his tune, and said he didn’t know who killed them!
By this time, it was becoming apparent that resistance to Söring’s false claims was beginning to build. More and more messages and emails landed in my inboxes from people who wondered why nobody ever bothered asking Söring about the holes in his story, and thanking me for my work. The Markus Lanz interview may well be the last time the German press — much to its discredit — has allowed Söring to tell his tale without the slightest pushback (with some creditable exceptions (g)). Lanz revealed basic ignorance of the facts of the case, and asked only softball questions. Yet even with this kid-gloves treatment, it became clear Söring was hiding something. When Lanz asked a question which would have required Söring to pin the blame on Elizabeth, Söring stared into the camera awkwardly before stammering out an excuse.
The problem with Söring’s high-profile media appearances was that they got people interested in his story. After a few clicks, these folks would land either at the FAZ, or at this blog, or at Soering Guilty as Charged. There was now a deep well of information out there which portrayed the case fully and accurately — thus discrediting Söring’s innocence claims. Meanwhile, owing to defections within Team Söring, I and other Söring skeptics had gained access to reams of information about the case, some old, some new. I continued intermittently posting snippets from this rich haul, including a 2-part series on the full report by British confessions expert Dr. Andy Griffiths, which turned out to be so deeply flawed as to be basically meaningless. Meanwhile, the German broadcaster ZDF brought out a 4-part series about the Söring case, but since it consisted almost exclusively of old material, it didn’t move the needle.
I kept posting as my schedule permitted, pointing out how the trial transcript of Söring’s case was itself enough to discredit him. The case against Söring laid out at trial was robust, easily satisfying any standard of guilt. It also contains effective cross-examinations of Söring by Bedford County District Attorney Jim Updike, which leave Söring’s credibility in shreds.
Many of Söring’s innocence claims are based on falsifications of the trial record. He believed that since outsiders don’t have easy access to the thousands of pages of the trial record, nobody would ever bother to check whether what Söring said happened at his trial actually did happen. Once you begin checking Söring’s statements against the court record, his story falls apart, and it becomes easy to understand why the jury convicted him and all appeals courts unanimously rejected his claims. There never was anything to his innocence claims in the first place. They were built on a partial, selective, and often outright false claims — claims which could be easily refuted simply by quoting the trial record, which I did in several long posts.
The most recent phase is the switch in emphasis of the Virginia podcast devoted to Söring’s claims, Small Town Big Crime. In early episodes, the podcasters had devoted considerable time to trying to verify Söring’s alternate theories of the case, including the two “deadly drifters“. Yet when they began speaking to Söring skeptics, they realized that much of what Söring had told them was either false or misleading. So they did what journalists should do — they pursued new information and leads, regardless of where they led. Using DNA evidence and overwhelming persistence, they managed to exclude all of the “alternate suspects” Team Söring has claimed might have been at the crime scene. They also juxtaposed Söring’s statements to them in an October 2019 interview with the trial record and the evidence, which did no favors to Söring’s credibility.
V. Where Do We Stand Now?
As of now, Team Söring is in a defensive crouch, not to say a fetal position. Söring shut down all of his social-media accounts in June 2020, after people began posting nasty personal comments (bad!) and critical questions about the weaknesses in his story (good!). Team Söring has also shut down all cooperation with the Small Town Big Crime podcast after the producers started disproving some of his innocence claims and asking skeptical questions. Ironically, there’s still a link for this podcast on Söring’s website, which has otherwise gone dormant.
According to my information, Söring’s plans to publish a book and assist in a new Netflix documentary about his case are still active. Yet it’s hard to see what the point is. Söring has made it clear that he does not want media attention on his new life here in Germany. The only thing that remains, then, is to once again re-litigate the question of his innocence. Yet thanks to the tireless work of the Soering Truth Squad, there is plenty of evidence online blowing apart his arguments.
Why, one might ask, would Netflix bother making a series about the other possible suspects in the Haysom murders when all of them have already been cleared by Small Town Big Crime? Further, despite Herculean efforts, Team Söring has never been able to find a single independent DNA expert to back their view of the evidence. It actually gets worse: Small Town Big Crime even persuaded one of Söring’s own experts, J. Thomas McClintock, to publicly affirm that it is impossible to exclude Derek Haysom as the donor of all of the male DNA found at the crime scene. Instead of gaining expert support, Söring is instead losing it, for one simple reason: his claims are unfounded.
I never planned for this case to take over my blog, or my life, but it’s been a fascinating trip. I will certainly keep tabs on Söring’s doings, and will correct the record as needed every time he opens his mouth in public. I am glad he is out of prison and has a second chance. He’s got plenty to say, and if he decides to try to make a speaking career out of it, more power to him. But he shouldn’t be allowed to spread falsehoods, attack peoples’ reputations without justification, or paint a distorted picture of the English and American criminal justice systems. As long as he keeps that up, the Soering Truth Squad will leap into action every time, giving readers and viewers the whole context. It’s the least they, and you, deserve!