Love, Murder, and Confessions: Did He Do It?

The story of Jens Söering and Elizabeth Haysom should be a lesson to all the googly-eyed love birds who think they’ll do “anything” for love. These two met in the mid-‘80s, fell in love, became inseparable, and three months later they found themselves convicted of killing Elizabeth’s parents.

Jens Soering / Elizabeth Haysom / Jens Soering / Jens Soering, Elizabeth Haysom.
Source: Getty Images

This wasn’t some random murder, either; her parents’ heads were nearly decapitated, okay… Eventually, the thread started to unravel, and the details came to light. Apparently, Elizabeth’s parents were against their relationship, which “infuriated” Jens, which in turn made Elizabeth angry and resentful of her parents. It was all downhill from there…

The Gifted Son

Jens Soering is the son of a mid-level German diplomat. He’s technically German, but he was born in Thailand (in 1966) and mostly grew up in America. With his excellent grades, he got into the University of Virginia for free. In the fall of 1984, he met another gifted student, 20-year-old Elizabeth Haysom.

Jens Soering from a yearbook picture.
Jens Soering. Source: Facebook

Haysom, originally from Canada, was the daughter of Derek and Nancy Haysom, a cultured couple who tried to control and nag their daughter into becoming an upstanding citizen. They had a tough time raising her, so they sent her to boarding school in England. It was only a matter of time until she rebelled…

The Rebellious Daughter

Elizabeth ran away from school, hitchhiked her way around Europe for months, experimented with drugs and sex, the typical kind of rebellion. She eventually made it back home and enrolled in the University of Virginia. But her hatred of her parents never went away.

A dated portrait of Elizabeth Haysom in her teens.
Elizabeth Haysom. Source: Facebook

Once she met Jens, her world changed. As their relationship developed, so did the way she viewed her parents. Her hate grew deeper, and Jens started to join her in the loathing. It didn’t help that Derek and Nancy never liked Jens from the moment they met him. The thing about Jens is that he knew he was smart, and it proved to be his tragic flaw.

The Controlling Parents

The Haysoms tried to make Elizabeth end her relationship with the strange, arrogant young German. Obviously, she refused. The problem for Elizabeth was that she was still dependent on them financially. She also had to spend the holidays at home with them in Loose Chippings, a suburb of Lynchburg, Virginia.

An image of Elizabeth Haysom in court.
Elizabeth Haysom. Source: YouTube

It came to the point where Elizabeth realized her parents were never going to support her and Jens’ relationship, and so an idea took hold. What if her parents were out of the way? Jens would write her letters, confessing his “excessively bizarre sexual fantasies” and thoughts about killing…

The Tragic Plan

“I have not yet explored the side of me that wishes to crush to any real extent—I have yet to kill, possibly the ultimate act of crushing…” he wrote in one letter. He got specific, too: “The fact that there have been many burglaries [near Loose Chippings] opens the possibility for another one with the same general circumstances, only this time the unfortunate owners…”

An indoor photo from Haysom’s residence.
Source: ABC News

The idea: kill the parents, inherit their estate, and live there together as lovers. Their letters to each other were something out of a Russian novel and are absolutely outrageous. But these two were in love and serious about getting rid of the obstacles in their way.

The Day of the Murders

Their plans were realized on March 30th, 1985. Jens and Elizabeth rented a car, drove to Washington, D.C., where they booked a room at the Marriott Hotel. Elizabeth was working on an alibi. As Jens was driving the car back to Loose Chippings, she bought movie tickets, room service for two (she forged Jens’ signature) and made calls to pretend like she was talking to him.

Police tape marks the home of Derek and Nancy Haysom.
Photo by Mark Bailey

Jens showed up to the Haysoms’ home, which was surprising since he had never been there before. Still, they let him in and invited him to join them for dinner.

A Duel to the Death

According to Jens’ later confessions, the couple had already been drinking. They served him some drinks, on top of the beers Jens (an inexperienced drinker) drank on the ride over for courage. What started out as a civilized conversation escalated into a shouting match.

Officers examine evidence on the porch of Derek and Nancy Haysom's residence.
Photo by Aubrey Wiley

Jens suddenly attacked Derek with a knife, cutting his throat. But Derek, as Jens described later, “just wouldn’t lie down and die.” It was a duel to the death and Derek lost. He was stabbed 48 time (14 in the back) and was almost decapitated.

