Roanoke Times Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: MONDAY, April 3, 1995 TAG: 9504030027 SECTION: VIRGINIA PAGE: A1 EDITION: METRO SOURCE: DAVID M. POOLE STAFF WRITER DATELINE: LENGTH: Long
The news broke a few days later when Fleet Street tabloids called Lynchburg and Roanoke newspapers for information about the Haysom murders.
``Voodoo Killings; Two Quizzed'' screamed one front-page headline in the London Daily Mail. The tabloid reported that Scotland Yard had nabbed two University of Virginia honor students - Elizabeth Haysom and Jens Soering - on fraud charges. Two American detectives were in London to ask them about the murders of Elizabeth's parents a year earlier.
The story was such a sensation back home that the normally tight-fisted Lynchburg newspaper put police reporter Michael Fuchs on a flight to Great Britain.
Arriving at the police station where Elizabeth and Jens were held, Fuchs encountered a receptionist who professed to know nothing about the case.
``I'm standing there,'' recalled Fuchs, now a lawyer in Washington, ``and all of a sudden I realize I might have flown 3,000 miles for nothing.''
He finally managed to coax Updike and Gardner into a nearby tea and pastry shop, where they tossed him a few crumbs of information.
They did not divulge, however, that Jens and Elizabeth had confessed.
The couple told the same story: They rented a car in Charlottesville and drove to Washington, where Elizabeth stayed to establish an alibi. Jens, a knife in his pocket, drove to Lynchburg to confront her parents.
Updike and Gardner flew back to the United States and obtained indictments charging Elizabeth with two counts of first-degree murder and Jens with two counts of first-degree murder and one of capital murder.
\ Elizabeth dropped an appeal of her extradition. She would return to Bedford County and throw herself on the mercy of the court.
On Aug. 24, 1987, Elizabeth and her lawyers entered a Bedford County Circuit Court filled to capacity with family friends and spectators. Sheriff Carl Wells posted extra security around the courthouse and put a sharpshooter on the roof of a building across the street.
Clerk Carol Black read the charges aloud.
Elizabeth responded softly but clearly:
``Guilty as an accessory before the fact.''
The courtroom buzzed with surprise. It was a straight plea with no deal for a light sentence. She faced 20 years to life on each count. Judge William Sweeney scheduled a sentencing hearing for October.
The decision gave Elizabeth, then 23, the opportunity to express remorse and present her actions in the most favorable light, without having to worry about Jens' testifying against her.
But she would have to withstand a withering cross-examination by Updike.
At the sentencing hearing, Elizabeth wore shapeless clothing and pulled her hair back severely from her forehead. Updike would later say she had the appearance of a martyr - ``the Joan of Arc look.''
Under questioning by her lawyers, Elizabeth said she felt responsible for her parents' deaths and deserved life in prison.
Yet she insisted that she never intended for Jens to kill her parents. She blamed herself for failing to recognize what effect her words had on him and for not understanding he was capable of such horrible acts.
``I was overindulging in grotesque, childish fantasies,'' she said. ``I was feeling hate, anger, resentment, but I wasn't thinking murder, and it seems he was.''
The next day, Updike deployed his full prosecutorial arsenal to get Elizabeth to admit she consciously manipulated Jens into killing her parents. Updike read from her letters. He turned sarcastic. He vented outrage.
She fended off each parry.
In a recent interview, Updike recounted how his frustration grew. He realized that he had to hurry and break her composure before the lunch recess or call her back to the witness stand in the afternoon.
Just then, Elizabeth stole the moment with an eloquent speech that put the ultimate responsibility for her parents' death squarely on Jens.
``I do not want to minimize my guilt,'' she said, but ``Jens acted of his own free will. He had a choice.''
Updike quit, feeling he had been bested by a skilled actress.
``She nailed it,'' Updike said with admiration. ``I told her later that she upstaged me and beat me in the end.''
`Those yokels ...'
Judge Sweeney also expressed admiration for Elizabeth when he announced her sentence.
``It is difficult to pass judgment on someone whose IQ probably exceeds your own,'' Sweeney said. ``Elizabeth is a sensitive, poised, articulate young person who has pleaded guilty to two offenses which each carry maximum life sentences.''
He gave her 90 years in prison, making her eligible for parole before the turn of the century.
A week later, Sweeney wrote the Virginia Parole Board.
``Based on the seriousness of the charges and the heinous nature of the crimes,'' he wrote, ``I strongly feel that Elizabeth Haysom should not receive early release.''
Many people believed that the unusual letter suggested Sweeney regretted giving Elizabeth less than the maximum life sentence.
