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Jury selection begins in 'Clark Rockefeller' murder trial

March 11, 2013 | 10:54 am
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter

Like the Wizard of Oz, a man born in a German village was a master of illusion, taking on many names before becoming the self-proclaimed Boston socialite Clark Rockefeller with a lifestyle to match.

But Christian Gerhartsreiter's illusions came at a deadly price, Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Habib Balian said. With jury selection starting Monday in the three-decade-old slaying of John Sohus, the man of many names will mostly be referred to as "the defendant."

Sohus went missing in 1985 along with his wife, Linda. At the time of the disappearance, a man authorities say is Gerhartsreiter lived in the San Marino guest house owned by Sohus' mother under the alias Christopher Chichester.

Chichester claimed to be British aristocrat with a love of film, worked on a local cable-TV show and hung out at USC's film school. He disappeared shortly after Sohus and his wife vanished in 1985, and Sohus' mother would tell friends they had gone a secret mission. Postcards would also arrive from Paris, supposedly from Linda Sohus.

But nine years later, as a new owner of the Sohus property on Lorain Road had a swimming pool dug in the backyard, a bag of bones was uncovered. San Marino police and coroner's officials identified them as John Sohus' remains. Gerhartsreiter, 52, remains a suspect in Linda Sohus' disappearance but has not been charged with a crime related to it.

His lawyers have insisted that he has no connection to John Sohus' death and that the case against him is nothing but circumstantial, built mostly on tabloid tales of his identities.

During Gerhartsreiter's preliminary hearing, a couple testified he used the name Christopher Chichester and tried to sell them an Oriental rug with what appeared to be a bloodstain on it and didn’t deny the spot was blood. Another witness testified at the same hearing that he borrowed a chain saw around that time.

The man of many names reappeared in Connecticut in 1988. He was familiar with the East Coast, having first entered the United States as a student from Germany before moving to Wisconsin where he briefly married.

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

Prosecutors say the truck belonged to Sohus and vanished with the couple.

Later that year, Mihoko Manabe received a call at her New York apartment from a Connecticut detective looking for her live-in boyfriend, a man she knew by the name Christopher Crowe. She took a message and hung up.

When she gave Crowe the message, their lives were turned upside down, Manabe testified in a hearing last year. The boyfriend told her the person who called wasn’t with the police, but a bad guy who was after him. He dyed his hair and eyebrows blond, grew a beard, and insisted they shred documents. They began using P.O. boxes for their mail, threw away their garbage at public shopping malls and walked on opposite sides of the street, she said. 

Some months after, Manabe testified, he began using the name that would later gain national notoriety -- Clark Rockefeller -- because of its associations with the wealthy industrialist family. It would eventually lead to his arrest, when after an ugly divorce in July 2008 from a Boston banker, he kidnapped their 7-year-old daughter, Reigh Boss, during a supervised visit.

Caught within days of the abduction, authorities would quickly unravel his multiple aliases and tie him to Sohus' slaying.

In 2009, he was sentenced to four to five years in state prison for the abduction.

ALSO:

Rockefeller impostor's defense may focus on victim's wife

Rockefeller impostor borrowed chain saw, witness testifies

Rockefeller impostor tried to sell rug with blood, witnesses say

-- Richard Winton

Photo: Christian Gerhartsreiter during a preliminary hearing last year in Los Angeles County. Credit: Pool.

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