Published August 17, 2011
WASHINGTON – The husband of a slain German-born socialite had scratches on his forehead after the 91-year-old woman was killed, and he presented her relatives with a forged letter stating that he was entitled to a $150,000 payment upon her death, police said Wednesday.
Albrecht Muth, 47, was ordered held without bail on a charge of second-degree murder in the death of Viola Drath. Charging documents say Drath, a journalist who wrote frequently on German-American relations, died of strangulation and blunt-force trauma.
The couple wed in 1990 in what Muth has described as a "marriage of convenience" and entertained diplomats at their off-yellow row house in the well-heeled Georgetown neighborhood. But their relationship was plagued by infidelity and allegations of violence.
Muth also made outlandish claims about working for the Iraqi army, though police said he had no formal job and was supported by his wife with a monthly $2,000 allowance.
In an interview Monday with The Associated Press, Muth said he found his wife dead Friday morning in the bathroom, called police and didn't try to revive her because he figured it was hopeless. After finding no signs of forced entry and concluding that no one else had access to the home other than Muth, detectives singled him out as the suspect. They also say they found so-called "touch DNA" — which requires only small samples of genetic material — linking him to the scene.
Muth had initially denied touching his wife's body, but after being told of the DNA evidence, later told detectives that he said he'd kissed her and touched her hand when told of the DNA evidence, according to the criminal complaint.
Muth has denied wrongdoing and wrote an obituary for his wife stating that she died of a head injury from a fall. But police said the injuries were inconsistent with a fall, and the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide over the weekend.
His lawyer, Dana Page, argued that Muth should be released because none of the evidence links him to a crime.
"There's no physical evidence, There's no statements. There's no witnesses," Page said, adding that Muth did not pose a threat to the community.
Prosecutor Glenn Kirschner disagreed, saying that while the evidence is circumstantial it is also powerful. A magistrate judge ordered him held pending a Sept. 2 hearing.
"The defendant concedes that he's the only one who had access to, and opportunity to, kill his wife," he said.
The court papers depict Muth as alternately candid and flip with the detectives. When asked how an intruder could have entered the home, he replied, "It's your job to investigate, not mine." At another point, he stated, "It doesn't look good for me though," the complaint says.
Wearing a suit jacket with the collar wrapped around his neck, Muth occasionally shook his head as the case was outlined. He asked to respond to the allegations directly, and at one point, was grabbed by the marshals as he attempted to take a step forward.
The German-born Drath was a correspondent for the German newspaper Handelsblatt, wrote columns for The Washington Times and authored several books.
She also developed political connections during her many years in the U.S. In 2008, she was appointed to the White House Commission on Remembrance, which honors American troops killed in service. The couple hosted gatherings including a 2005 dinner party marking the 60th anniversary of Victory-in-Europe Day, attended by military and diplomatic officials, according to an article in The Washington Times.
But she had a stormy relationship with her husband, another expatriate whom she met in the United States in the early 1980s. He pleaded guilty to assaulting Drath in 1992 and was sentenced to a year of home confinement. Muth became romantically entangled for several years with a man who eventually sought a restraining order against him in 2004.
He was also accused more recently of assaulting Drath with a chair and pounding her head on the floor in a fight that began with insults about intellect and social status. Drath said her daughter was a lawyer, but Muth insisted she was a saleswoman; Drath replied that Muth could not get into law school, sending him into a rage, according to court papers.
The case was dropped after Drath declined to pursue the charges, and Muth has called the episode a fabrication.
After Drath was found dead, police said Muth had scratches on his forehead suggesting a struggle and also had a chipped tooth. Detectives also found a letter, dated April 11 with a forged signature purporting to be Drath's, stating that Drath's family was to pay Muth $150,000 if she died. The letter said Muth would get an additional $50,000 if the liquid assets in her estate totaled more than $600,000.
Muth showed the letter to Drath's family after she died, but police have determined the signature was forged. He also asked one of her relatives whether he would be able to keep his monthly allowance, police say.
Muth said he lives by a code of Germanic precision and exactitude, able to measure the length of his regular neighborhood walks by the amount of time — 27 minutes — it takes to light, enjoy and extinguish his favored cigars. He says he became a German intelligence officer as a teenager and met Drath in the early 1980s when he helped organize foreign press relations with the Republican party.
But he also appears to have a record of exaggerating or lying about his past.
He has claimed to be a staff brigadier general with the Iraqi army and proudly displays photographs of himself in a military uniform, including one at a wreath-laying ceremony. The Iraqi embassy, however, says he's never been part of their army or government.
"In the past, the Embassy was aware of the claims made by Mr. Muth and made it clear to all concerned that they were false and demanded that they must cease," the statement said.