In an interview, Sweeney said he had no second thoughts about the sentence. He said he wrote the letter because he had forgotten that guidelines at the time made Elizabeth eligible for parole after serving a fraction of her sentence.
``I realize that I really intended that she serve more than eight or nine years,'' Sweeney said.
\ Jens plotted his defense from a London prison cell.
His family would apply legal and diplomatic leverage to block extradition. He would be deported to West Germany, where he would be tried for the Haysom murders. He would serve a few years in prison because he was only 18 at the time of the crimes, making him a juvenile under German law.
Yes, Jens thought he had some surprises for authorities back in Bedford County.
``Those yokels don't know what is coming down,'' he boasted in a letter to Elizabeth in the summer of 1986.
He did put up one tenacious extradition fight.
A team of attorneys based in Detroit, London and Bonn argued that sending Jens to Bedford County would violate British law because he could be sentenced to die in the electric chair. Great Britain, like most European countries, has outlawed capital punishment.
For three years, Jens' appeal wound through the British legal system and to the European Court of Human Rights.
It looked for a time as though he would get his way.
But the British government finally agreed to grant Bedford County's petition, provided that Jens not be tried for capital murder. Updike agreed to proceed with the two counts of first-degree murder, punishable by life in prison.
The fateful decision came Aug. 1, 1989, which coincidentally was a birthday for both Jens and Updike.
Jens turned 23; Updike, 36.
`I have yet to kill'
The public got its first good look at Jens at a pretrial hearing in March 1990.
His image had been frozen in time through a college yearbook photograph that newspapers had been reprinting for nearly four years. It depicted a skinny, bespectacled freshman who looked no more than 14.
His appearance had changed by the time he was led into court. He had grown pudgy. His skin was white and doughy. He was 5 feet 8 inches tall, with a weak chin and full lips. His clothes hung oddly on him. His oversize glasses regularly slid down his nose.
He appeared more pathetic than menacing, which is exactly the image his defense hoped he would convey.
Jens was born in Bangkok, Thailand, the oldest child of Klaus and Anne Claire Soering.
Because his father was a mid-level diplomat whose assignment changed every few years, Jens grew up in Cyprus, West Germany and Atlanta.
At age 11, he was enrolled at Lovett School, an exclusive college preparatory school near Atlanta. Jens excelled academically, edited the school newspaper and played guitar in an alternative rock band. But he never fit in with his classmates.
At Lovett, Soering was regarded as an intense, aloof scholar who read a lot and typed papers late into the night. He graduated with honors, topped 1300 on the SAT and won a prestigious Jefferson Scholarship to UVa.
There, he flaunted his intellectualism. Classmates considered him arrogant. His scholarly persona was reflected in a 34-page love letter to Elizabeth written during holiday break of their freshman year. Typed with meticulously numbered pages, the love letter had the look of a term paper.
He revealed his doubts about his worthiness of her love, mused about a dark side to his personality and expressed a desire to accomplish something noble.
``I'm feeling it now inside me, this need to plant one's foot in somebody's face, to always crush. ... I have not explored the side of me that wishes to crush to any real extent - I have yet to kill, possibly the ultimate act of crushing.''
Elizabeth has said that Jens' personality - and their relationship - changed after the murders. He became more demanding, more domineering.
She said the killings also aroused his sexual drive: Jens ``attacked'' her the night after the memorial service. It was the first time they had sexual intercourse, she said.
In mid-April, Elizabeth wrote Jens complaining that he had become too possessive.
``The death of my parents released me from that position,'' she said. ``I was free to choose to whom I gave my love. ... But you made the decision for me. I was truly appalled when you said, `I didn't do this for your brothers to take you away.' I thought we did it so that I could be free.''
\ On June 4, 1990, people lined up at dawn outside the Bedford County courthouse. Curiosity seekers, friends of the victims and newspaper reporters from across the state squeezed into the courtroom. Klaus Soering, on leave from his new diplomatic post in the West African nation of Mauritania, sat ramrod straight on the defense side.
The number of spectators would rise and fall throughout the three-week drama, depending on who was scheduled to testify. The pews were packed for two straight days in anticipation that Elizabeth would appear.
Attorneys with other business in the courthouse found themselves drawn upstairs to see how Updike was playing his hand and to assess the defense team, headed by Rick Neaton of Detroit.
The audience was not limited to the gallery because Bedford County happened to be the site of a pilot project for courtroom news cameras. WDBJ-TV set up a mobile production studio in the courthouse as part of its unprecedented trial coverage.
WDBJ pre-empted its late-night schedule to broadcast extended taped highlights. Night after night, Southwest Virginians were transfixed by the real-life drama.
