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Rockefeller impostor: Defense focuses on missing wife of victim

January 20, 2012 |  1:31 pm
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who calls himself Clark Rockefeller, enters Suffolk Superior Court in Boston for a hearing last year

A defense attorney representing a one-time Rockefeller impostor accused in a three decades-old San Marino murder appeared to move toward blaming the man’s missing wife Friday, questioning a witness about tensions between the couple.

Christian Gerhartsreiter, an alleged conman who used myriad aliases moving from coast to coast, faces a charge of murder in the death of John Sohus, whose remains were found in the backyard of his mother’s former home in 1994 a decade after his disappearance. Authorities believe Gerhartsreiter, then under the name Christopher Chichester, lived at the home of Sohus’ mother around the time of his death.

Brad Bailey, an attorney for Gerhartsreiter, on Friday questioned a childhood friend of Sohus’ about the relationship between Sohus and his wife, Linda, who disappeared at the same time. Although Linda Sohus’ remains were never found, authorities have said they are presuming her dead.

Patrick Rayermann, a former Army colonel who said he knew Sohus since the sixth grade, testified that he last saw John and his wife in January 1985, when the three met for dinner. Bailey began his cross-examination by asking about the difference in stature between the newlywed couple.

“She was significantly larger than John, wasn’t she?” Bailey asked, noting that John was “slight in size and stature.”

“She was the larger of the couple,” Rayermann replied, saying although she was 6 or 7 inches taller and around 50 pounds heavier, he wouldn’t call the difference “significant.” “It was noticeable,” he said.

The defense attorney then asked about tension Rayermann previously told an investigator that he sensed between John and Linda at the dinner when he last saw the couple.

Rayermann said Linda appeared to have had disagreements with Sohus’ mother, Ruth “Didi” Sohus, who he said could be described as “surly” and difficult to get along with, likely an alcoholic who was often in pajamas and a bathrobe with a drink in her hand. The couple both felt they should move out of Didi’s home and start their own household, the witness recalled, but John appeared divided between his mother and his wife.

“John was torn between his loyalty to his mother and his desire to continue to help her in her more older years, and his desire to establish his own independent household with Linda,” Rayermann said.

During questioning by a prosecutor earlier in the morning, Rayermann had said the two were “upbeat, positive, very much in love.” He said the two made no negative comments or any threats to one another, and that there was no indication of violence.

Also on Friday, a criminologist who examined the buried remains contained in several plastic bags said a T-shirt that enveloped part of the body had several cuts that appeared to be inflicted with a sharp instrument.

Four cuts were located in the back of the left shoulder of the shirt, and two in the left sleeve, which she said could have been created when someone wearing the shirt lifted up his arm in defense.

A Connecticut owner of a brokerage firm testified earlier Friday that he hired a man who called himself Christopher Crowe -– an alias authorities believe Gerhartsreiter used –- sometime in 1985 or 1986. Stanford Phelps, when asked if he recognized anyone in the courtroom he had previously employed, gazed past Gerhartsreiter and after a long pause, said he did not.

When Deputy Dist. Atty. Habib Balian showed him an older photo of Gerhartsreiter with horn-rimmed glasses, however, Phelps said that was no doubt the man he knew as Christopher Crowe and employed for a little over a year to perform computer work at his company.

“Your honor, I was a forward observer and identified enemy tanks and infantry at a distance,” Phelps told Judge Jared Moses, pointing at the photograph. “No question, no question, this is Christopher Crowe.”


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-- Victoria Kim