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Rockefeller impostor tied to murder victim's pickup truck

January 24, 2012 |  8:00 am

Cold case

A onetime Rockefeller impostor accused in a three-decade-old cold-case slaying was tied by a witness in the preliminary hearing to the victim's pickup truck.

Christian Gerhartsreiter, 50, faces a murder charge in the death of John Sohus, who went missing in 1985 and whose remains were unearthed a decade later in the backyard of Sohus' mother's San Marino home. Gerhartsreiter, authorities say, was a con man who used a number of aliases and for years posed as Clark Rockefeller, a member of the oil and banking clan.

A man who knew Gerhartsreiter in Connecticut around 1988, and then using the name Christopher Crowe, testified that the man gave him a white pickup truck.

Christopher Bishop, an Episcopal priest who was at the time a struggling film student, said Gerhartsreiter, who claimed to be a film producer, gave him a truck that he said had been used in a movie production.

Authorities have said the truck belonged to John Sohus, who went missing along with his wife, Linda, about the time Gerhartsreiter left San Marino. Gerhartsreiter lived for a time as a tenant in the guest house of Sohus' mother, Ruth "Didi" Sohus.

Robert and Bettie Brown, a couple who said they met a man they knew as Christopher Chichester at their San Gabriel church, identified Gerhartsreiter in court Monday as the man they occasionally invited over to prayer groups at their home in San Marino.

The Browns testified that one evening in 1985, Gerhartsreiter came over to their house with an armful of odd belongings that he wanted to sell. One of the items, they said, was an Oriental rug with a round, rust-colored stain no larger than a quarter.

"She said 'Chris, this has blood on it,' " Robert Brown recalled his wife saying.

"I said it looked like blood, and it's hard to clean," Bettie Brown testified.

The couple testified that the man did not deny the stain was blood and instead abruptly rolled up the rug and left. He disappeared from San Marino shortly afterward.

L.A. County Superior Court Judge Jared Moses said he would accept the testimony as an "adoptive admission" by the defendant — meaning that he would consider the man not disputing there was blood on the rug to be an admission of the fact.

Defense attorney Brad Bailey questioned Bettie Brown about how certain she was that the stain was blood. She conceded she could not be absolutely sure.


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--Victora Kim

Photo: Christian Gerhartsreiter is accused of killing John Sohus in San Marino. Prosecutors say he is a con man who used a number of aliases. Credit: Walt Mancini / Associated Press