By ERIC TUCKER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — She was a 91-year-old expatriate journalist with a deep fluency in foreign affairs and a taste for fashion and art. Her husband, German-born and four decades her junior, boasted of wide-reaching connections in international circles, claimed to be an Iraqi army brigadier general and strolled the neighborhood in a military-style uniform while puffing cigars.
The peculiar marriage of Viola Drath and Albrecht Muth, by turns tempestuous and detached, ended last August when Drath was found dead inside the couple's fashionable row house. Her husband, who reported finding her body, was charged with murder.
The slaying of an elderly socialite in the tony Georgetown neighborhood captivated Washington. But the substance of the allegations has so far been overshadowed by bizarre twists and turns that have lent the case a circus-like atmosphere and veered it off-course.
Muth, 47, has fired his lawyers, suggested the killing was an Iranian hit and demanded the right to wear in court a military uniform that prosecutors say was actually tailor-made for him in South Carolina. He has gone on hunger strikes, likened himself to Moses and Jesus and reported visions of the archangel Gabriel. As prosecutors seek an indictment, a judge has sent Muth to a mental hospital and ordered a psychiatric evaluation before he can stand trial. An assessment of his mental competency is expected next month.
Friends say they were befuddled by the marriage. Drath was a stately presence in political and social circles; Muth appeared a much-younger poseur. They say she gravitated to him to placate her loneliness after her first husband's death while he glommed onto her social status to gain access to a world of dignitaries. It was a marriage, Muth has said, of "convenience." But it was also tainted by allegations of domestic violence and interrupted by Muth's affair with a man.
"My own view was it was kind of odd for a woman of her heritage and a woman of her brains to marry a young guy like that. What is it — a 40-year difference?" said Warren Adler, a novelist who met Drath when she wrote on culture and fashion for a magazine, "Washington Dossier," his wife edited.
She told him it was comfortable; he left it alone.
Drath's family wouldn't discuss the relationship, but one daughter said the death of a mentally sharp woman whose energy and intellectual heft belied her age has been devastating.
"She had many years ahead of her. We had many plans, and it's just left a huge hole," Fran Drath said.
Drath, who was born in Dusseldorf, Germany, and moved to America with her first husband after World War II, balanced varied passions as a young woman: She wrote plays and books, including one on former West German chancellor Willy Brandt, studied painting and covered art and fashion. She was also passionate about German-American relations, proposing negotiations on German reunification and authoring columns for The Washington Times and Handelsblatt, a German newspaper.
She took fact-finding missions to foreign countries, lectured at colleges and served on commissions. She organized dinner parties and celebrations, including a 60th anniversary commemoration of Victory-In-Europe Day where guests were greeted with a bagpipe serenade, according to a Washington Times report at the time.
"I would not characterize her as particularly a socialite. She was more intellectual. She wore hats which people didn't wear, and she was always beautifully coiffed and dressed in what I always thought of as old-world tradition," Adler said.
She met her first husband, Col. Francis Drath, a U.S. Army official and deputy U.S. military governor of Bavaria, when she was hired to be his interpreter in Europe. It was instant love, their daughter recalled. The couple wed after the war and settled in Nebraska before moving to Washington in 1968 because of Francis Drath's Selective Service System job.
They were devoted companions. After Francis's 1986 death, Viola Drath spoke openly of her loneliness.
"I think she wanted what she'd had before, which is somebody who loved her, somebody who shielded her, somebody to stand up against the world for her," said friend Donna Shor, who writes a society column for Washington Life magazine.
Added Fran Drath: "My mother did not want to be by herself. She missed a great companion."