A Sad Attempt at Destroying the Evidence

Jens was left with a wounded hand. What about Nancy? Well, she ran to the kitchen to get a knife… She wanted to defend her husband, but Jens was stronger than her. He took the knife from her hands and slit her throat.

A closeup of the officers examining the crime scene.
Photo by Aubrey Wiley

The deed was done and now Jens had to remove the evidence. First, he took off his bloody clothes, put them in a garbage bag and threw it in a dumpster outside. He then cleaned up some of the blood in the kitchen and bathroom.

The Bloody Socks

He said he smeared the stains around the floor and other surfaces to blur any shoe marks or fingerprints. On his way out, he noticed the front porch light was still on. So, he reentered with bloody socks to turn off the light.

An image of Jens sitting in court.
Source: Roanoke Times file photo

He didn’t know that the switch was located in the master bedroom instead of near the front door. So, the light remained on, and, yes, it attracted suspicion. He drove back to Washington, D.C. and arrived at the hotel without pants (he had thrown them away earlier).

Let the Questioning Begin

It took three days for someone to find the Haysoms’ bodies. A close family friend, Annie Massie, was the one to find them. Everyone was baffled: who would want to kill the Haysoms? There was no sexual assault, no theft, and no signs of forced entry.

A photo of a footprint at the crime scene.
Source: Bedford County Circuit Court

It was clear that they had let the killer into their home voluntarily. FBI profiler Ed Sulzbach surveyed the crime scene and speculated that the killer might have been a female, and that she knew the victims. The Haysom family members were questioned…

Sticking to Their Alibi

The authorities learned about the tension between Elizabeth and her parents. They also noted that Elizabeth acted strangely during her interviews. A man from the neighborhood told the police that he saw Jens with a bruise on his face and bandages on his hand at the Haysoms’ funeral.

A family photo of Elizabeth with her father.
Elizabeth Haysom, Derek Haysom. Source: Pinterest

When the cops asked Jens and Elizabeth why there was an extra 600 miles on their rental car, they had no good answer, other than they got lost repeatedly. The killer couple stuck to their Washington, D.C. alibi, which was basically indisputable.

The Lack of Evidence

The problem for investigators was how little physical evidence they had to go on. No bloody fingerprints were found at the crime scene. And the rental car showed no indications of blood. The police did find slightly smeared sock-prints, though.

A dated photo of Derek and Nancy during an event.
Derek Haysom, Nancy Haysom. Source: Pinterest

Jens and Elizabeth didn’t know that the police were extremely low on evidence. That information, following standard procedure, was kept secret. All the while, the couple was anxiously wondering if the authorities were on to them or not. The truth is, with all other suspects excluded, Elizabeth and Jens were indeed at the top of the suspect list.

Fleeing the Country

By October of 1985, Jens was still denying any involvement. The police requested that he provide a blood sample, his fingerprint, and footprint samples – the same as Elizabeth did. What did he do instead?

A video still of Jens in court.
Source: NBC 12

He emptied his bank accounts, wiped his fingerprints from his apartment and car, and fled the country on October 13th, 1985, leaving his life and education behind. Obviously, that placed him at the top of the suspect list. Elizabeth soon joined him abroad, and together they bummed around Asia and Europe.

Young, Dumb, and on the Run

They did this for months, living on odd jobs and petty fraud. But they got sloppy with their petty theft (scamming stores by buying and returning expensive items). And about a year later, the fugitive couple were caught by a detective in London.

A photo of Elizabeth in court.
Elizabeth Haysom. Photo by Aubrey Wiley

Jens gave the police a fake name, Christopher Platt Noe, but consented to a search of the apartment he and Elizabeth were sharing in London. It was the beginning of the end for them, as Jens made mistake after mistake when dealing with the authorities.

The Pieces Were Falling into Place

Detectives found his German passport and the letters between him and Elizabeth. The two even kept a joint travel diary to document their Bonnie-and-Clyde style of romance as they fled the feds. The London Metropolitan Police (aka the Scotland Yard) were now assigned to the case.

