Viola Herms Drath had been to the Blue Star Mothers convention the week of Aug. 8, and she spoke excitedly about an upcoming family dinner at the Prime Rib on K Street and her great-granddaughter’s first birthday. She was pleased that, even at 91 years old, her calendar was so full.
But by the end of the week, she was found dead.
Drath was determined not to let her age, or anything else for that matter, slow her down. Her wits sharp and her health steady, Drath navigated the worlds of journalism, foreign policy, art, fashion, travel and Georgetown life with the ease and style of someone decades younger. She still had dreams and aspirations.
But by Aug. 12, Drath’s remarkable life had been hijacked by a man described by those close to her as an eccentric opportunist. More than 40 years her junior, the man had looked to piggyback on Drath’s successes and ride them to social status and importance, several people who knew the couple said.
Drath’s second husband, Albrecht Gero Muth, 47, has been charged with beating and strangling her in their Q Street home in Northwest Washington. In court recently, Muth, who has claimed to be a general in the Iraqi army and a spy for several countries was granted the right to represent himself at trial.
Drath’s friends, co-workers and acquaintances described the Muth-Drath marriage as a quintessential Washington story of power and influence. But it was a relationship that got increasingly dysfunctional as Drath got older and Muth got more delusional and demanding, they said.
Although a strong and independent woman, Drath — widowed after a long and loving first marriage — became ensnared in a two-decade cycle of loneliness, love, dependence, abuse and reconciliation, her friends and family say.
But Drath never saw it that way. In an unpublished and previously undisclosed memoir — called “A Thoroughly Muddled Marriage: Report of an Inmate” — Drath acknowledged the many differences between Muth and her. But she also wrote of a true and genuine love and said the fights all were worth it.
In lengthy conversations over the past three months, Drath’s family members spoke of a woman they admired and loved and now sorely miss. They said the way she died and the person they think is responsible for her death have overshadowed her inspiring life.
“My mother was not ordinary in any way, not in the way she lived and not in the way she died,” said Connie Dwyer, Drath’s eldest daughter. “She had a very interesting life. . . . She said she’d like to live to 95, but we don’t get to choose when we die or how we die. Yes, she was robbed. There’s no doubt about it. Her day had not really come.”
Drath told her family that she truly loved Muth, just that it was a different kind of love affair. Those close to her said that Muth took over much of her life and that she relented because she didn’t want to be alone.
That could be seen in their Georgetown home. Photographs of Drath’s daughters and grandsons graced the living room piano until they gradually were replaced by signed head shots of top U.S. generals and a 1989 image of Drath shaking hands with President George H.W. Bush. Beautiful artistic works above the mantel were eventually surrounded by military challenge coins. Framed family memories on a wall in the English basement were pushed aside in favor of letters from dignitaries and photographs of senators, a Supreme Court justice and foreign officials.
All to impress a Washington society that often trades on influence and connections.
As police looked through the photographs Aug. 12, their attention turned to Muth. Drath’s body lay lifeless in an upstairs bathroom, steps from her longtime office, where a Blue Star Mothers conference folder had been tossed on a small couch.
Muth, authorities allege, had killed Drath before concocting a story that she was frail and had fallen and hit her head. Those who knew Drath said that the moment they heard of her passing they were certain that story could not have been true.
“She had a lot to look forward to,” Dwyer said of her mother. “She did like drama, and she would have been fascinated by this. She would have. The attention, the celebrity that comes with this right now. She probably wouldn’t have minded that.”
‘A big adventure’
Viola Herms was born in Dusseldorf in 1920, into a family that was doing quite well for post-World War I Germany. Relatives recalled stories of drivers and vacations and boarding school in Scotland. It was there that she learned flawless English.
A student of art and fashion, she began her adult life as a playwright. One of her early productions — “Farewell Isabell” — reached the stage in Munich in 1946. She wrote newspaper articles for German and Austrian papers and wrote plays that became movie scripts. A stunning beauty, she captured her bright blond hair and blue eyes in an oil self-portrait that hangs in her home.