Roanoke Times
                 Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: SUNDAY, April 2, 1995                   TAG: 9504030018
SECTION: VIRGINIA                    PAGE: A-1   EDITION: METRO 
DATELINE:                                 LENGTH: Long


The Haysom investigation appeared to be at a standstill in the summer of 1985, a few months after the couple were butchered in their retirement cottage just outside Lynchburg.

New leads had slowed to a trickle. A 12-member regional homicide squad had disbanded. Bedford County Sheriff Carl Wells sent most of his officers back to their regular duties and reassigned a top investigator to the unrelated murder of a Lynchburg man whose burned and beheaded body had been discovered in the county.

At the end of August, nearly 100 residents confronted Wells at Boonsboro Elementary School, demanding a progress report on the investigation and a response to rumors swirling around the community.

"I have reason to believe that we are in danger, and if we are not, I want to know why," one man said.

People feared that a random killer had slit the Haysoms' throats and might strike again in the affluent Boonsboro area, where homes sit on spacious lots sit atop ridges with spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Others wondered whether an anti-apartheid assassin had been sent to kill the South African-born Derek Haysom, 72, and his wife, Nancy, 53.

The most persistent rumor focused on a Lynchburg woman who had been jilted by one of the Haysoms' sons. Word had it that the woman had all but confessed, but that police were reluctant to make an arrest because of her family's political connections and money.

Wells apologized that he could not talk about the investigation, other than ruling out robbery as a motive. He assured residents they were in no danger.

He also denied rumors of possible suspects and a coverup by his department, saying he was confident the case would end with an arrest.

What Wells did not say was that authorities had ruled out the jilted woman as a suspect. A few weeks earlier, the state forensic laboratory in Richmond concluded that the woman could not have made the bloody sock print found on the living room floor of the Haysom home.

Ricky Gardner, a Bedford County sheriff's investigator working his first homicide case, returned to the list of possible suspects.

Gardner kept coming back to the couple's youngest daughter, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Haysom, then 21, was in Europe that summer. She was traveling with her boyfriend, Jens Soering, the 18-year-old son of a West German diplomat stationed in Detroit.

The two honor students were expected back that fall for the start of their second year at the University of Virginia.

Elizabeth had been cooperative with investigators after her parents' deaths, but Gardner realized that her whereabouts during the weekend of the murders demanded further scrutiny.

Elizabeth claimed that she and Jens had rented a car in Charlottesville and driven to Washington, D.C., for a weekend getaway. But they returned the car with 669 miles on the odometer - 429 miles more than a round trip to Washington.

Gardner and his partner had asked Elizabeth about the discrepancy in April, but didn't challenge her explanation that the couple got lost on the way and drove around a lot in Washington. Now Gardner wanted another crack at it.

One of Elizabeth's siblings confided in Gardner about suspicions of his own.

Howard Haysom, a physician who lives in Texas, recalled how his half-sister remained aloof from the family at the memorial service, sticking close to Jens and her college roommate.

Howard also was horrified by a remark Elizabeth made as family members cleaned the house after the memorial service. "Oh, look," she said casually, "there's a piece of father's brain on the fireplace."

A family friend also believed there was something sinister about Elizabeth.

She provided Gardner with a photograph that Elizabeth had sent from her European travels with Jens. The photo showed a reflection of Jens in a storefront window, holding aloft a bottle of wine. The camera angle superimposed a lion's head - reflected from a sign across the street - atop Jens' body in a way that made him appear half man, half beast.

The woman was spooked by the picture and thought it might hold a hidden message about the killings.

To make a case, however, Gardner needed more than a sibling's hunch and an artsy snapshot.

`Too much at stake'

The forensic lab provided fresh leads.

Chemists found that most of the blood stains inside the Haysoms' cottage were consistent with the victims' blood types: Type A and Type AB.

But five small blood stains - one on the floor of an upstairs bathroom and four on the front door - were Type O.

(DNA tests - which can create genetic "fingerprints" from blood samples - were not a common procedure in 1985. The state lab disposed of the blood stains, ruling out the possibility of a future DNA match).

When UVa opened in the fall, Gardner set out to contact Elizabeth and Jens to persuade them to provide blood samples, fingerprints and footprints.

