At age 91, journalist and Washington, D.C. socialite Viola Drath could easily have died of natural causes, as police first assumed when they responded to a call of an unconscious person at her Georgetown home on Friday. But on Saturday an autopsy report swiftly changed the inquiry into her death to a homicide investigation that would soon zero in on her much-younger husband, 47-year-old Albrecht Gero Muth. On Tuesday, Police arrested Muth and charged him with second degree murder in her death. Muth is due in court on Wednesday afternoon. It's an odd murder case involving an unusual pair, in which an abusive husband's eagerness to appear in mourning may have given police their crucial clue.
Born in Dusseldorf Germany, Drath moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1947 "after marrying her first husband, Col. Francis S. Drath, the deputy U.S. military governor of Bavaria, for whom she worked as an interpreter," reported the Washington Times, for which Drath wrote a column. She worked as a correspondent for the German newspaper Hanselblatt, and wrote several books. "In her later years, she also dedicated much of her time to organizations that supported service members," especially those who served in Iraq, the Times reported.
Muth, who is Drath's second husband (the two were married in 1990), had "been arrested four times since 1992 and charged with domestic abuse," reported the Washington, D.C. Fox affiliate. "He pled guilty in one case." It was Muth's history of abuse charges, combined with his lack of a reasonable alibi that led police to first suspect him, the Washington Post reported. In a charging document posted online Wednesday by the Washington D.C. crime blog Homicide Watch, police say an obituary he emailed to the Washingtin Post on Saturday provided a crucial clue. Muth told police he had not seen Drath since Thursday evening, having gone to meet a friend and then sleeping in the basement of their townhouse, as he didn't like the air conditioner. But in his emailed obituary, he said Drath had died "after sustaining a head injury from a fall." At the time, the cause of death hadn't been made official by the Washington, D.C. medical examiner's office.
Muth was known for strange habits in person and online, where he blogged under the name Sheikh Ali Al-Muthaba. He reportedly told neighbors he was a general in the Iraqi army, a claim the Iraqi embassy denied. According to the Post, "Muth also would sometimes walk around his neighborhood in a military uniform, carrying a swagger stick." A native of Germany, Muth described his relationship with Drath as "a marriage of convenience." The Post pointed out: "The union gave Muth... access to Drath’s connections in Washington." The couple would host parties at which Muth posed as an Iraqi general before the city's elite.
Interviews with numerous Washington officials and journalists have revealed that Muth built an impressive e-mail list over the past two decades that reached the highest levels of government. Ambassadors and defense attaches attended dinners in the basement of his home under the guise of official Iraqi events. Journalists were lured with promises of hobnobbing with high-ranking members of the Iraqi military.
In the days since Drath's death, Muth has not been shy about contacting newspapers. In a message to the Washington Times, he wrote: "No closer to any arrest. Clueless on suspects, but for the obvious, who is beginning to be ruled out. I’m assuming, or I would be arrested." Actually, police have said Muth was the only suspect they ever considered.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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