On Friday morning, Viola Herms Drath was found unconscious and unresponsive in a bathroom in her well-appointed Georgetown rowhouse. When she was pronounced dead hours later, authorities assumed it was from natural causes. Drath was 91.
Then came the results of her autopsy Saturday. D.C. police are now investigating Drath’s death as a homicide.
“Homicide investigators are aggressively working on the case,” said D.C. Police Assistant Chief Peter Newsham. Late Sunday, police had not announced any arrests. Officials said they found no signs of forced entry at Drath’s home.
As police begin to unravel the details of Drath’s death, they will be delving into her uncommon life. She was born in Germany in 1920. Her nine decades included marriage to a U.S. Army colonel and immigration to the United States, followed by work as a journalist, college instructor, contributor to the Washington Times and advocate of stronger U.S. relations with Germany. She also wrote several books.
In her later years in Washington, Drath joined committees that recognized and celebrated members of the military, especially those who served in Iraq. She hosted dinner parties with noted guests that often led to heated discussions about foreign policy. And she nearly always wore pearls.
Police were trying to determine why someone would want to kill the kindly woman.
Detectives interviewed family members over the weekend. On Sunday, police culled evidence with technicians and searched Drath’s cream-colored home in the 3200 block of Q Street NW, which is decorated with mementos from Germany, the Nebraska town where her first husband was a professor, her life in Washington and her world travels.
At 4:26 p.m. Saturday, The Washington Post received an obituary submission from a Hotmail account that Drath’s second husband, Albrecht Gero Muth, has used to organize events through several military-related Web sites. In the obituary submission, Drath’s cause of death was listed as “Head Trauma resulting from Fall.”
Muth was at the Georgetown home when paramedics arrived Friday, police said.
Newsham said Sunday that Drath’s injuries “are inconsistent with the report of a fall.”
Muth did not return phone calls Sunday. In response to an e-mail, he forwarded a link to Drath’s obituary on a German news site. Drath’s two daughters could not be reached for comment.
Drath always maintained connections to the country where she was born. Her first husband was Col. Francis S. Drath, who was a military governor in part of Bavaria after World War II. They married in 1947.
They soon moved to Nebraska, where he was professor of American literature at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, according to his obituary. She studied philosophy and Germanic literature and earned a master’s degree in 1952.
In 1968, the Draths came to Washington, where Col. Drath took a legislative affairs post with the Selective Service System.
Viola Drath authored several books, including a biography of former German chancellor Willy Brandt that was published in 1975. A New York Times reviewer wrote: “Drath’s book, though clumsily written, ineptly edited and fundamentally weakened by the author’s unresolved ambivalence, is interesting largely as a 40-year anthology of the unpleasant things that have been recurringly said, and often believed, about Brandt.”
Col. Drath died in 1986. She later married Muth, who was more than 40 years her junior. Harry L. Carrico, former chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, married them in his chambers in Richmond after hearing of Drath’s accomplishments and State Department connections.
Carrico said Sunday that he learned Muth was German and had served in the French Foreign Legion in Africa. He said he didn’t know about their age difference until they met: “I was very surprised, I had no idea of that, and when they arrived I’m sure I showed it on my face.”
Carrico said the couple invited him to diplomatic-style parties in Washington several times, including one event that “sounded like a scrumptious dinner party,” but he never attended.
“She was a rather tall woman, very well dressed, very cultured type,” he recalled. “They appeared a very cultured group.”
Muth, according to his Web site, also goes by the name Sheik Ali Al-Muthaba. He blogs about Iraqi military issues and is identified in online directories as a “Secret Agent, Diplomat, Militia Leader.” On his blog, Muth once referred to his wife as “Mrs. Francis S. Drath.”
Several years ago, Viola Drath established a fellowship at the University of Nebraska’s journalism school and paid for students to spend a summer interning at the Washington Times. She mentored the students and often invited them to her home.
During the summer of 2008, Drath invited that year’s recipient, Hilary Stohs-Krause, to dinner with a group of well-connected journalists and intellectuals. She said Muth sat at the head of the table, while Drath sat among the guests and led a lively debate about foreign relations and the upcoming presidential election.
“It was a new experience,” said Stohs-Krause, 25, who works for Nebraska’s NPR affiliate. “She was a really interesting lady. . . . You got the sense that she had been everywhere and done everything.”
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Staff writer Emily Langer contributed to this report.