Elizabeth complied, but Jens kept putting Gardner off.

On Oct. 6, Jens drove to the Bedford County Sheriff's Department to talk his way out of the request. He described himself as a clean-cut guy with a four-year, tuition-free scholarship to UVa.

"There's too much at stake to do something dumb," he told Gardner.

He also said that any involvement in a murder investigation - even providing physical evidence - could jeopardize his father's diplomatic job at the West German consulate in Detroit and might trigger his deportation.

Gardner bluffed that authorities might have enough evidence - such as the rental car odometer - to obtain a search warrant to force Jens to comply.

Jens finally agreed and set up an appointment in Charlottesville a week later, after his mid-term exams.

When the date arrived, Jens and Elizabeth had disappeared.

It wasn't the first time Elizabeth had run away.

In July 1983, after final exams her senior year at an exclusive English boarding school, Elizabeth and another girl took off and romped around Europe.

The girls - who had become lovers - picked grapes in France; fell in with a Hari Krishna sect in Italy; got robbed in Nice; and gobbled all the drugs they could find.

By October, they found themselves in West Berlin - strung out and broke. They appeared at the British consulate, where they were met by Stuart Herrington, a British colonel and Haysom family friend.

A clear picture of Elizabeth's resentment of her parents emerges from a letter that Herrington wrote to Nancy Haysom a few weeks later.

"I can see clearly that you and your husband have a record of accomplishments with your children that is impressive, to say the least," Herrington wrote. "But it is equally true that your children seem unanimous that you are a strong-willed person and that Elizabeth is not the first one to chafe under such 'determined wisdom.'

"She is unerringly on a course of 'independence' that makes the University of Virginia unattractive because her family (her mother, whom she loves and admires) will be too close."

The Haysoms had worked hard shaping Elizabeth's life; after raising five children in previous marriages, the couple viewed her as their last chance to get it right.

Elizabeth's resentment smoldered during the six years she spent in boarding schools. She saw her parents only a few times a year, but in her mind they became an omnipresent force that lorded over her.

After her European adventure, Elizabeth came to the United States and enrolled at UVa in the fall of 1984.

But she seethed, complaining to classmates about her alienation from her parents.

"It was almost like she was testing us," Jonathan Greenberg, a fellow UVa Echols Scholar, told Albemarle Magazine. "She had mentioned problems with her parents, but I couldn't relate to that at all. Maybe I failed her test."

Elizabeth would find a sympathetic listener in Jens.

`We have the murderers here'

After Elizabeth and Jens skipped town in October 1985, her brother Howard pressed for murder warrants.

But James W. Updike Jr. would not be rushed.

The Bedford County prosecutor had developed a dramatic and aggressive courtroom style since he was first elected in 1979, at age 26.

He subscribed to the theory that cases are won with dogged preparation. His reputation was established in the legal community long before he became a household name in Southwest Virginia, courtesy of a string of sensational murders in the late 1980s and the advent of cameras in the Bedford County Circuit Court in 1987.

The Haysom murders were the biggest case of his career, and Jim Updike was not about to blow it by bringing charges based on a suspicious disappearance that could be nothing more than wanderlust and extra miles on a rental car that could be explained in any number of ways.

Updike and Gardner would wait until they came up with something solid.

As the fall turned to winter, a few more leads emerged.

Airline information indicated that Elizabeth and Jens caught separate flights to Europe. His Volkswagen sports car was recovered at National Airport outside Washington.

Gardner asked Interpol, the international law enforcement agency, to let him know if they turned up any record of Elizabeth and Jens, who were traveling with Canadian and West German passports.

On Nov. 8, the state forensic lab concluded that Elizabeth could not have left the bloody sock print inside her parents' home.

The other Haysom children quietly filed a petition in Bedford County Circuit Court that removed Elizabeth as co-executor of her parents' estate, which was valued at $175,000.

In March 1986, local newspapers marked the one-year anniversary of the murders with a spate of retrospective stories. There was no mention of Elizabeth and Jens leaving UVa or of the family's court action against her.

Two months later, Gardner was studying reports at his desk when the phone rang. A man with a British accent identified himself as Detective Constable Terry Wright of the Metropolitan Police in London.

Gardner didn't catch the man's name at first. He figured it was a prank by Chuck Reid, his old partner who had left the department a few months earlier.

