Virginia’s parole board is again considering the case of Jens Soering, a UVA honors student from Germany, convicted of killing his girlfriend’s parents in 1985.
Soering has been behind bars for 27 years, but in certain circles there are persistent doubts, and his story remains in the news. In part one of our series,
On March 30, 1985, police found the bodies of Derek Haysom, a retired Canadian steel executive, and his wife, Nancy Astor Haysom, in their home near Lynchburg – the place they called Loose Chippings. They had been brutally murdered.
“This is the way we found Mr. Haysom, just inside the front door, and you can see all the blood on the slate floor.”
Ricky Gardner was a newly minted detective with the Bedford County Sheriff’s office. Today, 28 years later, he pages through a notebook of photos from the crime scene.
“Mr. Haysom was stabbed 36 times. His throat was cut. And Ms. Haysom was stabbed six or seven times, and her neck was also severed.”
The couple’s 20-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, was a student at the University of Virginia. On the weekend when her parents were killed, she said she was in Washington. She claimed to have rented a car and traveled to DC with her 18-year-old boyfriend Jens Soering. Gardner checked on that rental car and was intrigued. It had gone 669 miles.
“Charlottesville to Washington, DC to Loose Chippings, back to Washington, DC and back to Charlottesville – that’s right about 669 miles.”
In early October, Gardner met with Soering, who denied any part in the murders. A few days later, he and Elizabeth left the country. “An innocent person don’t run. So that’s one more piece of the puzzle.”
For months, they traveled in Asia and Europe before being arrested for check fraud in England. When questioned about the murders, Jens – the son of a German diplomat -- said he committed the crime, because the Haysoms disapproved of his relationship with Elizabeth.
“He knocked on the Haysom’s door and said that he was visiting a friend in North Carolina, and was on his way back to Charlottesville. He knew they hated him, but he said that he went there initially hoping to change their mind, but if not, he was prepared to kill them.”
But another story would emerge before his trial began.
“He thought that he had diplomatic immunity, that he would not be tried in the United States – that he would be sent to Germany.”
Gail Starling Marshall was a deputy attorney general in Virginia from 1986 to 1994. She says Germany is more lenient when it comes to crimes committed by young people, and there’s greater emphasis on rehabilitation. Teenaged killers can be released after only a decade, and Soering said he would gladly spend ten years behind bars to save his first lover from the electric chair.
“He was a virgin. He was a non-drinker. He was not a drug user. He was a nerd really. I think he was overwhelmed that this glamorous woman was attracted to him, and he also knew that she would be tried in Virginia – that Virginia had the death penalty, and so he thought, ‘Knight in shining armor! I can give up ten years of my life, but it’s worth it for this woman I love.’”
When Jens and Elizabeth were caught in England, he admitted the crime. Details of his confession, a diagram he drew of the crime scene, the manner in which the Haysoms' throats were cut, corresponded closely with what police had found. He was not, in fact, entitled to diplomatic protection, because his father worked at the consulate in Detroit, not the embassy in Washington. And so, in 1990, he was tried and convicted – getting two life sentences for the crime.
But Marshall, who handled one of his appeals, continues to assert his innocence, and in our next report we’ll tell you why many Germans want Soering freed.