Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Fake Rockefeller guilty of murder

FILE - This Monday April 8, 2013 file photo shows Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter listening during final arguments at his trial at Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles. The notorious Rockefeller impostor has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of a man whose bones were found buried beneath a California home.(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes,File)
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter listening during final arguments at his trial (AP)

An imposter who pretended to be a member of the Rockefeller family has been found guilty of the first-degree murder of a man whose bones were found buried beneath a California home.

Christian Gerhartsreiter was tried 28 years after the disappearance of newlyweds John and Linda Sohus in a heavily circumstantial cold case.

Much of the prosecution's evidence focused on the strange behaviour of the man who adopted many names including Clark Rockefeller. He masqueraded as an heir to the fabled oil fortune for 20 years. The verdict was reached after the Los Angeles jury deliberated for about a day.

Authorities said Gerhartsreiter was a German immigrant who lived another life long ago, occupying a guest cottage at the home of Mr Sohus' mother in the suburb of San Marino. He was known then as Chris Chichester and intimated he was of royal lineage. He joined the church, befriended residents and told some he was a film student.

A friend said Linda Sohus once described the tenant in the cottage owned by her husband's mother as "creepy" and said she and her husband never spoke to him. Shortly after the Sohus couple vanished, so did he.

No trace of Linda has been found but John's bones were unearthed during excavation of a swimming pool at the San Marino property in 1994. With no clues, the mystery went cold again. But across the country, a man variously known as Chris Crowe, Chip Smith and Clark Rockefeller was inventing new lives for himself.

The imposter wormed his way into high society and talked his way into important jobs. He married a wealthy woman and controlled her funds, but his identity unravelled when he kidnapped their daughter during a custody dispute. She testified that he became increasingly paranoid when police begin inquiring about him.

When he was unmasked, he became the subject of magazine articles, true crime books and TV movies that sought to explore his bizarre story and get to the heart of the man behind the pseudonyms.

The resulting publicity led California authorities to revisit the Sohus disappearance. They realised the man in custody in Boston was not an heir to the Rockefeller fortune but was the man who had lived in San Marino decades ago.

Already serving time for the kidnapping of his young daughter in a Boston custody dispute, Gerhartsreiter was close to the end of his sentence and headed for freedom when the murder charge changed that. After a quarter century, authorities believed they had linked him to the disappearance of his old neighbour.

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