A 52-year-old German immigrant by the name of Christian Gerhartsreiter is on trial this month in Los Angeles for the 1985 murder of California man John Sohus.
While Gerhartsreiter is little known, many have heard of his alter-ego, Clark Rockefeller. Rockefeller was the subject of Lifetime movie, “Who is Clark Rockefeller?” and a fantastic 2009 Vanity Fair profile.
His case may be the most unbelievable case of fraud in modern America. Now, if Gerhartsreiter is found guilty in LA, it may include a grizzly double murder too.
In the 1990s, Gerhartsreiter, who is believed to have snuck into the country as a teenager, managed to convince many of New England’s elite that he was the moneyed son of George Rockefeller and Mary Roberts.
He was so convincing that he managed to marry Sandra Boss, a high-earning Mckinsey executive with degrees from Stanford and Harvard Business School, and the couple had a child together, living entirely off of Boss’ salary, said to be in the realm of $2 million a year.
The couple eventually separated, Boss suspicious of her husband’s identity (she hired a private detective who confirmed he wasn’t a Rockefeller) and his behaviour becoming increasingly bizarre.
Gerhartsreiter responded by putting his $800,000 divorce settlement in gold coins and abducting their daughter. After an international manhunt, he was caught and sentenced to jail in 2009 for the kidnapping and assault and battery, with the jury rejecting the defence of insanity.
The court case revealed some other tall tales by Gerhartsreiter, according to the Boston Globe, including “his work with the international Trilateral Commission; the blame he bore for the collapse of the Asian financial markets; and that he ended seven mute years as a child with the word ‘woofness.'”
ABC News more details from an FBI profile, noting that Gerhartsreiter “does not use metal utensils, will not eat bread unless it is white Pepperidge Farm with the crusts cut off, and that he met Sandra Boss at a Clue party where she was dressed as Scarlett O’Hara and he was Colonel Mustard. The two fell for one another while speaking Klingon, the language spoken by some on the TV series “Star Trek.””
After that trial’s publicity, Gerhartsreiter was traced back to Germany, where his birth parents said they had not seen him since 1978. Gerhartsreiter refused to accept this, instead claiming former actress Ann Carter had raised him (a claim she later denied).
The Murder Twist
The new trial in LA only began earlier this month and relates to another time in Gerhartsreiter’s life, and another identity — Christopher Chichester.
Sohus and his wife disappeared in 1985 in San Marino. Sohus’ alcoholic mother told friends that the pair had gone on a top secret mission for the government. 9 years later human remains were found under the Sohus’ home — the remains appeared to belong to John Sohus, and he appeared to have been bludgeoned to death, hacked to pieces, and put into plastic bags. His wife’s remains have not been discovered.
For decades the case was unsolved, but as more details comes out about Gerhartsreiter’s past, he has emerged as a clear suspect.
A “Christopher Chichester” was known to have rented guest house from Sohus’ mother at the time. The same man later tried to sell witnesses an Oriental rug that appeared to have a bloody stain on it, according to the LA Times, and had the victim’s truck after his death.
One piece of Sohus’ body was found in a plastic bag stamped with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Gerhartsreiter studied at the university during the time that that logo was in use.
This week the court heard testimony from a girlfriend who lived in New York with Gerhartsreiter during the late 1980s that he acted bizarre when a police officer attempted to contact him about the murder. Gerhartsreuter — then living as Christopher Crowe — apparently died his hair black and his eyebrows blonde.
The ex-wife Boss is expected to testify in the case, which may well bring out more details.
Gerhartsreiter may never testify in the trial himself — defence lawyers are refusing to say if he will or not, according to the Boston Herald — so jurors were this week shown an August 2008 interview of Christian Gerhartsreiter on NBC’s “Today”, wherein he offers an oblique denial.
The denial comes around 11 minutes into the video below, but the entire interview is fascinating to watch — for example, the moment where Gerhartsreiter puts on a Scottish accent and recites Robert Burns.
Will He Be Convicted?
One big problem with the murder case is that events took place so long ago — at least two witnesses have failed to recognise Gerhartsreiter in court, the LA Times reports — and a lot of the evidence in the case is circumstantial at best.
Gerhartsreiter’s defence rests upon pointing the blame towards John Sohus’s wife Linda, arguing that she was more physically capable of killing her husband in such a violent manner (at 6 foot tall, Linda was almost a foot taller than Gerhartsreiter).
At this point everyone agrees that Gerhartsreiter is an unusual guy. Convicting him of murder, however, will be a much harder task.
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