People often ask me whether I think Jens Söring is dangerous.
I should say here that I’ve never met Söring. What follows is based on my study of his case and his personality, based on what he and other folks have said. And I’m no psychiatrist!
But it’s something I’ve given some thought to, since I am a prominent critic of his innocence claims. For a while there in 2020, I was the only person questioning those claims in public under my own name (except for Terry Wright), and lived only a 4-hour train ride away from Söring. If Söring had a mind to try to shut me up, I was within easy reach.
I was never all that concerned, though. I didn’t move house or change my locks. I went about my daily activities as normal (Covid permitting). Once in a while I did cast a glance over my shoulder if I saw someone who seemed to take an unusual interest in me, but it never amounted to anything. I never really imagined Söring would confront me, but I was a little bit concerned that one of his fervent supporters might.
So the short answer to the question to whether I think Söring is dangerous is “probably not”. Here’s the long answer. First, I’ll start with the contra side, then move on to the pro.
He’s middle-aged. Söring is now in his mid-50s. Almost all violent crimes are committed by males, mostly young ones. Testosterone levels in men drop significantly after about age 40, and this correlates strongly with a reduction in violent behavior. Of course, the reduction in violence is also attributable to middle-aged males settling down and having children, which doesn’t apply to Söring. Nevertheless, the general rule is that men tend to age out of violence.
Murderers aren’t big recidivists. Oddly, the most serious crime, homicide, is not a good indicator whether someone will commit another crime. Most killers don’t commit further violent offenses. The worst recidivism is property crimes, public-order offenses, and sex crimes. This is confirmed by study after study. One reason is that many killings are “situational” — provoked by relationships or insults or bizarre one-off situations. Often, the circumstances that provoked the first killing never re-appear, and even if they do, someone who has spent 20 years in prison for their first killing will usually emerge older and wiser. This holds for Söring — I am unaware of any evidence he committed any violent offenses in prison. His life after release seems also to be completely law-abiding.
He’s on parole. Söring is required by the terms of his parole to engage in “uniform good behavior” or be returned to prison. This isn’t a genuine threat to Söring, since Virginia certainly doesn’t want him back. Further, under Art. 16 of the German constitution, Germany is forbidden to extradite its citizens to other countries to face trial.1
Does this apply to Söring, who’s already been convicted? That is, would Germany extradite him, since he wouldn’t face trial, but only further imprisonment? I’m unaware of any law on this interesting question, but I am near-certain Germany would not send Söring back under any circumstances. However, he could, of course, be prosecuted in Germany for any criminal act he commits here, and his previous murders could count against him. German prisons are more comfortable than American ones, but I doubt Söring wants to experience the difference personally.
He has a reputation to protect. Since the murders, Söring has been careful to project a friendly, peace-loving public image. This is one of his most powerful persuasive tools, and he knows it. Just about every reporter who’s ever interviewed him or even commented on his case reports how harmless, even wimpy, the “bespectacled German nerd” looks, and how hard it is to imagine him killing people. Any act of violence now would shatter that image forever and instantly convert most of the public to belief in his guilt.
Maybe he learned his lesson. The last time Söring acted out, it cost him nearly three and a half decades of his life. Further, Söring may well understand that he killed the Haysoms and feel genuine remorse about that crime, but will not or cannot express it publicly (for obvious reasons). We’ll never know unless he decides to come clean, but it’s possible — just as it’s possible that he has completely internalized his innocence story (see below).
He has killed people who got in his way before. As I pointed out above, murderers, in general, have a relatively low risk of re-offending. But it’s not zero! There are two groups of people in this world: Those who have killed two unsuspecting victims up close and personal by stabbing them dozens of times, and those who haven’t. Söring is in the first group, which fortunately is very small. There is something in Söring’s personality which enabled him to murder two people, and it’s still there somewhere. It may never surface again, and let’s hope it doesn’t. But it’s there.
Söring has never shown genuine remorse. The only time Söring has ever shown remorse for his crimes is at time stamp 1:29 of his June 5, 1986 confession in which he refers to “the feelings of remorse that we were discussing earlier”. Yet for the next four days, he described the crimes in cool, clinical detail, showing no remorse. The detectives who took his confessions were disturbed by his lack of emotion. Dr. John Hamilton’s report (p. 8-9) on Söring contains this passage:
Soering says he frequently however did become depressed at the thought of having left his family and career and in that context he may also have felt bad and suicidal at the thought of the killing. He said that at the funeral he felt some remorse at the thought of the suffering of the relatives and continues to feel the same together with thoughts about how his own family have suffered. This has led to him contemplating suicide….
The realisation of how he had been “conned” by Elizabeth into developing feelings of intense anger towards her parents and his consequent actions in killing them has led to his developing remorse for all that has happened, a knowledge that he has in addition ruined his own life and to suicidal ideation.
The first thing to note here is the context: Söring is talking to a friendly psychiatrist hired by his family (or the German embassy). He is striving to present as a deluded, naive, remorseful young man, so he can qualify for a lesser charge than intentional first-degree murder.
Yet even here, note how vague this is: Söring expresses “remorse”, but it’s based on all sorts of things: regret at having gotten caught, at falling for Elizabeth’s exaggerations, and at what his crimes have done to his family. There is only a fleeting reference to the survivors of the Haysom murders, and none at all to the injustice done to the Haysoms themselves.
Söring has a temper, a sense of entitlement, and thinks a lot about revenge. Söring believes he has always been entitled to a stimulating, satisfying life and financial security. Instead, he got 33 years in prison, and will always be known as a murderer. He seems unable to acknowledge that this was the direct result of him having killed two people. Instead, he evidently believes it was the result of him being manipulated, betrayed, and abandoned by a long (and ever-growing) succession of false friends and faithless traitors.
