The German newspaper Bonner Anzeiger (from the German city of Bonn) just released a podcast episode of its series “Akte Rheinland” (The Rhineland File) on Jens Söring’s case. The podcast is hosted by reporters Anna Maria Beekes and Andreas Dyck, and the newspaper’s online editor Marcel Wolber. I gave a quite enjoyable interview to them way back in August, I believe, and they quote me several times at length.
First, let me note that this episode is a refreshing change from much German journalism on the case. It begins with a quotation from my description of the crime scene in my January 2020 FAZ article, which is drawn from trial testimony, the confessions, and photos. The three hosts then discuss the family background of Söring and Haysom. To their credit, they identify assertions made by Söring as just that: his version, his story, his claims. They mention that I am thinking of writing a book on the case, and wonder whether I can “free myself” from my “obsession” — in quotes — from the case if Söring retreats into private life. Fair enough!
The podcast does bring some fresh facts to light, in the form of an interview with Bernd König, the assistant prosecutor from Bonn who interviewed Söring for 5-6 hours in London in December 1986. Söring made a full confession during these conversations, which you can read in English translation here. König later headed up the prosecutor’s office in Bonn, and, now retired, serves as the chairman (g) of the state branch of the victims’-rights organization Weisser Ring (White Ring).
Beekes relates her conversation with König secondhand, perhaps because König didn’t want to be quoted directly. König said he still remembers his interrogation of Söring clearly, and is impressed by the fact that Söring was able to survive more than three decades in American prisons, likely because of his “extraordinary intelligence.” König praised Söring’s eloquence, calling him a “near-genius”. König is glad that Söring has been released from prison.
It sounds like König is trying to soften an upcoming blow. Which then duly comes. Does König believe in Söring’s innocence? The answer, from Beekes, is clear: “Überhaupt nicht” — not in the least. Beekes, paraphrasing König: “Söring described the double murder, mentioning every detail of what happened. For [König], back then, everything Söring said sounded plausible, as if that’s exactly how it had happened.”
They then quote me on the subject of Söring’s false-confession story. I point out that false confessions are a problem, albeit a rare one, but that there are no red flags in his case and that his story of confessing to save Elizabeth makes no sense. The podcasters then turn to the 2016 film Das Versprechen, which Wolber accurately identifies as a propaganda vehicle: “Nobody who sees the film can possibly believe in Söring’s guilt. It’s absolutely a plea for his innocence.” I’m then quoted saying the filmmakers left out critical facts necessary to understanding the case in an attempt to raise unjustified doubts about Söring’s guilt.
The podcast hosts then mention the various alternate theories of the case (the deadly drifters, the biased judge, etc.) advocated by Söring’s supporters, but sum up: “None of this could be proven, and no judge was ever convinced.” Then they move on to his life in Germany. Sounding a little verklempt for some reason (hangover? Corona fatigue?), I vow that if Söring continues in private life without making public statements, I’ll move on, but if he continues to spread his “lies”, I will be there to “contradict” them.
Toward the end, one of the other hosts asks Beekes whether she believes Söring is guilty. She said that after watching Das Versprechen, she was convinced he couldn’t possibly have committed the crime, but that the documentary left out the fact that his case had been reviewed many times and proof for his alternate theories and claims found to be “non-existent”. After studying the case ever more intensively, she has come to the conclusion that “it was definitely him.” She says she believes he has served his time and is glad he is free, but “I would advise him not to comment on [his case] in public anymore.” The podcasters end up splitting 2-1, with two finding his innocence theories implausible, and one still undecided.
At the very end, the podcasters address the question of why so many people supported a convicted double murderer. They suggest that it is the fact that Söring, as a pale young nerd, doesn’t look like a typical killer, and Söring can “sell himself” extremely well. I think we can all agree on that.
All in all, this was another podcast episode which, like Small Town Big Crime, did Söring’s innocence campaign no favors. We now know that the German prosecutor who heard Söring’s confession doesn’t doubt his guilt. Considering that the case clearly made a profound impression on König, we can safely assume he’s followed it through the decades. Nothing Söring put forward later was able to shake König’s impression that Söring’s confession was accurate. Further, the podcasters themselves describe a typical conversion/de-conversion experience. They were convinced by Das Versprechen and by German media coverage of the case that Söring had suffered an injustice, but further reading opened their eyes.
Of course the podcasters tried to contact Söring through his lawyer, but the lawyer never responded. Söring and his lawyers and PR experts insist on exercising significant control, and never give interviews about his case to journalists who might pose critical, informed questions. Fortunately, most German journalists are now in that camp. According to my information, plans for Söring’s book and Netflix series are still ongoing. At this rate, however, they are going to meet an informed and deeply skeptical reception in Germany, which is as it should be.
Unless, of course, Söring or the documentary producers stumble on startling new evidence which puts the whole case in a new light. I’m not holding my breath, as they say.