Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A review of Beyond Reason: The True Story of a Shocking Double Murder, a Brilliant, Beautiful Virginia Socialite, and a Deadly Psychotic Obsession

In October of 2015, I downloaded Ken Englade's 1990 book, Beyond Reason: The True Story of a Shocking Double Murder, a Brilliant, Beautiful Virginia Socialite, and a Deadly Psychotic Obsession.  I just now finished it, having been working on it for a few weeks.  I don't remember exactly what prompted me to order this book in 2015, especially since it's taken me over two years to get around to reading it.  Now that I've read it, I'm glad I made the effort.  It's a good true crime book, even if the double murder case it's about happened in 1985.

I found Englade's book about convicted murderers Elizabeth Haysom and Jens Soering especially fascinating for several reasons.  First of all, their crimes took place in my home state of Virginia-- Bedford County, to be exact.  I have a lot of family from that area, so I'm familiar with it.

Secondly, both Haysom and Soering are citizens of other countries.  Haysom is legally a Canadian, while Soering is a citizen of Germany, although both spent many years in the United States and will probably both remain there until they're dead.

Thirdly, Haysom and Soering met when they were students at the University of Virginia.  UVA is known as Virginia's "premier" university, although I know a lot of William & Mary graduates who would beg to differ.  UVA, after all, was founded by a William & Mary graduate.  Jens Soering, whose father was a diplomat, had graduated from the Lovett School near Atlanta, Georgia.  He was considered brilliant and was both an Echols Scholar and a Jefferson Scholar.  Elizabeth Haysom graduated from Wycombe Abbey in England and, though she was a Canadian, spoke with a very cultured British accent that made her sound like an aristocrat.  She is a descendent of Lady Astor through her mother, the late Nancy Astor Benedict Haysom.

Haysom is currently incarcerated at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Troy, Virginia, serving 90 years for the crime of accessory to murder before the fact.  Her former boyfriend, Jens Soering, who was just 18 years old at the time of the murders, is serving a life sentence at Buckingham Correctional Center for the murder of Haysom's parents, Derek William Reginald Haysom and Nancy Astor Benedict Haysom.

What happened...

At the time of his violent murder in March 1985, 72 year old Derek Haysom, was a retired Canadian steel executive from Nova Scotia.  His American born wife, 53 year old Nancy, was an artist.  They were living in a home in Boonsboro, Virginia they called "Loose Chippings".  The two had previously been married to other people and had a total of five children between them.  Elizabeth Haysom was their one child together; she had attended schools in Switzerland and England before coming to Virginia to attend UVA.

By all accounts, Elizabeth Haysom was a very beautiful but strange young woman.  Englade describes her as a bit unkempt, although she had a remarkably cultured air about her.  She was 20 years old and a first year student at the university, although her academic performance left much to be desired.

Jens Soering was born in Bangkok, Thailand.  He was nerdy and had spent his life living away from Germany, his homeland, because his father, Klaus, was a diplomat.  Although he was (and presumably still is) extremely intelligent, he didn't have the best luck with the opposite sex.  So when he met Elizabeth Haysom, he was pretty much gobsmacked by her.

When Haysom's parents, Derek and Nancy were found brutally slashed in their home, police could not determine who had committed the crime.  Initially, they believed the couple had been killed by cultists.  The couple had been dead for several days before they were found, almost decapitated.  Elizabeth Haysom, however, had rented a car and gone to Washington, D.C. while her parents were murdered.  It was later believed she'd done it to establish an alibi.

Then, six months after the murders, she and Soering fled to England.  On April 30, 1986, they were both arrested for check fraud.  Meanwhile, back in Bedford County, detectives were stumped as to who killed the Haysoms.  While Haysom and Soering were jailed in England, they started talking to British investigators.  Soering eventually admitted to killing Haysom's parents.  British investigators called up the authorities in Bedford and told them they might want to get to England, pronto.

Bedford County is a fairly rural place and was especially so in the mid 1980s.  Haysom and Soering were being held in a town called Richmond, which is a suburb of London.  Virginia authorities were surprised that England has a Richmond, too (although they really shouldn't have been, since Virginia has many locales named after places in England).  Moreover, neither of the chief investigators owned passports.  They'd never been out of the country and apparently never saw the need to have travel documents.  Nevertheless, they sprang into action and rushed paperwork through to get their passports.  They went to England and spoke with Elizabeth and Jens, then set forth a legal battle that would involve three countries and take several years to straighten out.

Jens Soering had confessed to the crimes, but he did so erroneously believing he would be deported to Germany, where he would not face the death penalty and would have a comparably "cushy" experience in prison.  British authorities were fine with sending him back to Virginia to stand trial, as long as he wouldn't face the death penalty.  They were also using Soering's case to try to secure an IRA terrorist who was being held in a U.S. jail.  Meanwhile, Soering lobbied to be sent to Germany, even though he'd only spent three years of his life there.