Elizabeth cries in court.
Elizabeth Haysom. Source: YouTube

Detectives read the couple’s diaries and saw Jens’ bizarre fantasies, his references to violent crime, and more. Detective Terry Wright pieced it all together and called the authorities in Bedford County, Virginia, where the murders were committed.

Let the Confessions Begin

On June 5th, 1985, Jens and Elizabeth, who were already in custody, were questioned about the murders. Jens was allowed to speak to his lawyer and the German embassy on the first day of his questioning. He waived his right to see his lawyer and voluntarily answered the questions.

An investigator testifies during the trial.
Bedford Investigator Ricky Gardner. Photo by Lyn Hey

Over the following four days, Jens described how he and Elizabeth planned the alibi, how he drove to her parents’ house, drank cocktails with them, killed them in a frantic argument, and cleaned up the crime scene.

The Easiest of Confessions

Without any pressure, he gave them all the details – ones only the killer could have known. Why would he confess so easily? Well, he thought the police already had enough evidence to convict him. He assumed Elizabeth was telling the police everything, and he figured the fingerprints he provided were already matched to the crime-scene fingerprints.

A picture of the Defense Attorney and the Commonwealth Attorney.
Defense Attorney Richard A. Neaton, Commonwealth Attorney James W. Updike. Photo by Mark L. Thompson

Basically, Jens was sadly mistaken, and his assumptions placed him right in the gutter. The one thing he denied at this point was that there was a premeditated plan to kill the Haysoms.

He “Only” Slit Their Throats

He refused to admit to bringing a knife to the house (a sign of intent). He said he acted in drunken rage and didn’t fully grasp what he was doing. He claimed that he “only” slit their throats, and that someone else stabbed them.

A dated image of Nancy and Derek sitting on a sunny day.
Nancy Haysom, Derek Haysom. Source: ABC News

He consistently emphasized that he was confused and disoriented that night. He also admitted to the police that he was terrified of getting the death sentence. He just wanted to minimize his guilt. It was all his way of securing a “diminished capacity” or “diminished responsibility” defense.

Anything to Avoid the Death Penalty

Jens’ family (remember, he was the son of a diplomat) and the German government supported him in his diminished-responsibility defense. Two British psychiatrists reported that Jens “was immature and inexperienced and had lost his personal identity in a symbiotic relationship with his girlfriend—a powerful, persuasive, and disturbed young woman.”

A dated mugshot of Jens / A more recent mugshot of Jens.
Jens Soering. Source: Pinterest

Both psychiatrists concluded that he should be convicted only of manslaughter, not murder. By 1989, the state of Virginia decided not to seek capital punishment in Jens’ case, but he was still going to be extradited back there.

No Luck, Jens

His experienced lawyers gave him a real shock, too: the state of Virginia, unlike the UK and Germany, doesn’t recognize the “diminished capacity” defense. Jens’ hopes were crushed. All of his detailed confessions were going to be used as evidence.

Judge William W. Sweeney reads the sentence in court.
Source: File Photo

Meanwhile, Elizabeth was also extradited back to the States. She pleaded guilty, expressed remorse, and was given two 45-year prison sentences. Oh, and she was also likely going to testify at Jens’ trial. At this point, the only possible way out for Jens was to blame it all on Elizabeth – that she killed her parents.

The New Story: It Was All for Her

But then why would he confess to her crime? At his 1990 murder trial, Jens unveiled his new story and motivation for taking the fall. He was saving the love of his life from the electric chair. This was the story that he told the jury and it was recorded and broadcast live on TV.

A picture of Nancy Haysom / A photo of Derek Haysom.
Nancy Hayson, Derek Haysom. Source: YouTube

But his story had many holes in it, and he was eventually broken through the difficult cross-examination phase. The jury took only a few hours to convict Jens of double murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Writing Out His Thoughts in Prison

Once behind bars, all he had was time to access to most of his case’s records. He soon learned that that most of the evidence he assumed they had had never even existed. He also realized that Elizabeth never said anything incriminating during her interrogation in London.

A mugshot of Jens at the time.
Jens Soering. Source: YouTube

Jens was burning with regret and soon made another mistake. He wrote a book in 1995, a self-published e-book about his case called Mortal Thoughts. Any criminal defense lawyer will say this is a huge no-no.

The Tell-All

Even the most innocent of defendants can get themselves into big trouble by talking about their cases. If you’re guilty, forget about it. Jens was smarter than most prisoners, for sure, but he still ended up incriminating himself through his written word.