\ From the start, Jim Updike was in control.
Judge Sweeney had denied defense motions to suppress five statements Jens made to police in 1986, to exclude sockprint evidence and to move the trial from Bedford County.
Sweeney gave the defense a partial victory by deciding to bring jurors in from Nelson County, a two-hour drive from Bedford.
But Updike had the eerie letters, written before the murders, in which Elizabeth and Jens alluded to killing her parents.
He had testimony from Elizabeth, who would incriminate Jens and, this time around, have no trouble admitting that she helped plot the murders.
He had an impression of Jens' footprint that bore an uncanny resemblance to the bloody sockprint found on the floor in the Haysoms' living room.
He had laboratory reports that Jens had Type O blood, which was consistent with five small blood stains found at the scene.
He had the confessions.
`I've killed my parents'
On the fourth day, the jurors watched a re-enactment of what Jens had told Ricky Gardner about what took place inside the Haysom home the night of March 30, 1985.
Gardner played Jens; Sheriff's Capt. Ronnie Laughlin stood in for Derek Haysom; Donna Sensabaugh, the judge's secretary, was called in to play Nancy Haysom.
Gardner narrated the re-enactment:
Derek greeted Jens at the front door. Nancy heated up leftovers.
Seated around the dining room table, Derek and Nancy informed Jens that he had no future with their daughter. At 18, he was too young. He wasn't good enough.
The Haysoms said they would do anything to separate the pair - take Elizabeth out of UVa or get Jens kicked out.
Jens rose from his chair and said, ``That's it. I don't want to hear any more.''
Derek stood up, knocked Jens against the wall, then sat back down.
At that point, Jens ``freaked out.'' He took out his knife and stabbed Derek in the neck.
Jens saw blood rushing into Derek's lap and onto his own hand. Derek cried out, ``God, you must be crazy, man.''
Nancy rushed at Soering with a knife. He managed to get behind her with his arm locked around her shoulders.
Derek came at him, and Jens used Nancy as a shield. Derek punched Jens in the face, knocking his thick glasses to the floor.
Jens then cut Nancy's throat.
Jens - who is nearsighted - said everything then became ``pretty vague.''
He last remembered Nancy walking toward the kitchen, clutching her neck. Derek was standing near the fireplace with his hands outstretched above his head.
Jens left the house and took off his bloody clothes and tennis shoes and put them in a bag in the back of the rental car.
In his socks and underwear, Jens drove to a nearby dumpster, accidentally running over a dog on the way. He threw away the clothes and the knife.
Realizing that he had left the lights on at the house and that it might draw attention from neighbors, Jens drove back to the scene.
Alone in the silent house, Jens stepped around the bodies and walked to the kitchen. He washed his hands and covered a cut on his hand with a towel. Heading to the bathroom for a bandage, he realized he was tracking blood. In his stocking feet, Jens began ``shuffling'' around to smear his footprints.
From the Haysoms' bedroom, Jens took a gray sweatshirt and put it on.
He left the house and made the three-hour drive to Washington, careful to obey the speed limit so he wouldn't be stopped by police. The radio played the pop song ``Psycho Killer.''
\ In opening statements for the defense, Neaton told the jury that evidence would point to Elizabeth as the killer. He explained that Jens provided a false confession to save his girlfriend from the electric chair.
The pressure was on Jens when he took the stand at the start of the trial's third week.
He would have to prevail on the jury to disregard his confessions and to reinterpret Updike's case against him.
Jens carefully made eye contact with jurors as he spoke softly into the microphone:
He and Elizabeth drove to Washington on Friday afternoon for a weekend getaway. Over lunch Saturday, Elizabeth confided to Jens that she owed money to a drug dealer at UVa.
Elizabeth said the dealer would forgive the debt if she would pick up a package for him in Washington. He offered to accompany her, but she declined.
Elizabeth asked him to create an alibi so she could deny her involvement if the UVa dealer threatened to tell her parents. Would he buy two tickets to several movies and order room service?
Jens agreed to help, thinking Elizabeth would be back in a few hours.
Sometime after 2 a.m., Elizabeth stormed into room with a ghostly pale complexion and dried blood streaked on her arms.
``I've killed my parents, I've killed my parents,'' Soering said Elizabeth repeated.
She pleaded with him to save her.
``I suppose my first reaction to the whole thing was that I had to protect her,'' Soering said. ``I loved the girl. ... The decision to protect Elizabeth was immediate.''
Jens said the pair agreed that Jens would confess if they were caught. The diplomat's son figured he would be deported to West Germany and stand trial there. He would be out of prison in less than five years.
