Criminal Law, Evidence, Murder, Police and Prosecutors, Self-Promotion, Soering, True Crime

Söring Update in English

I’ve been posting a lot in German lately, since the focus of attention is now in Germany. But for my English-speaking readers, here’s a quick update.

Small Town, Big Crime: It appears the makers of this podcast have moved on to other projects, although I imagine they’re still working the case a bit. The problem, of course, is that they now know nothing Söring or his supporters say can be trusted. Further, their own reporting has undermined key elements of Söring’s innocence story — for instance, the suggestion that DNA from two unknown men was found at the crime scene. There appears to be no evidence left which could even theoretically move the needle in Söring’s favor, or otherwise.

“Inmate claims innocence and we’re investigating” is an interesting journalistic premise. “It turns out he was actually guilty all along,” (unfortunately) isn’t. I certainly hope more episodes are coming, but I doubt it.

Söring’s Book: Söring released his new German-language book “Return to Life” (g), on 21 September 2021. The book consists of about 70% descriptions of Söring’s prison life and his experiences after returning to Germany. The other 30% consists of familiar, long-resolved complaints about the fairness of his trial. Although he claims repeatedly in the book that he wants to “look toward the future”, he nevertheless mentions Elizabeth Haysom 80 times over 300 pages. Under the advice of his lawyer Stephan Grulert, Söring avoids directly accusing Elizabeth of killing her own parents when speaking as the narrator of the book. However, he manages to make the accusation indirectly, by quoting other sources.

Söring’s Press Campaign: Söring has done about 20 press appearances to support the book, ranging from the weekly newsmagazine Spiegel (g) to the Frankfurt Book Fair (g) to more regional news outlets. In these appearances, his comments run similar to the book: About 20-30% about his complaints about his trial, 70-80% prison life, life in Germany, future plans. His rhetoric about his trial is much less pungent now than when he ghost-wrote his book. Here are the key points:

  • I am innocent, and my knowledge of my innocence made it possible for me to survive behind bars. The other inmates were guilty and had no point to their lives behind bars, but I had my innocence struggle. I got my freedom, but not justice, and I plan to continue my campaign.
  • However, it seems to be the case that I cannot “positively prove” my innocence at this point. Nevertheless, I plan to try to renew my pardon request in the USA until they finally recognize my innocence. Here are all the problems with my trial (incompetent lawyer, corrupt prosecutor, biased judge, etc.).
  • I confessed to protect Elizabeth, but I cannot tell you why, because I must now obey German laws protecting peoples’ reputations. At this point the interviewer usually steps in and accuses Elizabeth Haysom of personally murdering her own parents, so that Söring doesn’t have to.
  • My future plans are to become a speaker and coach focusing on “resilience”.

How was his press campaign received? The level of neutrality and competence shown by Söring’s interviewers varied dramatically. Der Spiegel dismissed his innocence claims as sounding pre-formulated and unconvincing. Other interviewers simply declared Söring innocent and assumed he was a victim of a miscarriage of justice. None of the interviewers except Thomas Ribi of the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung mentioned either me, my work or Terry Wright’s report by name.

In my view, there were two reasons for this. The most common reason, of course, was that the interviewer did no preparation and had no idea they existed. However, many interviewers were certainly aware of my work and the Wright report, because I emailed them in advance. I am still the only German-speaking journalist who has ever seriously questioned Söring’s story. It always falls only to me to challenge his innocence claims. It’s kind of exhausting — I have a business to run and a living to make. It sure would be nice if some other German journalist did their homework on the case and subjected it to rigorous scrutiny — but to date, nobody else has bothered.

I didn’t have time to contact all press outlets, so I concentrated on German public broadcasting outlets, since they are officially obliged to report neutrally and even-handedly. I took a light-hearted tone — this was basically trolling — but my efforts actually worked somewhat. North German Broadcasting promised me that they would repeatedly emphasize in interviews that Söring remained a convicted double-murderer, which they in fact did. This meant nothing, of course, since Söring just barreled straight ahead and referred to the court judgment as a “miscarriage of justice” and began reciting his litany of complaints.

