Letter From DC: Eccentricities and a Murder on Q Street

The untimely end of Viola Drath

By , Columnist

Laura Thornton

Viola Drath murder investigation

By all accounts, Viola Drath was one charming, elegant, and fascinating 91 year-old broad about Georgetown before she was found unresponsive last Friday in the bathroom of her home. Her husband, 44 years her junior, has been charged with her murder. 

The persona of Viola Drath was uniquely Washingtonian. There are scores of really interesting folks in this town with political and worldly life experiences and a kookiness fueled by those life experiences. 

There’s the former Foreign Service officer in Kalarama who regales guests with stories of Africa’s difficult transition from colonialism, while plying everyone with martinis. 

There’s the former CIA operative in Leesburg, VA with an affinity for fine red wines who always sees the sinister and conspiratorial in the news. 

There was the former Special Forces veteran in the Palisades who was known to walk the Reservoir in his robe at night muttering things about “Charlie.” 

There’s the former political operative on Capitol Hill that knows - or claims to know - things about Watergate not documented in “All The President’s Men.”

We have a bunch of really cool characters floating around this town. 

VIOLA DRATH THE WASHINGTON TIMES.jpg

Viola Drath, The Washington Times


Viola Drath was a G-Town fixture. She sponsored students from her alma mater in Nebraska after emigrating from Germany. She hosted lively dinner parties for the city’s diplomatic community in her Q Street home where she held court on debates over foreign policy. She contributed her time and money to charitable causes, mainly military members that served in Iraq.

She wore groovy hats, sported an old school continental European wardrobe, and always, always, featured a strand of elegant pearls. 

She was born in Germany in 1920, survived the war and married in 1947 Col. Francis Drath, who served as a military governor in Bavaria. They returned to his home state of Nebraska, where he was professor of American literature, and she earned a master’s degree at the Lincoln campus of the University of Nebraska.

Looking to encourage the expansion of his wife’s world purview, Col. Drath moved them to Washington in 1968, taking a legislative affairs post with the Selective Service System (the draft board). Viola wrote several books, taught at area universities, and penned an occasional op-ed for the Washington Times on continental affairs. 

Col. Drath passed in 1986. Heartbroken and lonely with an empty nest, she later took up with Albrecht Gero Muth, marrying him in 1989 when he was 25 and she was 69. 

The marriage, according to Muth, was an open marriage of convenience. Muth provided companionship and an escort, while Drath provided access to Washington’s diplomatic elite and foreign policy establishment.

muth.jpgUnfortunately, Muth was somewhat of a grandiose windbag who bounced between identifying himself as having served in the French Foreign Legion in Africa, and as Sheik Ali Al-Muthaba, a Brigadier General in exile from Iraq.

He was known to stroll the streets of Georgetown, decked out in military uniforms and swinging a swagger stick. He would offer himself, unsolicited, as an expert in Middle Eastern affairs to the media and government officials. At the time, it appeared just to be good natured eccentricity.

Yet, what would have been considering amusing, quaint, and entertaining hid a dark side. 

Just three years after their marriage, Muth was arrested and jailed for assaulting Drath with a chair and pounding her head against the floor. With the risk of deportation for Muth looming, Drath took him back in.

The violence returned, and Drath kicked Muth to the curb. Muth took up with another man, Donald Davis, shifting his volatility to his off-and-on gay lover for five years, until Davis too tired of the violence and sought a protective order against Muth. 

Muth talked his way back into Drath’s home. “I get so lonely and he’s company for me ever since Francis died,” Drath told her friend Betty Gookin, according to the Washington Post.  “She was aware that she was in a bad situation, but somehow the other feeling was stronger,” Gookin added.

Sadly, that bad situation resulted in Drath’s death at the hands of Muth, DC Police charged.  The DC Coroner ruled that Drath died from strangulation and blunt-force trauma. There was no sign of forced entry, and Muth was the only one known to be in the house.

Perhaps most damning, Muth sent out an obituary outlining Drath’s time of death before the coroner had determined it and spoke of head injuries while earlier claiming ignorance to the police of his wife’s condition and timeline.

His pomposity was so enlarged, he has since e-mailed the office of Vice President Joe Biden and the Pentagon’s joint staff to “relinquish” his command, citing the distractions from the investigation into his wife’s death.

There’s a growing social pressure in DC to conform to blandness, to put on airs of absolute stability, to reject individualism, and shun characters. There have even been whispered suggestions that permission of eccentricity was an abettor in Drath’s death.

But it’s really the sad tale that could be found in any hamlet in North America, or Europe for that matter, of an accomplished and somewhat eccentric woman whose need for companionship overruled her good sense, and ultimately, might have led to her death.

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Marc Osgoode Smith has covered – and participated in - Washington DC policy circles for more than two decades as a journalist covering media and as an association and think tank executive. Smith now enjoys his role as a “cultural observer” of DC Politics and the people that engage in them.

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