After several years in a British prison, Jens Soering was finally involuntarily extradited to Virginia and stood trial in 1990.  His former girlfriend had pleaded guilty to accessory to murder before the fact and was sentenced to two 45 year terms to be served concurrently.  By 1990, Soering's story had changed and Haysom testified against him.  Although she has been eligible for parole for years, she remains incarcerated.  Soering has also been eligible for parole, but his most recent request last year was denied.

My thoughts on the book...  

Overall, I thought Beyond Reason was well written and researched, although it only covers one of the trials.  This book was published in 1990, so a lot has happened that wasn't reportable when the book initially hit the shelves.  Englade seems very convinced that Soering is guilty of the crimes.  Based on the information that was available in 1990, I can see why he'd think that.  Soering may be brilliant, but in the late 80s and early 90s, he was not very handsome and was both socially inept and cocky.  He did not make the most sympathetic character.

Crime investigations have evolved since the time of the Haysom murders and some people are now convinced that Jens Soering is innocent.  He now claims that he confessed only to protect Elizabeth Haysom.  A documentary about the case, Killing for Love, paints Elizabeth Haysom as the more guilty of the two, even though she did not actually commit murder herself.  I watched the documentary last week and it was pretty fascinating and left me with some questions as to where the truth lies.

Supposedly, Elizabeth Haysom has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.  BPD is a frequent topic in this blog.  It's basically a psychological problem that causes sufferers to be extremely insecure, manipulative, and unstable.  Although Elizabeth Haysom came across as kind of like a polished Bohemian, by many accounts, she's very manipulative and supposedly hated her parents.  According to Killing for Love, she hoodwinked Soering into doing her dirty work.  Basedon on what I know about BPD, I find that a plausible conclusion.  Also, more advanced DNA evidence that has been collected since 1985 casts some doubt that Soering actually killed Haysom's parents.

A trailer for Killing for Love, which offers a much different take on the case.  Although Soering speaks English, he speaks German (with English subtitles) in the film.  

In 2010, former Virginia governor Tim Kaine even planned to have Soering extradited to Germany.  Soering would be in Germany now had Kaine's successor, Bob McDonnell, not blocked Kaine's decision.  Kaine's rationale was that Virginia taxpayers had been paying for Soering's incarceration long enough and German authorities had promised that Soering had been convicted of murder and would not ever set foot in the United States again.  It was a very unpopular decision, particularly among investigators who had worked on the case.

Soering has a Web site run by his friends and continues to profess his innocence and has published several books.  He's also converted to Roman Catholicism, having once considered himself a Buddhist.  A petition for an absolute pardon was submitted to the governor of Virginia in August 2016 and is currently pending.

I did find the overall story fascinating, although it took a long time to finish this book.  One of the most interesting parts of it, to me, were Englade's descriptions of British prisons.  Elizabeth Haysom was initially held at the then newly rebuilt Holloway, a modern facility that even had a gym and a swimming pool, while Jens Soering was at a prison that was built so long ago that the cells didn't have indoor plumbing.  If he needed to use the toilet in the middle of the night, he had to do his business in a pot.  Also, Englade describes exercise "ovals" in the prisons, which still exist today.  In earlier years, prisoners were masked and chained, then forced to walk the ovals as part of their punishments. Typically, the spaces inside the ovals were filled with mulberry bushes, which prompted the old nursery rhyme, "Here we go 'round the mulberry bush."  Having been an avid reader of nursery rhymes back in the day, that bit of trivia was new to me.

Englade also discusses why British prison guards were (and still are) called screws.  In the old days, prisoners were forced to keep busy.  Guards controlled a device known as the crank, which prisoners were required to turn 10,000 times per day.  The crank didn't actually do anything; it was intended entirely to give idle prisoners something to do.  If a guard wanted to make the punishment more arduous, he could tighten the screw on the back of gearbox, which would increase the resistance of the crank.  Bill and I actually saw one of these devices when we visited The Old Town Jail in Stirling, Scotland.

An example of a "crank" in The Old Town Jail in Stirling.

I have to admit that I started to skim a bit as the book dragged on.  Even though things have happened in this case since 1990, this book is a bit long and involved.  I would typically nod off after reading a couple of chapters.  In fact, yesterday, I slept three hours after reading a few chapters, then forced myself to finish it when I woke up.  But that may be more of a statement of my being an old fart than this book being dull.  I didn't find it dull... just long and a bit convoluted.


I'm still not entirely sure what actually happened in this situation.  I was twelve years old when the Haysoms were murdered and somehow missed the press about this case, even though I did live in Virginia when it happened and for years afterwards.  Because I'm from Virginia and have ties to the Lynchburg and Rockbridge County areas, this case is of interest to me.  It's especially intriguing since I now live in Jens' homeland, at least for the time being.  Will it be of interest to you?  I don't know.  But I'm glad I read the book and can now move on to my next project.

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