The Netflix documentary series Till Murder Do Us Apart: Soering vs. Haysom makes us privy to one of those cases in which, even after the judgment was given by the court of law, people had doubts about what had actually happened on that day when the crime was committed and who was guilty of murdering Derek and Nancy Haysom. It often happens in legal systems that when the evidence available is insufficient to prove the guilt or innocence of a person, then the jury and the court have to form their opinions based on which side presents the comparatively stronger narrative. In such cases all around the globe, the doubt that the court has convicted the wrong person is always there. It reminds me of an infamous case in India where a girl named Arushi Talwar was murdered, and her parents were convicted by the court. It was considered a case of honor killing, but later, it was found out that there were many discrepancies in the entire investigation, and the law enforcement agencies did not do their work impartially. So, let’s find out what happened in this particular case and what conclusion the court finally came to.
What happened between Elizabeth and Jens?
Elizabeth and Jens had both come to the University of Virginia under the Echols Scholar program, and it was evident that both of them were exceptional students, and their parents believed that they would achieve something great in life. Elizabeth was a free-spirited and good-looking girl, and people were surprised when she made the unlikely choice of being in a relationship with Jens. They never believed that Jens was Elizabeth’s type, but apparently, she had fallen for him, and they both dreamt of the day when they would finish college and start a life together. But on March 30, 1985, everything changed when the news came from Virginia that Elizabeth’s parents had been brutally murdered in their house. The house hadn’t been robbed, and so the investigators, Chuck Reid and Ricky Gardener, came to the conclusion that the crime was committed by someone who had a personal enmity with the elderly couple.
After the preliminary investigation, the detectives couldn’t find any potential leads, and there was no suspect that they came across. They had interrogated Elizabeth during the investigation, and she told them that she had an alibi, as during the time of the murder, she was with her boyfriend, Jens, in Washington, DC. She had the film tickets for the same date, and the police officers didn’t have any reason to suspect her. But then suddenly, Elizebeth and Jens both flew to Europe and subsequently to Thailand, where they stayed for a little while, arranged for all the forged documents, and then came to Richmond, United Kingdom. Using the forged documents, they got a checkbook, which they used to buy clothes, and then later returned it to get the cash back. They used that cash to sustain themselves, but their fraud came to light when a store investigator got suspicious of them.
Ken Beever and Terry Wright, the ones investigating the case, searched their home and found that they studied at the University of Virginia. It was Terry Wright who gave a call to Ricky Gardner in the United States and informed them that they had the suspects in the Haysom killings with them. Elizabeth returned to the United States of America, but since Jens was a German national, he stayed back and hoped that the British government was not going to extradite him. Two important things that happened here were that firstly, Jens confessed to having killed Derek and Nancy, and secondly, he knew that if he went back to the USA, he would get capital punishment, which is why he wanted the German government to take him in as the punishment was much less severe there. It seemed like a pretty straightforward case at that juncture, but what the world didn’t know was that both of them were very soon going to make everything so muddled that till the very end, nobody would be able to ascertain what actually happened on that fateful day.
What happened during the trial?
First, when Elizabeth Haysom went back to the United States of America, she made it feel like she was full of remorse, and she said that she was involved in the murder of her parents. Then, slowly, she started opening her cards and told the court that it was Jens who had gone back to Lynchburg, Virginia, and killed her parents. She accepted that he came back to her and told her everything, but still, she chose to hide his crimes from the law enforcement authorities because saving him had become the most important thing for her. She said that she had become addicted to him and could no longer differentiate good from bad. Elizabeth was given life imprisonment, and then the court and the lawyers waited for the day when Jens was brought back to the USA, and legal proceedings were initiated against him. About five years after the gruesome murders, Jens Soering was brought back to the country on the condition that he wouldn’t be given capital punishment. Now, here’s where the circus began, as Jens Soering testified in court and said that the confession he had given earlier was false and that he had done it just to save his girlfriend. He said that it was not him, but Elizabeth, who had killed her parents, and he was the one who had stayed back in Washington, DC, and watched that film, the tickets for which had been presented by Elizabeth in court earlier.
When Jens came back to the USA, Richard Neaton was his lawyer, and he told the court how the hair follicles, the shoe print, the cigarette, the fingerprints, and everything else retrieved from the crime scene pointed towards the fact that it was Elizabeth and not him who had committed the murder. But then Jim Updike, the prosecutor, came to cross-examine Jens, and presented a very strong counterargument. Jim Updike’s entire case relied on the O-type blood found at the scene and also the blood-soaked sock print, which was an exact match with that of Jens. Neaton realized that Jens, in his overconfidence, had committed a mistake, and it was his fault that Jim’s narrative felt more convincing. The proceedings in Till Murder Do Us Apart: Soering vs. Haysom made it very clear that neither the defendants nor the prosecutors had any evidence that proved who was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
What was the verdict of the court?
The jury took time, and finally, they came to the decision that Jens Soering was guilty of murdering Derek and Nancy, and he was sentenced to life. After the judgment was read out in court, Jens Soering said that he was not guilty, and there seemed to be a sort of resilience in the man’s eye. Society considered him a killer, but he kept his quest alive, and he kept contacting people, asking them to help his cause and somehow make the court reopen his case file. Governor Tim Kaine in 2010 accepted his request for parole, as Jens had come in contact with some influential people of the Catholic Church who were on good terms with the governor. But as soon as the new governor, Bob McConnell, came to the helm of affairs, he quashed the request. Things started to move in Jens’ favor when the former president of Germany, Christian Wulff, pleaded with the parole board to allow Jens to go back to his homeland. Jens and Elizabeth were both released in 2019, but the court did not accept that they were not guilty. The parole was granted on the basis that they had served enough time in prison and additionally because there was a lot of political pressure being put on the authorities in Virginia.
Was Jens Soering innocent?
There were a lot of discrepancies that were found by former sheriff Chip Harding, who came in contact with the famous writer John Grisham, who was also a former member of the Mississippi House of Representatives, and became interested in the case. The DNA samples from the crime scene were sent to be tested in the lab, and they were found to be inconsistent with Jens’ DNA, which strengthened his point even more. But then there were experts who said that the sock print was very strong evidence that proved that Jens had been there in Haysom House on that fateful day. It all became too confusing for anyone to come to any definite conclusion.
The best theory that could probably explain what happened on March 30th was that both Elizabeth and Jens were involved in the murder, and later, to save themselves, they excluded themselves from their testimonies and narrated the entire thing as it was. When Jens confessed, he told everything in great detail and that made it seem like he was actually present there. Things like him hitting a dog when he was leaving Derek’s house were something that couldn’t have been made up, and moreover, there was no use in including that kind of detail unless and until it actually happened to him. After reading about the case and watching Till Murder Do Us Apart: Soering vs. Haysom, we are also inclined to believe in the theory that it is both their doing and they were equally involved. We believe that they had planned everything from before, and when they realized that they would be caught, that’s when they changed their plan of action and turned against each other.
The people who were, unfortunately, part of the entire ordeal and who witnessed the court proceedings firsthand in Soering vs. Haysom cannot forget about it because it was mind boggling how the tables were turning every single day. From lawyers to experts, everybody might have their own theory, but the fact remains that the truth is known by only two people, and probably, the world would never come to know about what happened in the Haysom House in Lynchburg, Virginia, on that fateful night.