Proving a False Confession: Soering Insists He's Innocent

Apr 28, 2016

Earlier this year, Governor Terry McAuliffe issued a pardon to Robert Davis – a man convicted of a brutal double murder after he falsely confessed to the crime.  McAuliffe did not pardon another convicted killer, a former UVA honors student from Germany.  Jens Soering insists he also gave a false confession, hoping to save the real killer from execution. The fatal love story of Jens Soering and Elizabeth Haysom will soon be told in a documentary called The Promise.  Sandy Hausman has details.

If you lived in Virginia in 1985, chances are you know the story.  Jens Soering, the son of a German diplomat was accused of killing his girlfriend’s parents in their Bedford County home.

Ricky Gardner was a rookie detective when the bodies were found.  He’s convinced that Jens Soering was the killer, noting he and Elizabeth Haysom left town as soon as they became suspects.

“An innocent person don’t run," he concludes.  

Soering and Haysom traveled the world before being arrested in England where they were charged with check fraud.  After being questioned for more than 16 hours over four days, Soering confessed to the crime.  But today, he says that confession is proof of his innocence.  

“The way you can tell it’s a false confession is by checking what I said against the physical evidence at the crime scene,” he explains.  "I told the police that I acted alone.  What they found at the crime scene was all four blood groups – the two blood groups of the victims and two other blood groups, so that already tells you, at the very least, there were at least two perpetrators.

Now one of those blood types -- type O -- was his, but years later,  when technology allowed for DNA testing, investigators found no sign of Soering in the Haysom home.

“The police tested 42 blood samples from the crime scene," Soering recalls. "Thirty-one of those were too small or too degraded to yield positive identification, but 11 of the blood samples could be tested, and all of those were from somebody else – definitely not me."

Police have never identified the fingerprint on a glass at the Haysom’s table or a strand of hair from the sink where traces of blood were found.  Soering claimed to have used a butterfly knife to commit the crime, but that’s not what investigators thought when they studied the injuries inflicted.  They believed the murder weapon was a hunting knife like the one found when a Bedford County Sheriff’s Deputy stopped two men a few days after the crime.  

“He put one of them in the patrol car in the back and frisked one of them, and then he put the other one in the back of the patrol car and frisked the first one, and then he let them go," Soering says.  "Later on, when he returned to the police station, he found this buck knife – this hunting knife – in the back of the patrol car. "

Police did not question the two about the Haysom murders, but they would later be convicted of another murder in Roanoke using a knife.  That fact alarmed journalist and filmmaker Karin Steinberger.  I spoke with her at a Munich café.

“You know killing with knives is not very usual," she says. "It is actually very hard to kill a person with a knife.  This was never, ever mentioned in court.”

In 1996, lawyers brought that discovery to the attention of a judge, who ruled it would not have changed the outcome of Soering’s trial. Karin Steinberger’s documentary challenges that point and suggests the existence of a missing FBI  profile of the killer – a woman who was close to her victims. None of this has swayed Governor Terry McAuliffe, who had the chance to send Soering back to Germany but decided to keep him behind bars in Virginia.  We’ll hear from him in our next report.