A photo of Jens at the time.
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch

Mortal Thoughts begins with his relationship with Elizabeth. By Chapter Four, he discusses the murders. Their trip to Washington, D.C. was a “mini-vacation” with no ulterior motive. But on that trip, Elizabeth confessed to using heroin, breaking her promise to her parents.

Drugs, Jack Bauer, and a Confession

Jens told her he would help her overcome it. But she owed money to her drug dealer, “Jack Bauer.” The story was intricate and involved transporting drugs and a confession by Elizabeth that she killed her parents. It was the drugs that made her do it…he wrote.

Police officers escort Jens from prison to court.
Photo by the Roanoke Times

He saw the “reddish-brown smears” on her arms. “I should have stopped her! But because of my foolishness, Derek and Nancy Haysom died at the hand of their own daughter,” he wrote in Mortal Thoughts.

A Fantasy at Best

In the book, he also expressed his hopes for immunity as the son of a diplomat. He figured he would be transferred to Germany, and as a young offender he would receive 10 years at most.

A dated photo of Elizabeth and Jens outside court.
Source: WDBJ

Jens’ new story was near fantasy and it’s likely that no one bought it. News articles in 1995 showed how the book served its purpose: attracting attention to Jens’ case. He did, after all, seek press coverage when he filed appeal after appeal.

Martin Sheen Joins Team Jens

He was begging the world for help, and he gradually developed a band of followers — people who wanted to believe him. Some of those people are really famous, by the way, like Martin Sheen, John Grisham, and music producer Jason Flom.

A photo of Martin Sheen during an interview.
Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

Several German journalists and even Amanda Knox, an American woman who was acquitted of murder, joined Team Jens. Jens tailored his story to include scorn for the death penalty, the jury system, the interrogation techniques of police, and so on.

“Rage, It’s Simply Rage”

It helped that he was intelligent, articulate, and fluent in both German and English. He also sprinkled his story with self-deprecating humor. Then there was the way he looked: a medium-sized, thin, white man with glasses and no tattoos. He didn’t look like your run-of-the-mill double murderer.

An image of a fist hitting a wall.
Source: Pixabay

By the mid-2010s, Soering managed to get support from Sheriff J.E. “Chip” Harding of Albemarle County, Virginia. In 2017, Harding wrote letters to the Governor of Virginia criticizing the “flaws” in the case against Jens.

Don’t Be Fooled

Motions were being made to parole Jens to Germany. Until 2019, all parole and pardon requests were rejected. Jens was growing increasingly bitter. “Rage, it’s simply rage,” he was quoted as saying. In 2016, a convincing documentary called Killing for Love came out.

Jens Soering and Elizabeth Haysom’s mugshots.
Source: Department of Corrections

Terry Wright, the detective who helped convict him in 1990 was disgusted by the fact that people were taken in by Jens’ alternate reality. “Soering claims that this book is a true account of the murders but, almost every paragraph is either made up, or it’s a lie,” Wright said.

His Latest Reason for the Confessions

Wright wrote a 454-page report debunking each and every claim Team Jens was going for. Soon enough, an anonymous blogger launched the website Jens Soering-Guilty as Charged, which documents every biased claim put forward by Jens and his supporters.

A dated video still of Elizabeth sitting in court.
Elizabeth Haysom. Source: YouTube

Jens has changed his story numerous times. His latest reason for his confessions was because he was denied contact with his lawyer and that he was pressured by UK and US investigators during his 1986 interrogations. Of course, that’s a lie and Detective Wright can prove it.

Jens’ Followers Are Still Trying

Wright has records of the signed written waiver from June 5th, 1986, confirming that Jens had been advised of his rights and declined a meeting with his lawyer. But Jens, the clever cat he is, has an excuse for that, too.

An indoor photo of where the crime took place.
Source: ABC News

Jens claims that “sometime between 7:00 p.m. and 7:40 p.m.” on June 5th, 1986, “the English Detective Sergeant Kenneth Beever had come to my holding cell alone and told me that Liz might fall down and hurt herself if I did not drop my demands for a lawyer.”