Gardner played along, until he realized this was no joke. Wright was telling him that his department had Elizabeth and Jens in custody on suspicion of bank fraud and had recovered some suspicious letters in their flat.

"Are her parents dead?" Wright asked.

"Yes." Gardner could hear his heart pounding.

"Were they murdered?"


There was a pause.

"Best you come over and talk with them," Wright said. "I believe we have the murderers here."

Gardner was so excited that he had to tell Updike in person. He sped across town and vaulted up the stairs to Updike's office on the second floor of the Bedford County Courthouse.

Updike and Gardner began making arrangements to fly to London. A travel agent was sworn to secrecy. The office of U.S. Rep. Dan Daniel greased the skids with the passport office. Neither Updike nor Gardner had ever been out of the country.

Nine years later, Updike and Gardner talk in wide-eyed amazement when they recount the adventure.

"It's like Goober and Gomer goes to England," Gardner said.

Store detective Seston Welland thought there was something odd about two shoppers who entered the Marks & Spencer department store in suburban London.

The young man and woman seemed to know each other, yet they avoided eye contact as they made their way through the store. The man exchanged some items for a cash refund, paid for some women's clothing with a check and then met the woman outside.

Welland followed the couple to a subway stop, where she spotted an undercover police officer she knew and had the couple detained.

The couple identified themselves as Canadian student Christopher Platt Noe and his wife, writer Tara Lucy Noe. But their story unraveled when they were interrogated.

They admitted trying to defraud Marks & Spencer, which is known for its no-questions-asked return policy. Police searched their flat and found the floor covered with Marks & Spencer shopping bags, each pinned with meticulous notes on when they were purchased and by whom.

London police also found identification cards with several different names, but each with identical pictures of the couple. What began to emerge was an elaborate fraud scheme in which the couple opened bank accounts under various aliases, wrote bad checks for goods at Marks & Spencer and then exchanged the goods for cash.

Police found a diary with entries from Europe, Yugoslavia and Thailand. They also found two passports and two University of Virginia student identification cards in the names of Elizabeth Haysom and Jens Soering.

Police also discovered a thick bundle of letters. Wright spent days reading through the correspondence, which expressed hostility toward Elizabeth's parents and made veiled references to their deaths.

The fraud investigation had taken a more serious turn.

`Voodoo is possible'

The murders began as a fantasy that festered in Elizabeth's mind.

She loved her parents, but hated their control over her. If only she could close her eyes and make them disappear.

"Would it be possible to hypnotise [sic] my parents, do voodoo on them, will them to death?" Elizabeth wrote to Soering during their 1984 Christmas recess, just weeks after they started dating. "It seems my concentration on their death is causing them problems. My father nearly drove over a cliff at lunch .... my mother (drunk) fell into the fire. I think I shall seriously take up black magic."

Jens embroidered the death theme in his typed reply.

"The fact that there have been many burglaries in the area opens the possibility for another one with the same general circumstances, only this time the unfortunate owners ... By the way, .... 'voodoo,' etc. is possible."

The two had seemed inseparable when they returned to UVa for the spring semester. But Elizabeth kept part of her life hidden from Jens, according to Amy Lemley, a former editor of Albemarle Magazine and the only journalist ever to interview Elizabeth.

Elizabeth told Lemley that the strait-laced Jens never caught on to her frequent use of drugs, including heroin. Elizabeth also said that Jens - a virgin whom she claimed was impotent - never knew about numerous sexual liaisons she had while they were dating.

"I don't think it ever crossed his mind," Elizabeth told Lemley. "He didn't perceive any other threat except my parents."

Jens panicked after Elizabeth returned from a weekend in Boonsboro for her father's birthday on March 23, one week before the slayings.

Things had gone surprisingly well. Her parents had agreed to give her more independence, allow her to study that summer in Europe and move into an off-campus rooming house her sophomore year.

Elizabeth told Lemley that Jens demanded she spend the next weekend with him. They would rent a car and go Washington.

"It suddenly became real," Elizabeth testified at his trial in 1990. "We were going to conspire to commit murder. Jens and I, we drove around Washington, we argued as we drove, and we talked and decided on an alibi."

TOMORROW: The trial

 by CNB