My high school creative writing teacher once told our class about a story she’d heard while watching Nancy Grace, back when her show was the go-to-source for rage du jour. It was a heinous case involving a sadistic couple who connected over their shared awfulness and promptly joined forces to torture and victimize another individual. My teacher’s lesson for the class was this: no matter how weird and strange and messed up you are, there is a perfect match out there who is just as effed up as you.
I reflected on that lesson while I cringed over the antics of Elizabeth Haysom and Jens Söring, two weird rich kids whose toxic relationship escalated to the murder of Elizabeth’s parents and culminated in a felonious international fugitive chase before they were caught and charged with the murders.
Once the trial began, however, the seemingly straightforward narrative of the crime began to fall apart. Was Elizabeth the mastermind and Jens the accomplice, or the other way around? Was Jens involved in the murders at all, or did he actually make a false confession to protect Elizabeth?
Shout out to my friend Kaylor for recommending this documentary to me, because it’s a twisty one. I love a good hometown murder, and the primary suspects in this 1985 double homicide were students at UVA at the time. So when she emphasized that this case was next-level bizarre, I immediately signed up for a free trial of Hulu.
My first thought: How have I not already seen this episode of Snapped: Killer Couples??
The details of the murders are grisly, but for me the trial footage of Elizabeth and Jens’ testimonies are the juiciest parts that make the documentary a must-watch. I especially enjoyed hearing Elizabeth speak on the stand, because I’m not sure that she could sound less convincing or sympathetic if she tried. She seems to function in two modes: Petulant Brat who resents being asked about her murdered parents, and Machine-Learning Robot who took up a British accent just for this performance.
In one of my favorite exchanges, the prosecution asked Elizabeth if she had mopped up her parents’ blood at the crime scene, implying that she tried to hide evidence of her involvement. In response to the question, Elizabeth wrinkles her nose and vehemently denies that she cleaned or even touched her parents’ blood. It was professional cleaners who mopped up her parents’ blood, she corrects him distastefully. Weird flex that doesn’t help your defense, but okay.
It’s kind of astounding, in the end, how hard she works to do herself no favors. I recently read a wistful piece about charm, and I can confidently say that Elizabeth has none.
On the other hand, Jens is an interesting character, and much of the documentary centers around his efforts to appeal his conviction. He claims that he’s only guilty of: picking a crazy girlfriend (poor choice of words, but to be honest he wasn’t really wrong), not calling the police and making a false confession.
The evidence seems to tell a clear story of his innocence, but when watching the trial footage of his testimony, I was impressed that he managed to make himself less sympathetic than Elizabeth at times. He did a great job of coming across as a bored and entitled wunderkind who resented wasting his brilliant potential on these backwards Virginians and their stupid questions. The documentary theorizes that the jury felt eager to convict two kids who aren’t from around here, but I suspect they were simply repulsed by the outsize pretentiousness. Being likable doesn’t make you innocent, but it sure helps your case.
Another highlight: Jens and Elizabeth’s love letters, voiced hilariously by actors Imogen Poots and Daniel Brühl. It’s deeply uncomfortable to behold, and I enjoyed trying to imagine their exchange taking place in a messaging app. The sexual relationship between Elizabeth and Jens is the crux of the prosecution’s argument, and as a result the trial was bizarrely lewd in a classically Southern way that reminded me of the prosecution’s blustering attempt to out Michael Peterson as a “bi-SEX-ual” in The Staircase. Watching the grown-ass district attorney stumble through his awkwardly worded questions is a stark reminder of how much things have (and haven’t) changed in thirty years.
Long story short: Killing for Love is an odd ride from start to finish. You’ve got to watch it for yourself.