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Georgetown's Bizarre German Murder Case

A Washington D.C. jury has convicted a 49-year-old German man of killing his 91-year-old wife in their home in the capital's posh Georgetown neighborhood.

Georgetown district of Washington
Georgetown district of Washington
Ansgar Graw

WASHINGTON — It was a twisted homicide case that spanned the Atlantic, touching both high and low society in the U.S. capital.

And this week, a 49-year-old German con man was convicted for the murder of his 91-year-old wife in Washington. On Tuesday, a jury declared Albrecht Gero Muth, who is 42 years younger than his former spouse, guilty of first-degree murder with aggravating circumstances.

Muth, who has always maintained his innocence, had called police to the couple’s row house in the posh Georgetown section of the capital on August 12, 2011 claiming that he had found his wife Viola Drath, a former Handelsblatt newspaper correspondent from Düsseldorf, dead in the bathroom.

The aged woman's body showed head injuries and strangulation marks that clearly were unrelated to a fall, so that from the very beginning, accidental death was all but ruled out.

After four days, Muth was charged with second-degree murder. In March 2012, that was changed to first-degree murder because Drath was considered particularly vulnerable because of her advanced age; and the act thus demonstrated an extraordinary level of malevolence.

Drath had lived with her first husband, an American, from 1947 until his death from cancer in 1981. A year later, she married Muth. From their rundown house on Q Street, the couple conducted an eccentric, highly active social life.

The unlikely pair – the New York Times described their marriage as “the worst in Georgetown” – invited well-known diplomats, politicians, lawyers, and publicists to their home. Anne Patterson, Barack Obama’s ambassador to Egypt, and Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court judge, were reportedly among their guests.

Uncle Kofi?

Muth, who was unemployed, liked to appear at their parties wearing the uniform of an Iraqi general, claiming to have served in Saddam Hussein's army. He used to refer to then Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, as "Uncle Kofi," and also claimed to be a count, a member of the German aristocracy.

Muth also entertained his guests with tales of adventure that he said he experienced when he was a spy in South America. He sometimes wore an eye patch, telling family and friends that he had been injured in a coup he helped carry out in Paraguay.

He also claimed to have put a listening device in former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s bathroom on behalf of the German foreign intelligence agency.

Despite her considerable years, Viola Drath was both physically and mentally fit at the time of her death. According to the Washington Post, the former playwright, art lover and expert in German politics continued to nurture “dreams and aspirations.”

There are photographs showing Drath shaking hands with President George H.W. Bush. As a newspaper correspondent, she was no stranger to Capitol Hill and the US Congress – indeed that’s where she met Muth in 1980, where he was working as a junior reporter and was charmed by the mature woman’s wit and intelligence.

However, their marriage was anything but harmonious. Muth, who is believed to be either gay or bisexual, beat his wife, and occasionally left her to go and live with a man.

But he always returned to Drath, who paid him $2,000 a month pocket money. The full beneficiaries of Drath’s will, however, are and have always been her children. One of the defense’s arguments was that Muth had nothing to gain materially from the death of his benefactress.

Muth himself was not present at the trial because he was hospitalized for the hunger strike he has been conducting for weeks. He followed courtroom proceedings by video from his sickbed, surrounded by court officials.

The prosecution claimed that on the day of his wife’s murder Muth had come back drunk from a date with a man that he had gotten to know via Craig’s List. In the ensuing fight, he hit and strangled his wife. At the time of the murder, the couple was alone in the three-story house. There were no signs of break-in anywhere.

These facts along with the fact that Muth had already been violent towards his wife and had a police record persuaded the jury to hand down a guilty verdict.

Muth is likely to be sentenced to life in prison. The death sentence was abolished in Washington D.C. in 1981, a year prior to his marriage with Viola Drath.

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