Strange God wrinkle in Georgetown murder tale

People here in Capital Beltway land love, love, love to talk about the unique creatures who live in the happy land of Georgetown.

People who live in Georgetown also love to talk about other people who live in Georgetown, but for rather different reasons.

Yes, I am trying to find a way to point GetReligion readers toward that stunning long read in The New York Times Sunday Magazine that ran under the headline, “The Worst Marriage in Georgetown.”

This is, no question about it, one of the most amazing drop-those-names classics ever written about Georgetown and all of the exotic species that call Georgetown home. Plus, it a murder mystery — sort of.

How chatty and gossipy is this piece? Friends and neighbors, you’ve got second- or third-hand quotes from a Supreme Court justice by the end of the second paragraph.

Dinners were served in the basement. Ambassadors, generals with many stars, senior White House officials and closely read columnists — all would walk past the yellowing kitchen, which looked as if it hadn’t been updated since the Ford administration, and down a narrow flight of stairs into the dimly lighted dining room. Guests were arrayed around the table according to rank, with the most important ones squeezed in the center. Although the Old World meals could be quite elaborate — venison paté, duck in bitter orange — they were prepared and served entirely by the host, a stickler for protocol named Albrecht Muth.

Muth liked to refer to his Georgetown row house, which technically belonged to his wife, the journalist Viola Drath, as the Albrechtory. Guests at their dinners included Anne Patterson, Obama’s ambassador to Egypt; Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift; and Pierre Salinger, the Kennedy courtier, followed by his little white dog. Antonin Scalia was another guest, and Muth liked to joke about the time he asked Scalia to officiate his wedding: “Will you marry me?” Muth inquired. “Well, I’m already married,” Scalia replied. In 2006, even Dick Cheney emerged from his bunker to attend a party that Drath hosted.

That enough big-shot names for you? Hang on for the hurricane to follow, with appearances (to one degree or another) by Henry Kissinger, Norman Mailer, George Soros, Kofi Annan, the French Foreign Legion (maybe) and, oh yeah, leaders of the Sadrist Mahdi Army.

The colorful, to put it mildly, central character is Muth, the kind of man can simultaneously be in trouble for abusing his wife and his latest boyfriend. He liked to dress in Iraqi military garb, which the story notes “appeared to be a hybrid of Iraqi and Jordanian secondhand components.” Muth claimed to be a major boots-on-the-ground player in American-Iraqi relations, during a period of time — 2006-2008 — in which “records showed he was employed as a desk clerk” at a hotel in Miami.

Viola Drath is, of course, the tale’s sad and tragic figure and her murder at the age of 91 raised the city’s gossip about her up to a whole new level. Drath, you see, was 44 years older than her husband.

But all of these people together and you had some very, very Georgetown-esque dinner parties.

Yes, this is one incredible long read, but what (I can hear GetReligion readers asking) does this sordid tale have to do with religion news?

Here is the image I would use, as the kind of aging scribe who listens to Pink Floyd while writing a post of this kind. Does anyone remember those movies in the late ’60s and early ’70s when all kind of crazy things would happen near the end of the story (whether metaphysical, like “2001,” or chemical, like “Blow Up”) and it never really mattered if these mind-bending proceedings made any sense whatsoever? All that matters is the wild and crazy ride.

That’s what happens at the end of this piece. It’s kind of like journalistic acid and, since we’re talking about religious stuff, it doesn’t matter whether any of this really checks out or is relevant to the story. It’s just strange, you know? Of course Muth sails off into the happy land of religion.

Read on:

During his first appearance in court, he complained that corrections officers wanted him to wear underwear: “[I] am a serving officer in the Iraqi Special Forces,” he said. “We don’t wear underwear.” During his second appearance, last November, he announced that he would serve as his own attorney and that he would begin “an unlimited fast,” which he vaguely justified as an imperative of his faith.

Muth had only recently become Catholic. Antonin Scalia, he claimed, had sponsored his conversion, a perfect Washington detail — and one that a Supreme Court spokesman has denied. On Day 53 of his fast, Muth instructed the court that “under no circumstances whatsoever am I to be given any medical treatment.” In other words, he seemed to be following the grim fate of Edward von Kloberg and Craig Spence, his fellow Washington fabulists.

When doctors pleaded with him to eat, Muth told them that he was following orders from the Archangel Gabriel. They needn’t worry about his ability to survive, he said. He later compared himself to a camel and then to Jesus. By early February, the Department of Corrections transferred him to the United Medical Center, which had greater capacity to deal with his extreme dehydration and starvation, although doctors now regarded his condition as “extremely grave.”

And the final send off? Told that he could end up — for real — in jail, Muth tells his doctor:

“God will take care of that,” Muth replied. “I don’t need to worry about it.”

Read the whole story. And have a nice day.

PHOTO: Albrecht Muth in full flight.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Julia

    OK I’ll bite.

    Muth had only recently become Catholic. Antonin Scalia, he claimed, had sponsored his conversion, a perfect Washington detail — and one that a Supreme Court spokesman has denied.

    Reporter should have checked to see if he had in fact participated in a conversion ceremony of any kind. A baptism? Something else? Why assume he had really become a Catholic – regardless of who his sponsor might have been.


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