Victim in fake Rockefeller murder trial died from blows to head
The man whose decomposed body was unearthed behind a San Marino home in 1994 suffered at least three hard blows to the head with a blunt, possibly curved object, a forensic pathologist testified Wednesday.
“When the actual injuries happened, the victim was still alive but died very quickly afterward,” Dr. Frank Sheridan, San Bernardino County chief medical examiner, told jurors.
The victim, prosecutors say, was 27-year-old John Sohus, who was bludgeoned by German-born Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter. Gerhartsreiter, who is on trial in a Los Angeles courtroom, has pleaded not guilty to the murder.
Defense attorneys have said they will not dispute that the bones were those of John Sohus or that Sohus was killed. The killing, attorney R. Bradford Bailey said, “is a classic case of whodunit.”
Shortly before vanishing in 1985, Sohus and his wife, Linda, had been living in the main house on the property where the bones were found. The couple lived with John Sohus’ mother, while Gerhartsreiter lived in a guest house. Gerhartsreiter later also disappeared, surfacing on the East Coast under a series of new names, including Clark Rockefeller.
Photos of Sohus’ skull showed fractures in the front and a large portion of the back right side that appeared to be crumbled, with some pieces of bone missing. The skull, Sheridan said, was pieced back together after it was found by workers digging a pool behind the home. Sheridan examined the skull and reviewed Los Angeles County coroners’ files.
The fractures were created by “a significant amount of force,” and each blow to the head would have rendered the victim unconscious, he said. Sohus, he said, died of blunt-force head trauma.
“It was not a light tap,” Sheridan said. “This is a major blow.”
Some additional cracks in the skull appeared to have been created after death, possibly when the body was dug up, Sheridan said. But forensic analysis showed that major fractures were inflicted before Sohus died, he said.
“I have no doubt these are fatal injuries,” Sheridan said.
Linda Sohus has never been found. Bailey has argued there may be as much evidence that pointed to Linda as having attacked her husband before vanishing.
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-- Hailey Branson-Potts
Photo: Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter listens during opening statements in his trial Monday. Credit: Nick Ut / Associated Press