Söring also apparently believes he is entitled to defame and insult people (including his own family) without any response. He has attacked everyone involved in prosecuting him, calling them liars, incompetents, and cheaters. For example, in his “exit interview” with Sandy Hausman, he said of Virginia: “They screwed up this case. And [by agreeing to release Söring without affirming his innocence] they can save the little tattered remnants of their honor, shabby as it is.” He then calls Ricky Gardner the “so-called” lead investigator on his case and calls Gardner’s statements about Söring’s release “malarkey”. Before his PR consultants put him on a leash, Söring casually insulted people right and left, showing no regard for their reputations. Now he seems almost surprised and offended that they are defending themselves and correcting the record. Yet what else should he have expected?
As Annabel H. points out, Söring has often displayed a strong temper in his private dealings, and has articulated revenge fantasies which go beyond mere expressions of intense dislike — they’re murder fantasies, like the ones in his letters to Elizabeth. Every time Söring is asked about Elizabeth Haysom, he is unable to control the rage he still feels at her “betrayal”, even decades later. You can hear it in his tone of voice and see it in his grimace of anger. He also thinks his family betrayed him, and attacked them with sneering sarcasm in the late 2010s, before he realized how bad this made him look. His reaction after not receiving a pardon was also marked by obvious resentment and accusations of bad faith and corruption. Naturally, he also describes the former supporter who became convinced of his guilt as a “traitor”. Not just someone who disappointed him, or someone who had a legitimate difference of opinion, but a “traitor”.
He is still visibly angry about these supposed betrayals, decades after they happened. That is a worrying sign, and a symptom of several personality disorders. An article by a lawyer and social worker about borderline personality disorder, for instance, notes that people with borderline personality disorder “make a fundamental mistake about the cause of their problems. They think it’s the fault of a specific other person. They truly do not see their part in contributing to or primarily causing their own problems in life.”
His Life is Built on a Lie he Cannot Abandon without Psychological Damage. After his release from prison, Söring crafted a strategy for building a life in the public eye, and made his innocence claims the heart of that strategy. (Of course, he also wanted to capture the public’s attention and make money back in 1986, when he was a confessed murderer.) It’s interesting to speculate about whether Söring actually knows, at some level, that he really did kill the Haysoms. Other people who have maintained lies for decades in public and who later came clean — such as Lance Armstrong — admit that a part of their conscience knew all along that their life was based on a lie, and that they engaged in a constant battle to deflect and suppress that knowledge.
It may also be possible that Söring has fully internalized the lie — that he has genuinely convinced himself he is innocent, and deactivated those parts of his memory and conscience which know the truth. I quoted Adorno in one of my FAZ articles: “A German is a person who cannot tell a lie unless he believes it himself.” Or to quote an equally profound thinker, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”
Unless and until Söring comes clean, we’ll never know which is the case. But Söring shows no signs of coming clean. He knows that if he admitted his guilt, he would lose almost all of the support and attention he now enjoys. Hundreds of people worldwide would certainly be horrified and dismayed — like the supporters of Roger Keith Coleman, when a 2006 DNA test showed he had been guilty all along.
Söring is thus steering straight into a psychological crisis. A Google search now reveals plenty of accurate information showing his innocence claims to be false. The circle of people willing to accept his claims uncritically shrinks every day. Every time he appears in public, he now runs the risk of being confronted by someone who can ask questions he cannot answer (and who, unlike some German journalists, won’t conveniently leave his fumbling, stammering, unconvincing explanations on the cutting-room floor).
This is why I think there’s a chance Söring may still pose a danger: Rage and frustration may build as he realizes there’s almost nobody left who buys his story. Of course, there are many ways he might choose to deal with this crisis. The most productive and healthy way would be for Söring to seek therapy, but he has said he doesn’t feel the need for it. Söring could also simply admit his plan to become a public figure didn’t pan out, and retreat into private life.
Or he could snap, and execute some act of revenge. One hopes this would take peaceful form: A long YouTube video addressing his critics, perhaps, or maybe a firebrand posting on his website, or an ill-considered lawsuit, assuming he can find a lawyer willing to file one. Yet you have to wonder: If he really had a response to my criticisms or the Wright report, wouldn’t he already have made that video, or written that article? Instead, he has never responded to any of his critics. His 2021 book contained not a single response to the arguments Terry Wright and I had made, just innuendo and laughable personal attacks. Perhaps he’s just stewing with rage and resentment, knowing he can’t defend himself on the facts. That’s a problem, because rage and resentment have driven him to irrational violence before. Who can be sure history won’t repeat itself, if the cognitive dissonance becomes unbearable? I rate the chances as very, very low, but not zero.
In the unlikely event Söring does snap, I would likely be high on the list of targets, and by far the most convenient one to reach: The other podcast protagonists (Annabel and Terry) live in the UK — a place Söring probably would not be allowed to visit because of his criminal record (Söring was convicted of fraud in England, and the UK surely knows of his murder convictions).
So, gentle readers — if anything suspicious happens to me, you know where to begin the investigation.
- This, by the way, is (yet another) point which disproves Söring’s claim to have confessed because he thought he would be tried in Germany. While on his international flight from the law, Söring and Haysom actually traveled through Germany!: “[W]hen we counted our remaining money the next morning in Stuttgart, Germany, we found that the trip from Bangkok had left us nearly broke.” Söring could simply have turned himself in to the authorities there. They could not and would not have extradited him to the USA, since this was prohibited by the German constitution. He would have been spared any chance of the death penalty and gotten the light sentence he wanted.