A violent crime that horrified Nova Scotians nearly 40 years ago is being revisited in a new Netflix documentary.
The four-part series, Till Murder Do Us Part: Soering vs. Haysom, was released earlier this month. It follows the 1985 double-murder of Derek Haysom — a former president and chairman of the Sydney Steel Corporation (Sysco) in Nova Scotia — and his wife Nancy at their home in Virginia, and the ensuing media firestorm that followed in the wake of their deaths.
The killings were particularly brutal, with both victims stabbed multiple times and their throats slashed.
But what happened next is why people are still talking about the crime today.
The couple’s daughter Elizabeth Haysom, who grew up in Nova Scotia, and her boyfriend, Jens Soering, the son of a West German diplomat who she met in residence at the University of Virginia, were charged in the murders.
Not long after the killings, the couple fled to Europe, where they were picked up nearly a year later for attempting to pass bad cheques.
While in custody, British officials found letters Elizabeth Haysom had written to Soering implicating them in the murders, and contacted Virginia police.
According to a New Yorker article from 2015, Soering initially confessed to committing the murders because he wrongly assumed he would be protected by diplomatic immunity, and later recanted. He said only that he lied to prevent his girlfriend from facing the death penalty.
Elizabeth Haysom pleaded guilty to two counts of accessory to murder before the fact and was sentenced to 90 years in prison. Soering, who ended up pleading not guilty, was convicted and sentenced to two consecutive life terms for executing the killings.
In the ensuing decades, each has remained steadfast in claiming the other carried out the murders.
The docuseries, which Soering participated in but Elizabeth Haysom declined to be interviewed for, contrasts their claims in an attempt to discover who is telling the truth.
Deep connections to Nova Scotia
The series mentions Derek Haysom’s connection to Sysco, but doesn’t explore the family’s connection to Nova Scotia.
Born in South Africa, he held a variety of influential positions during his time in Nova Scotia, including at Sysco, a Crown corporation. Later, he became president of Metropolitan Area Growth Investments (MAGI), a venture capital organization with provincial and federal funding that made investments in local businesses.
While working for MAGI, Derek Haysom was involved in the controversial purchase of a Bermuda-registered cruise ship that was renamed the Mercator One.
The plan was to operate cruises out of Atlantic Canada in the summer months, and through the Caribbean in the winter. But the purchase was a boondoggle from the start, with the boat losing money down south, and never once operating in Canada.
Questions about its financing were raised in the provincial legislature, setting off a scandal that contributed to the electoral defeat of Premier Gerald Regan’s Liberal government in 1978.
Mercator One was sold the following year for half of what it was originally purchased for, with the provincial government estimating it lost between $8 million and $9 million on the venture.
After Derek Haysom retired in the 1980s, he and Nancy moved to Virginia. But they remained connected to the province and had a summer home near Lunenburg.
In an article published by the Globe and Mail shortly after the murders, neighbours on the South Shore said Derek Haysom was a nice guy with a special interest in cars who enjoyed driving his BMW. He had also gained some renown locally for his attempts to “produce a new strain of apple” on his property.
The article also quoted one of Derek Haysom’s former Sysco colleagues, Harvey MacLeod, who remembered him as an athletic family man who loved spending time with Nancy and his six children.
MacLeod called the murders “shocking” and questioned why anyone would have wanted to kill Derek Haysom.
In 2016, Elizabeth Haysom told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia that she was “profoundly ashamed” of her role in the crime.
After more than 30 years in prison, both she and Soering were released on parole in 2019 and deported to their home countries of Canada and Germany, respectively.
Soering continues to proclaim his innocence, claiming that he took the fall for his girlfriend. Elizabeth Haysom maintains she ordered him to carry out the murders.