Viola Drath’s husband forged inheritance document, court papers say
By Josh White, Keith L. Alexander and Allison Klein,
Hours after Viola Drath, 91, was found dead in her Georgetown home Friday, her husband approached her family with a signed document that said he would get as much as $200,000 from her estate if she died.
Police indicated in court papers Wednesday that the signature on the document is fake and that Drath’s husband, Albrecht Gero Muth, forged it as part of a clumsy attempt to cover up her slaying and walk away with an inheritance.
Muth, 47, has been charged with murder in Drath’s killing. As he made his first appearance in court Wednesday, charging documents filed in D.C. Superior Court revealed new information about Muth’s possible motive and how his story unraveled.
Muth told police that someone must have broken into the house and killed his wife of 22 years, but detectives found no evidence of forced entry and saw scratches on Muth’s forehead that were consistent with someone putting up a fight against him, an investigator wrote in the documents.
A medical examiner determined that Drath probably died sometime overnight Thursday into Friday, and Muth allegedly spent 12 hours in the two-story townhouse, several times passing the bathroom where her body was found, before “discovering” her and calling authorities. She was strangled and beaten so badly that her ribs were fractured, according to the documents.
Muth, in e-mails to The Washington Post before his arrest, denied killing his wife and vowed to find the real killer. He was equally defiant in court Wednesday, disrupting the proceedings by asking Magistrate Judge Karen Howze to order the five-page charging document read in its entirety in open court.
He spoke in a loud baritone and objected to his defense attorney’s speaking on his behalf because “she has no facts.”
The judge denied his request.
Dana Page of the District’s Public Defender Service said that the government had no evidence, no DNA, no witnesses and no statements linking Muth to the slaying. “The government is putting their spin on what the detectives said my client said,” Page said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner argued that Muth was the only person with “access and opportunity” to kill Drath. “He is the only one with motive,” Kirschner said.
Muth was ordered held in jail until a hearing scheduled for Sept. 2. Howze cited the scratches on Muth’s face, the fact that no one else had been in the house at the time of his wife’s death, and Muth’s history of domestic violence as reasons to hold him in custody.
Drath’s death was the end of a difficult and sometimes violent marriage to Muth, who family friends said they feared was erratic and manipulative. Those close to Drath said they warned her that Muth was seeking her status and money. According to interviews and police documents, Muth pretended to be an Iraqi general and developed high-level government, military and media connections while he was actually unemployed and living on a $2,000-a-month allowance from his wife.
Friends said Drath’s tale is a tragic one with an end that they had warned her was coming.
Elegant, gracious, engaging
Drath was born in 1920 in Germany and took an interest in writing and arts from an early age. During World War II, she lived in Berlin and later met a charming U.S. Army colonel who was serving as the military governor of Bavaria. She served as his interpreter, and a romance bloomed. They moved to his home state of Nebraska soon after the war, and she became Mrs. Francis S. Drath.
In Lincoln, Drath received a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska while she and her husband taught there. Friends said the colonel noticed Drath’s potential to succeed professionally and decided that a move to Washington would suit them best. They arrived in 1968. He worked for the Selective Service; she began a career in journalism and foreign affairs.
Friends, colleagues and family members described Drath as an elegant, gracious and engaging woman. She was devoted to the reunification of Germany, at one point writing a journal article that helped set the stage for the “Two-plus-Four” negotiations that brought Germany together. She was into fashion, sporting a bygone European look and delicate perfume. She traveled the world, authored books, regularly wrote for the German press and closely followed foreign affairs.
“She was an extraordinary human being,” said George Schwab, president of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, which Drath joined in the late 1970s.
Drath’s family, through a spokeswoman, declined to be interviewed for this story and instead provided a statement with details about her life.
In a very happy marriage and with two daughters, Drath was devastated when her husband died in 1986, leaving her alone in her Q Street home in Georgetown. Friends said it changed the course of her life. She was 66.
“She was so desperately lonely without him,” said Parker Ladd, a friend who met Drath 50 years ago when she was covering his partner’s fashion show in New York. “He was a charming man, and he adored her.”
