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Phony Rockefeller pleads not guilty to San Marino murder [Updated]

July 8, 2011 | 10:52 am


This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

The man known to the world as Clark Rockefeller appeared briefly in an Alhambra courtroom Friday and entered a not guilty plea to a charge he killed his landlady’s son and buried the body in San Marino three decades ago.

In the early 1980s, he was known as Chris Chichester, a relative of Lord Mountbatten and a would-be film producer who lived in a San Marino guest house.

A few years later, he was called Christopher Crowe, a bond salesman in Greenwich, Conn.

And by the early 1990s, he had turned up as Clark Rockefeller.

But Friday morning, he faced the charge under his birth name, Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter.

The German native, a diminutive, balding man, was chained and handcuffed at his waist and wore a blue prison jumpsuit. He only spoke to say "yes" in a quiet but clear voice when the prosecutor, Habib Balian, asked if he would waive his right to a speedy trial and preliminary hearing.

The 50-year-old Gerhartsreiter has been in prison in Massachusetts for two years after being convicted of snatching his daughter, Reigh Boss, whom he fathered while married to Sandra Boss under his assumed Rockefeller identity.

His arrest connected him to the San Marino cold-case murder of John Sohus, whose body parts were found in 1994 beneath the lawn at a home where Gerhartsreiter had rented a guest house under his assumed identity Chris Chichester.

John Sohus and Linda Sohus disappeared in 1985.

Balian also said Friday that prosecutors had turned over 9,014 of pages of evidence as well as 83 CDs, DVDs and VHS tapes.

Gerhartsreiter was ordered held without bail and scheduled to return to court Aug. 16, when a date will be set for his preliminary hearing.

Outside court, Gerhartsreiter's attorneys said their client continued to maintain innocence and that they were hoping his Massachusetts case will be overturned on appeal as well.

"From my standpoint, there has been no turn in the case," said Brad Bailey, one of his two Boston attorneys. "He has maintained his innocence throughout."

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the L.A. County district attorney's office, said the numerous articles, television reports and a book on the case were not a concern.

"What's been published, what's out there, is one thing; what's said in court under oath, that's what counts," she said. "We're happy he's here. ... It's been a long time, both the investigation and the crime."

Sohus, a computer programmer, mysteriously disappeared with his wife, Linda, in 1985. Authorities had been unable to locate Gerhartsreiter, who left town shortly after the Sohuses' disappearance, until he was arrested in Baltimore in 2008.

Massachusetts authorities discovered Gerhartsreiter's real name, along with a dozen aliases, during their investigation. That enabled Los Angeles County detectives to reopen the Sohus case.

In the single-count indictment, Los Angeles prosecutors allege Gerhartsreiter used a "blunt object" to kill John Sohus. The body of Linda Sohus still has not been found.

Detectives were able to put the case together 26 years later, said sheriff's homicide Lt. Wes Sutton, because of "additional evidence gathered using modern technology."

"We were able to link all the pieces together and present a case to the district attorney's office," Sutton said.

Not only had Los Angeles County authorities lost track of the tenant they knew as Chichester, but Sohus' body wasn't unearthed until nine years after his disappearance, when a new owner of the home was excavating for a swimming pool.

And when the skeleton was discovered in 1994, DNA technology was too primitive to definitively identify it as Sohus; that didn't happen until last year.

Additionally, officials said, Gerhartsreiter -- using the name Christopher Crowe -- tried to sell a truck in Connecticut that had belonged to Sohus shortly after Sohus disappeared.

The deal fell through when the would-be buyer became suspicious that Gerhartsreiter could not produce any paperwork and called police.

Later, it was discovered that fingerprints on an application for a stockbroker's license filed in Connecticut two decades ago by  a man using the name Christopher Crowe filed matched Gerhartsreiter's.

Gerhartsreiter was born in the small Bavarian town of Bergen, the son of a seamstress and a landscape painter. He came to the U.S. as an exchange student at age 17, went to high school in Berlin, Conn., and married a Wisconsin woman, thereby obtaining legal residence. They soon separated.

For the record 12:41 p.m. July 8: A previous version of this post incorrectly spelled Habib Balian's last name as Balin.


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Photo: Attorney Brad Bailey, left, confers with Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter in an Alhambra courtroom Friday. Credit: Pool photo