Murder in Georgetown: the bizarre case of Albrecht Muth and Viola Drath

Laura Rozen

Who is Albrecht Gero Muth?

The German-born Muth, 47, was arrested in Washington, D.C. Tuesday night on charges of the second degree murder last week of his wife, Viola Herms Drath, who was 91 years old, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Muth, arrested walking outside the couple's Georgetown home, was ordered held without bond at an arraignment hearing Wednesday. He had originally claimed in an email to friends last Friday that he had found Drath dead after she had fallen down the stairs, the Post reported. But police on Saturday ruled Drath's death a homicide--and Muth was reportedly their only suspect.

Among the reasons for their suspicions: Medical examiners determined that Drath had been strangled and suffered blunt force trauma; that there was no sign of forced entry into the couple's Georgetown home; and the revelation that Drath, a German-born journalist with connections to high-level diplomatic circles, had previously filed several protective orders against Muth, as had Muth's one-time male lover. Muth also reportedly wrote Drath's relatives that he was owed $150,000 upon Drath's death.

Authorities have also been investigating Muth's many bizarre biographical claims, among them that he is an Iraqi brigadier general who recently served as an advisor to Moqtada al-Sadr, the pro-Iranian Iraqi insurgent leader.

Indeed, Muth, who also used the name Sheik Ali al-Muthaba, regularly walked around Georgetown and appeared at various diplomatic functions wearing what he claimed was an Iraqi military uniform. (It turned out to be a Jordanian uniform to which he had affixed Iraqi medals, an Iraqi diplomatic source told the Envoy on condition of anonymity Wednesday.)

The Iraqi embassy denied in a statement to the Envoy Wednesday that Muth was or ever had been a member of the Iraqi government or military. However, Muth has appeared at various Washington events—including helping organize one held at Arlington National Cemetery last year to mark Iraq's Liberation Day, for instance—attended by Iraqi generals and the Iraqi embassy defense attaché, as well as the families of U.S. servicemen and women who had died in Iraq, diplomats who attended the event told The Envoy.

Muth also variously claimed at one website to have converted to Catholicism with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as his sponsor; to have hosted with his wife a 65th birthday party for then Vice President Dick Cheney; and to have been a former German spy who bugged Madeleine Albright's Georgetown residence.

So which of Muth's many extraordinary claims about his career and connections are true, and which are false? And how did he come to be married--reportedly for the past 25 years--to a woman 44 years his senior, who several observers, including Georgetown writer and socialite Carol Joynt, first mistook as his mother, or possibly even his grandmother?

The Envoy has interviewed several diplomats and people in Washington foreign policy circles who encountered Muth and the late Drath on the Georgetown diplomatic circuit over the years, seeking to sort out which of his claims may be real. One diplomat who discussed holding a possible conference in Iraq with Muth last year but quickly abandoned the idea likened the German to the protagonist in the film "A Beautiful Mind" who weaves fabulous conspiracies out of a smattering of facts and other pure fictions. "Numbers, numbers, numbers," he said, describing various of Muth's bizarre claims.

The diplomat concluded that Muth also brilliantly used his wife's connections in diplomatic circles to get further access to various foreign policy luminaries.

So a brief rundown of Muth myths:

Muth Claim No. 1: that Muth and Viola Drath helped host a 65th birthday party for then Vice President Dick Cheney at a private Washington club for current and former diplomats and U.S. foreign service officers.

Verdict: Partly true. An official with the club, DACOR Bacon House, confirmed to the Envoy that Cheney as well as Muth and Drath did indeed attend the event, although she was not certain that Muth and Drath were hosts for the private function. The official remembered the event as a gathering sponsored by an organization from Nebraska, where Cheney was born and to which the late Drath had a connection possibly due to her first marriage to the late U.S. Col. Francis Drath. The DACOR official knew Drath well, calling her "the real deal," and expressed deep sadness at her death.

Muth Claim No. 2: that Muth converted to Catholicism with current US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as his sponsor.

Verdict: Scalia apparently did have some relationship with Muth, and dined at his home.

Kathleen Arberg, a spokesperson for the U.S. Supreme Court, told the Envoy by e-mail Wednesday, that:  "No, Justice Scalia was not his sponsor" for Muth's Catholic conversion.

However, that answer may not give the full picture. It turns out that Scalia attended salon dinners at Muth's home and even signed his guest book, the Wall Street Journal reported late Wednesday:

"Over the years, the couple's gatherings attracted Washington A-listers, including—according to signatures in the guest book—Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Army Vice Chief of Staff Peter Chiarelli and Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador to Egypt," the Journal's Adam Entous reported.

"As guests departed after dinner, Mr. Muth asked them to sign the guestbook, whose pages included signatures from Justice Scalia and Gen. Chiarelli."

The spokeswoman for Scalia told the Journal she declined to comment.

Muth Claim No. 3: that Muth graduated from American University.

Verdict: True. A spokeswoman for American University confirmed that Muth earned his BA from the university in 1991.

Muth Claim No. 4: that Muth is an Iraqi general.

Verdict: False. The Iraqi embassy denied in a statement to the Envoy that Muth ever served in the Iraqi military:

"We are deeply troubled by Mr. Muth's claim of his service in the Iraqi military. He is not currently and has never been a member of the Iraqi Army. He does not represent the Embassy, its attaches, the government of Iraq, or any government institution in any fashion. In the past, the Embassy was aware of the claims made by Mr. Muth and made it clear to all concerned that they were false and demanded that they must cease."

However: A Middle Eastern diplomat tells the Envoy that the Iraqi defense attaché was on friendly terms with Muth and used to see him at various events in his Iraqi uniform.

Muth Claim No. 5: that Muth is a former German spy.

Verdict: Unclear. Muth was born in Germany (as was Drath), and apparently still holds German citizenship. As to his claimed connections to the German intelligence service, or his assertion that his uncle and mentor was former East German politician Gerald Goetting, neither could be established and seem likely to be fabricated. Muth claimed to have ties to the former East German intelligence service in a meeting last year with the Middle East diplomat, who thought, given the fact that Muth was only 24 years old or so when the Berlin Wall fell, that the claim didn't seem to add up.

Muth Claim No. 6: Muth served as a representative of then Mali president Alpha Oumar Konare at various UN conferences, as well as a member of the Eminent Persons Panel advising former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan

Verdict: Unclear. Muth gave a press conference at the UN in 2002 claiming to be the executive director of the Eminent Persons Panel. But one European diplomat involved with the panel told the Envoy that at least his iteration of the group had completed its work in 2001 and he had never met or heard of Muth.

The Malian embassy has not yet responded to a query from The Envoy on Muth's claim to have served as a representative of then Mali President Konara and as a member of the Mali delegation to the UN conference on small arms in 2001.

Several embassies contacted by the Envoy Wednesday were, understandably, reluctant to comment on claims by sources that they had hosted Muth at various events.