They stayed up all night, with Elizabeth going over the details of the murders so he could provide a believable confession.
The jury showed no reaction.
On cross-examination, Updike suggested the story was a lie that Jens had developed over the past four years in prison.
``You're misleading the country people here in Virginia, aren't you?'' Updike drawled.
``I don't think it matters where you're from,'' Jens replied.
Updike reminded Jens of his letter in which he described Bedford County investigators as ``yokels.''
``You still think we don't know what's coming down, don't you?''
`I am innocent'
A crowd gathered at the courthouse after the jury began deliberating. TV reporters paced up and down the sidewalk, waiting for their cue to go live with the verdict.
At 6:45 p.m., the jury of six men and six women filed back into the packed courtroom after less than four hours of deliberation.
Clerk Carol Black read the verdict: guilty on both counts of first-degree murder and a recommended sentence of two life terms.
Jens, his cheeks flushed, sat motionless.
Sweeney asked if Jens knew any reason that judgment should not be pronounced. Jens shrugged and replied, ``I am innocent.''
As soon as the jurors were excused, Gardner, who had led the investigation for five years, dashed into a nearby office to embrace his wife.
Jens met briefly with his father and was then led through a media gantlet to a patrol car that would carry him to jail.
``At least we saved his life last summer,'' Neaton told reporters, referring to the European Court ruling that kept Jens from facing the death penalty.
Inside the courthouse, Updike stepped out of his office to answer questions from reporters. In the glare of TV lights, he appeared exhausted and, more than anything, relieved.
The long ordeal was over.
\ Elizabeth Haysom, 30, lives in a dormitory-style building at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland. The facility looks like a college campus, with no fences and Georgian-style buildings.
She is a model prisoner who keeps to herself. She works as an aide in the law library.
Elizabeth - who declined to be interviewed for this story - will be eligible for parole in August, four years earlier than previously reported.
She has told friends a hearing may come as soon as this month. Her chance for parole on the first try appears unlikely, given the tough stance that Gov. George Allen's parole board has taken against releasing violent offenders.
Her mandatory release date is June 20, 2023.
Her siblings have written the parole board opposing her release.
\ Ricky Gardner, 39, is still an investigator with the Bedford County Sheriff's Office. His recent caseload includes burglaries and assaults, routine stuff that comes nowhere close to the Haysom case.
Gardner never tires of reminiscing about the case. Friends know not to ask a question unless they have a few hours to kill.
\ W. Clay Thomson still has an occasional stranger pull into his driveway just to have a look. Such is the price of owning the ``Haysom house.''
After the murders, an adjoining property owner bought the house and renovated the interior. The house was rented for a year. Thomson and his wife bought it in 1987.
The history of the house does not bother them. ``We were living in Charlottesville, so we were aware of the case. But it has nothing to do with us. Anyway, there's no blood on the floor.''
\ Jens Soering, 28, lives in a maximum-security cellblock at Keen Mountain Correctional Center near the Kentucky border.
Jens, too, is a model prisoner who works in the law library.
He has written a 200-page manuscript about his experience. He has yet to find a publisher.
Jens will be eligible for parole in November 2003. He maintains his innocence and has hired a new lawyer to pursue a new trial through a claim that his constitutional rights were violated by, among other things, ineffective legal representation.
Jens granted a brief telephone interview, but it soon became apparent that he had no desire to talk with a reporter.
``Ask Newt Gingrich,'' he said. ``Everything Newt Gingrich says about reporters, I agree with.''
When a reporter tried to explain the role of the press, Jens cut him off. ``I've heard that before. You also will say you love dogs, and I'm sure Adolph Hitler did, too.''
\ Rick Neaton, 45, gave up his law practice in Detroit three years after he defended Jens.
Neaton said he ``retired'' and moved to Florida, where he trades commodities from his Port Charlotte home.
Neaton said leaving Detroit had nothing to with a complaint from a former client charging him with misappropriation, misrepresentation and neglect of duty. A hearing was held in February. A decision by the Michigan Attorney Disciplinary Board is pending.
Neaton wished Jens well. ``He should win, even if they have to call me a crappy lawyer to do it.''
\ James Updike, 41, sought to parlay his popularity as a made-for-TV prosecutor into a bid for Virginia attorney general in 1993. He lost.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly appointed him a General District judge.
Updike will leave behind a 15-year legacy as a captivating performer who made the most of the serendipitous combination of sensational murders and television exposure.
The Haysom case was his best performance.
``I don't know if anyone cares about it anymore,'' Updike said, ``but it was an important part of our lives.''