Junk Science at Best

Again, this isn’t true. Still, Jens’ followers are trying their best. They argue that Jens’ confessions put him at the wrong position at the Haysoms’ dinner table, that he didn’t describe the murder weapon accurately, and that he couldn’t have killed two people in different places simultaneously.

A portrait of Nancy Haysom / A photo of Derek Haysom.
Nancy Haysom, Derek Hayson. Source: Pinterest

Team Jens used every hole they could find to campaign for his release. They used “junk science,” called the judge biased and the lawyer’s incompetent. Wright points out that all their claims were examined and dismissed decades ago, without a single opposing vote.

Releasing Elizabeth and Jens

But in 2019, things started to look up for Jens. After months of review, the governor’s office decided not to pardon Jens, but to parole him. Elizabeth will also be released. After decades behind bars, Elizabeth, 55, was deported to Canada and Jens, 53, to Germany.

A photo of Jens Soering.
Jens Soering. Photo by BORIS ROESSLER/DPA/AFP/Getty Images

Jens told RADIO IQ that he preferred a pardon but was satisfied with the decision from the parole board. “My case has been very heavily politicized, especially these last few years,” he said.

Feeling Vindicated

“At this stage I just want to go home. If that’s by parole, I’ve certainly earned parole.” In recent years, Jens discovered that DNA was found at the crime scene which came from two other men who were never identified.

Supporters hug Jens Soering as he arrives for a press conference.
Jens Soering. Photo by ANDREAS ARNOLD/DPA/AFP/Getty Images

“Today I think anybody who looks at it with a halfway objective eye can see that I didn’t do this crime,” he said. Before their paroles were announced, Jens expressed remorse for not cooperating with the police and giving a “false” confession, which put him behind bars for over 30 years.

A Useless Existence

“At the end of the day the worst thing about prison life is the complete and total uselessness of this existence,” he explained. “Any normal human being wants to make a difference, wants to make their little corner of the world better, and that is essentially what is impossible to do in prison.”

A photo of Jens Soering looking at the sky as he walks to a press conference.
Jens Soering. Photo by BORIS ROESSLER/DPA/AFP/Getty Images

Even after his release, Jens changed his story once again. In a 2020 German article, Jens claimed that he “doesn’t know” who killed the Haysoms.

Stop Blaming Her

Let’s not forget that for a long time now (and it was written in his German-language book, Not Guilty) that Elizabeth killed her own parents. Eventually, his lawyer gave him some interview advice: stop blaming Elizabeth.

A video still of Elizabeth during an interview.
Elizabeth Haysom. Source: YouTube

Jens, now free, still seems committed to his innocence story and will likely find many Germans to join with him in his delusion. As for Elizabeth, she showed honesty. She pled guilty, accepted her sentence, conveyed genuine remorse for her role in the murders and never sought publicity.

An Honest Life

Elizabeth spent her time in prison continuing, and finishing, her education. She can try to live the second half of her life in redemption. Jens, on the other hand, will forever be stuck to his innocence story. That is, until he realizes that only the truth will set him free.

A dated image of Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Haysom. Source: Pinterest

After returning to Germany, Jens received six-figure offers from Netflix as well as a major German publisher for the rights to his story. After questions were raised about his story, Jens deleted all his social media accounts in 2020.

Will There Be a Netflix Movie?

He has made no public appearances since. The status of the Netflix projects and the book is unclear. Other updates on the case have since developed. In late 2020, the podcast Small Town Big Crime obtained DNA samples from two drifters implicated by Jens’ supporters as possible suspects.

Jens addresses the media.
Jens Soering. Photo by BORIS ROESSLER/DPA/AFP/Getty Images

The samples were then compared to the male DNA found at the crime scene. The drifters were ultimately excluded. Both Jens and his lawyer initially cooperated with the podcast, but after the results, both refused further cooperation.

Do You Buy It?

At times, Jens has said that he considered suicide but was always dissuaded by his supporters. “I thought about starting an Innocence Project in Germany, because the German justice system, you know they make mistakes too over there, but they don’t have an Innocence Project,” he announced.

A portrait of Jens smiling at the camera.
Jens Soering. Photo by ANDREAS ARNOLD/DPA/AFP/Getty Images

During his time in prison, he wrote seven books, including a critique of Virginia’s correctional system and a murder mystery. So, what do you think? Do you buy Jens’ story?