A Mansonesque Killing Brings Shudders To Genteel Virginia
(by Michael Hirsley, Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1986)
A plaintive phone call led to the discovery of Derek Haysom and his wife, Nancy, at least three days dead with their throats slit in their elegant cottage-style home here. That call was made by their daughter, Elizabeth.
"She said she was really scared," recalled the family friend who took Elizabeth`s call from the University of Virginia, 60 miles north. "She said her parents would never go out of town without letting her know."
"I was alarmed enough to call police and go to the house."
The friend, who asked not to be identified, had been given a key to the house by Nancy Haysom. Seeing both of the Haysoms` cars in the driveway, she opened the door just long enough to ``see Derek was dead and blood was scattered everywhere.``
That Wednesday, April 3, 1985, has left a specter in the genteel Boonsboro neighborhood, which crosses the city limits of Lynchburg, Va., extending from stately in-town mansions to homes outside town on lots of 10 acres or more, hidden behind heavy woods and thick kudzu vines.
It is an unfamiliar apparition to central Virginia, where modern society clings to more comfortable visions from the past: Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and Patrick Henry all lived here.
What police found 14 months ago at the Haysom home--Derek, 72, in the living room near the front door; and Nancy, 53, in the kitchen; both stabbed repeatedly--conjured up images like the Manson murders or the ``Fatal Vision`` Green Beret family murder trial. In this 200-year-old city on seven hills rolling down to the James River, such shocking pictures usually were picked up from network television, not the local news.
Even as Nancy Haysom`s friend arrived at the murder scene, she came with two other women who had been to the house earlier for a social afternoon of bridge but left when no one answered the door.
After she saw the grisly scene, the friend said, ``I shut the door so the other ladies wouldn`t see.``
At the Lynchburg Art Club, where Nancy Haysom studied watercolor painting, members suddenly found themselves answering police questions.
Authorities held a community meeting to calm neighbors` fears that a spree-killer might strike again.
As no real leads or motives were found, there was talk of political intrigue, since Haysom had been an influential steel industrialist in Rhodesia and Nova Scotia; talk of motorcyclists who had reportedly vandalized property near the Haysoms` Boonsboro home; and talk of cult involvement, since police said nothing was stolen and rumors persisted of writing on floors and walls, according to neighbors and friends, who spoke on condition that they not be identified.
Police questioned family members, including Elizabeth, shortly after the funeral. She attended with Jens Soering, a friend from her dorm at the university.
She had run away to Europe for six months after high school and in 1985 was older than her freshman classmates, including Jens, who is the son of a West German diplomat and who came to Charlottesville from an Atlanta private school on a prestigious scholarship. Their friendship grew into a romance, other students recalled.
Last fall, after police questioned the couple again, they disappeared from campus.
Noting her earlier ``vacation`` in Europe, family members did not worry at first. The couple were not located until last month, when they were arrested in a London suburb on fraud charges for passing bad checks.
Then, suddenly, 14 months after the murder and a continent away, Elizabeth and Jens again were questioned about the unsolved murders of her parents.
Bedford Commonwealth`s Atty. James Updike Jr. and Bedford County Sheriff`s Deputy Ricky Gardner went to England in the first week of June to talk to police and interview the couple.
The sudden twist ``got people talking about it again. This was one of the worst crimes we`ve known here,`` said Howard Coleman, an instructor at the Lynchburg Art Club, who taught Nancy Haysom watercolor painting.
Reports that the Haysoms` daughter had been arrested left him ``shocked,`` Coleman said. ``I couldn`t believe it.``
Elizabeth`s stepbrother, Dr. Howard Haysom of Houston, would not comment on the case when contacted last week; nor would Jens` father, Klaus Soering, when reached at his office with the West German consulate in Detroit.
At the County Courthouse in Bedford, 25 miles west of Boonsboro, Updike talked with a reporter after returning from London last week.
As he spoke in a soft voice and chain-smoked filter cigarettes, a British tabloid lay before him on his desk. The front page banner headline, which was about the Haysom case, read: ``Voodoo Killings--Two Quizzed.``
The article reported that someone had danced in the victims` blood, scrawled the numbers ``666,`` which some call the sign of the devil, on the floor, and turned furniture to face north.
``All I can say is that is an inaccurate description of the crime scene,`` Updike said. But he would not elaborate.
``I want to try the case here, so we`re careful about what we do and say.``
Bedford County Sheriff Carl Wells, among the first at the crime scene, said: ``Death was from their throats` being cut, and there were multiple stab wounds on both bodies. There was obviously a lot of blood there.
``It was a brutal murder, and normally you associate a brutal murder with hatred.``
He said there were no signs of forced entry into the home, and jewelry, cash and other valuables were untouched.
``If anything was missing, we couldn`t tell,`` he said.
A large table was placed so the head faced north, he said, "but it seems that was the normal way it always had been." He said he saw no signs of voodooism.
One source, who saw the crime scene, said in an interview that police removed sections of floor and cabinets. The source said there was a drawing on a slate floor, "not made by the police," but declined to describe it further.
On Friday, the commonwealth`s attorney and sheriff obtained county grand jury indictments charging Elizabeth Haysom, 22, and Jens Soering, 19, with the murder of her parents.
Derek Haysom was born and grew up in South Africa, and he headed his own steel company in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). His antiapartheid views put him at odds with government officials and then-Prime Minister Ian Smith once threatened him with house arrest, according to an obituary placed by the family.
Nancy Haysom was born Nancy Astor Benedict in Jerome, Ariz., and was raised in Lynchburg. Her middle name came from her grandmother`s cousin, Lady Astor, the first woman member of the British House of Commons. The couple retired in Boonsboro in 1983.
Wells vowed a year ago that arrests would be made in the murder case. Asked when that would be, he replied: "That`s like asking me to jump in the Atlantic Ocean and you asking when I`m going to get to the other side."
Recalling the statement last week, Wells said, "I had no idea at the time how literal that might be."
10. April 2019