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He was a con man for much of his life, charming his way into elite company through false pretenses and lies, but the murder of his wife was one deed he could not manipulate his way out of.
Albrecht Much is the inspiration behind “Georgetown,” a new film that hit theaters Friday and is available on Demand on Tuesday. As the trailer for the movie notes, it's based on an “incredible true story” — Muth's murder in 2011 of his elderly Washington D.C. socialite wife Viola Herms Drath. While the names have changed — the Muth-based antagonist is named Ulrich Mott, portrayed by Christoph Walz, who also directed the feature — the characters are based on the same real-life players at the heart of the killing; the film is an adaptation of a 2012 New York Times Magazine story called "The Worst Marriage in Georgetown" which profiles the case.
Muth, born in Germany, climbed his way up the social ladder by conning the elite. Drath — a writer and socialite 44 years his senior — was no exception (the film character based on her is portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave). They met in 1982 when he was a teenage student at American University in Washington, D.C., interning in the office of a Republican senator, according to the New York Times Magazine. Drath, a journalist who was also born in Germany and who moved to the U.S. after meeting her first husband after World War II, was still married at the time. But when her husband Francis died in 1986, Muth re-entered her life and they wed in 1990, when she was 70 and he was 26.
Muth would later describe the union as a "marriage of convenience," and it suited his goals as a social climber. The couple hosted high society dinner parties at their Georgetown home, rubbing elbows with the elites of Washington, D.C.'s political and cultural scene. Muth was easily recognized in Georgetown due to his tendency to wear faux military garb and his habit of smoking cigars. His self-importance and relentless ambition took many forms: in 1999, he formed a think tank known as the Eminent Persons Group, with the stated goal of bringing together political and intellectual thought leaders from around the world to advise the United Nations. He parlayed Drath's social connections, as well as his own dogged networking abilities, to attract legitimate figures from the realm of international politics to the group, including former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard, according to the New York Times Magazine, though the group didn't reach the heights of influence Muth had imagined.
Many locals viewed him as strange. His former neighbor Hayes Permar told the Washington Post in 2015 that Muth reminded her both of “Boo Radley,” the mysterious character in the literary classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” as well as the reclusive snow-shoveling neighbor in “Home Alone.”
At home, Muth was as abusive as he was grandiose. He was convicted of beating Drath in 1992, establishing a pattern of domestic violence in the relationship. In 2002, he briefly moved in with his boyfriend — he'd been having affairs with men throughout his marriage to Drath — only for his boyfriend to obtain a restraining order after Muth allegedly threatened to kill him. And in 2006, he was arrested again for assaulting Drath, pounding her head repeatedly into the floor in a drunken rage, according to the New York Times Magazine.
Muth disappeared from Drath's life for a time and began sending friends and acquaintances in the world of diplomacy and journalism missives claiming he was in Sadr City, Iraq, serving as an adviser to the Iraqi insurgent Moqtada al-Sadr, head of the militia group the Mahdi Army. In numerous emails, Muth portrayed himself as attempting to restrain the group's violence and broker peace in the war-torn country. Records show that he was actually living in Miami during this period, working as a hotel clerk, according to the New York Times Magazine.
Muth and Drath eventually reconciled, but the pattern of abuse continued, with tragic consequences. Muth strangled Drath, then 91, to death in their Georgetown home on Aug. 12, 2011. A witness escorted an intoxicated Muth home hours prior and then, during the wee hours of the night, another witness overheard “a woman’s faint cry and a man’s laugh emanating from inside the defendant’s home," according to a Department of Justice press release.
By the next morning, Muth called 911 to report his wife’s death, claiming he found her on the bathroom floor. Investigators didn't observe any signs of a break-in and there were visible scratches on Muth’s face, Washington D.C.’s ABC7 reported in 2011.
While Muth arrogantly told the outlet soon after that he didn't think he was a serious suspect in the investigation, he was arrested and booked for Drath’s murder the same day of that proclamation.
During his murder trial, the government presented evidence of a history of domestic violence by Muth against his wife. That includes a 2008 incident in which Drath eventually dropped charges against her husband, according to ABC7.
“In addition, Muth had made a number of statements over the years indicating a desire to kill her,” the DOJ stated. “By the summer of 2011, Ms. Drath had enough of the defendant’s abuse and was trying to end the marriage. Also, despite the fact that Ms. Drath specifically disinherited Muth in her will, he regularly pressured her for money. After killing the victim, and before her body was removed from the home, Muth presented a fraudulent document to the daughter of the victim demanding $200,000.”
Muth was not physically present during the trial, nor at the sentencing hearing, because he went on hunger strikes, a move that did delay justice temporarily, the Washington Post reported in 2013. It also landed him in the hospital, according to the DOJ.
“The government contended that Muth’s refusal to eat was part of a manipulation designed to avoid trial,” they stated, adding that Muth attended the proceedings over video.
Muth was convicted of first-degree (premeditated) murder with the aggravating circumstances that the murder was especially heinous, cruel, and inflicted on a vulnerable victim. He was handed a 50-year sentence in 2014.
At the time of his sentencing, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen remarked, “For the rest of his life, Muth won’t be able to masquerade as a military officer or member of a royal family while subjecting his wife to intolerable abuse. He will be a federal inmate paying the price for his brutal crime.”
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