It was about that time that Drath met Muth. A tall, slender, handsome young German, Muth was attending American University and was doing work on Capitol Hill, he told The Post. He would attend Washington functions and said he thought that Drath was striking and that they shared common interests.
Richard Gookin, a retired State Department official and longtime friend of Drath’s, said he noticed Muth crashing government parties, sometimes wearing an eye patch. When Drath began appearing on Muth’s arm, Gookin became concerned.
“He was a strange and ultimately unstable fellow, and we felt he was taking advantage of her,” Gookin said.
Schwab said he begged Drath not to marry Muth, but she said she found him intelligent, adorable and a good companion. Schwab and his wife had called Muth her “so-called” husband, adding that he always felt uncomfortable around him.
“He was a pathological liar,” Schwab said. “His stories were always so bizarre that I only listened with one ear. He always tried to impress me with all of his accomplishments, and I always saw through him. But [Drath] believed it. She said he updated her on the news every morning over breakfast.”
‘Couldn’t face living alone’
After Muth and Drath wed in a private ceremony in 1989 in Richmond, problems arose quickly. By 1992, Muth had been convicted of assaulting her with a chair and was jailed. When talk arose of deporting Muth to Germany, Drath got him out of jail and took him back in, friends said.
“There was nothing horrible that he could do that could distract her from being amused by him,” Ladd said. “I think she always thought she had control because she had the money.”
Muth began calling himself an Iraqi general and threw parties at their home and across Washington, luring dignitaries to strangely formal affairs at which the attendees would sing patriotic songs.
While Drath really was connected to Washington politics — she worked to form a Blue Star Mothers chapter in Washington to honor U.S. soldiers and served on the White House Commission on Remembrance, among other public-service roles — friends said Muth rode her coattails.
Friends said they knew that Drath had kicked Muth out of their home several times, at one point breaking off their relationship for years when Muth left her for a man. When that relationship ended — with a protective order — Muth came back, and Drath took him in.
“She said, ‘Betty, I get so lonely, and he’s company for me ever since Francis died,’ ” said Betty Gookin. “She couldn’t face living alone. She was very, very vulnerable even though she was a sophisticated, educated, intelligent woman. She was aware that she was not in a good situation, but somehow the other feeling was stronger.”
The Gookins said they ultimately broke off ties to Drath because they felt uncomfortable being around Muth and were appalled by the violence.
“We backed off,” Richard Gookin said. “It was hard for us. I feel I let her down, because she was such a dear, dear friend.”
In recent weeks, Drath told some friends that things were improving with Muth. It was something she said often, they recalled. Some were concerned for her well-being. She was sharp, in wonderful physical shape for her age and apparently trapped.
Friends said that Muth separated Drath from her family and that Muth was barred from some family functions. In e-mails Muth forwarded to The Post, he sparred with Drath’s children and grandchildren about her health and how to care for her.
In court papers, police wrote that Muth told them that his monthly stipend of $2,000 had recently been lowered to $1,800, and he allegedly asked a family member of Drath’s if he could continue to receive the allowance after her death.
On Friday, six hours after he told police that he found Drath, Muth wrote an e-mail to about 40 people, with the subject line “Viola,” Solomon said.
“I am sad to advise that my dear wife of nearly 25 years passed last night. Funeral arrangements are pending,” he wrote in the e-mail, which was obtained by The Post.
At that point, authorities had yet to determine when she died.
On Sunday, Muth walked into Ed Solomon’s bridal and tuxedo store in Georgetown and asked to borrow money, saying he was the prime suspect in his wife’s slaying, Solomon said. He said he couldn’t get into the house because it was a crime scene, Solomon said, and had been sleeping in Montrose Park.
Muth also asked Solomon if he had noticed that Drath was having trouble with her knee, and Solomon said no, he’d seen Drath effortlessly walking up and down the stairs. The day before, Muth had sent an obituary to The Post saying that Drath’s cause of death was head injuries sustained in a fall.
“It’s sad,” Solomon said. “Few of us live to be 91 with so much life and so much to give. She had a right to live and follow her dreams and her charities. She had dreams, and that’s the tragedy in this.”