The NDR also didn’t mention me or Wright, even though I informed them that I believed this was essential to fulfill their explicit mandate of presenting all sides of controversial issues. They curtly informed me that they felt that mentioning me or Wright was unnecessary. They also denied that failing to mention my name was a condition of the interviews. I still have my doubts.

I believe Söring’s lawyers and PR agents worked out an agreement with any interview partner who seemed “problematic” — i.e., any interviewer who showed signs of having read my work or Terry Wright’s. Team Söring issues the ultimatum: You may not mention Hammel or Wright’s name, or their work, since Söring becomes “distraught” when his account is challenged. Thus, if you insist on mentioning Hammel or Wright, no interview. Söring’s lawyers have also relied on an unusual and controversial German press custom of permitting interview subjects to approve quotes used in interviews (this is called the Autorisierungsvorbehalt). This custom (not mentioned in any law) has helped them convince interview partners to leave the most damning parts of interviews with Söring on the cutting-room floor.

All in all, however, the press coverage was much more subdued than it could have been. Interviewers may not have done their homework, but they are at least vaguely aware that what Söring says about his case is probably misleading and could theoretically be legally problematic. They try to nudge Söring back to talking about prison life and freedom, instead of complaining about his case. However, as several of them noted, Söring still seems obsessed by his innocence claims. He just cannot let go.

The press campaign seems to be winding down. Söring’s book sold reasonably well, but as far as I know never became a best-seller. Now that Söring’s dropping out of the limelight again, I’ll be posting less about his case. However, I’m still researching it, and there will be much more about the case coming up next year, when two major media productions will address it. I will keep you posted!

3 thoughts on “Söring Update in English”

  1. Dear Mr. Hammel,
    Thank you for always updating. Could you concentrate on the following question:

    Why would Elizabeth have called Annie Massie only 3 days after the murder, if she knew there could be her traces in the house? I mean sure, she wanted to show that she cared, but this short time period?
    And Jens didn´t know about her calling untill their arrest (source: Geständnis vor dem deutschen Staatsanwalt).
    I mean this would underline the theory of her beeing afraid of Soering and also of her not beeing present in the house at the time of the crime.

    1. Hi Jonas,

      Thanks for your comment. Personally, I don’t put a lot of stock in what Elizabeth Haysom said back then; her statements from this time all have to be treated with caution. However, her explanation for why she alerted Annie Massie at the time she did seems logical: She had regular contact with her parents, and not being able to reach them for 3 days without explanation would have spurred any “normal” daughter to start asking around about her parents’ welfare.

      As for whether Elizabeth was there, there’s no evidence of this, so I simply ignore it. In any case, the question is trivial, because it wouldn’t change anything legally. Virginia does not allow the death penalty for people who don’t physically kill the victims. So only Söring, as the person who physically murdered the Haysoms, would be eligible for death. Elizabeth, even if she was standing there and cheering, would be eligible only for 20 years-to-life as accessory before the fact to capital murder.

      Now of course if she were there, this might be relevant because she could be cross-examined and be shown to be lying about staying at the hotel. But she *was* cross-examined on precisely this point! The defense seized upon every piece of evidence they could to try to put her there: cigarette butts, sockprints, fingerprints on the vodka bottle. But none of those things was relevant. And furthermore, who signed for room service back at the hotel? Who placed the long-distance call on 30 March? The evidence she stayed at the hotel was much, much stronger than any evidence putting her at the crime scene.

      To me, therefore, the question of her presence is a trivial red herring. It matters neither morally nor legally.

      1. Some have speculated that they both committed the murders on the Sunday and that the cinema tickets and room service are irrelevant.
        Unfortunately for Soering, he helpfully pointed the London police to the “CCTV evidence” in the hotel lobby, so that theory goes out of the window.

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