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Rockefeller impostor in hearing for 1985 San Marino murder

January 18, 2012 |  9:17 am
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who calls himself Clark Rockefeller, enters Suffolk Superior Court in Boston for a hearing last year

For three decades, the man Boston and Manhattan's elite knew as Clark Rockefeller was a chameleon, changing his name and blending into East and West Coast high society until, amid a messy custody dispute, he abducted his daughter.

His subsequent arrest in 2008 and conviction in Massachusetts revealed a life of identities for the German-born Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter and, more important, connected him to a killing in San Marino.

In early 1980s, he was Chris Chichester, a film producer claiming to be a relative of Lord Mountbatten living in a San Marino guest house. His landlady's son and daughter, John and Linda Sohus, mysteriously disappeared in 1985 and he quickly vanished.

PHOTOS: Clark Rockefeller investigation

Los Angeles County prosecutors will seek Wednesday to persuade a judge there is sufficient evidence for Gerhartsreiter to go on trial for the killing of 26-year-old John Sohus, who also was known as Jonathan.

Key to that allegation will be skeletal remains found in the home's backyard in 1994 when a new homeowner was building a swimming pool.

Authorities say those remains are the missing San Marino man. At the time the skeleton was discovered, DNA technology was too primitive to definitively identify it as the remains of Sohus until last year. Complicating the investigation was the fact that Sohus was adopted.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Habib Balian is expected to present about six days of witnesses and dozens of documents to a Superior Court judge in Alhambra.  

Los Angeles area authorities were also unable to locate Gerhartsreiter until his 2008 arrest for abducting his 7-year-old daughter during a supervised visit in the wake of a bitter divorce. He has been serving a five-year sentence for kidnapping and assault in a Massachusetts state prison.

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

Prosecutors now allege Gerhartsreiter used a "blunt object" to kill Jonathan Sohus. Linda Sohus' whereabouts remain unknown. "Overwhelming circumstantial evidence" led to the murder charge against Gerhartsreiter, said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.

Dana Farrar, who knew Gerhartsreiter as Chichester, recalls noticing new turf and disturbed earth in the backyard of the Sohus family home on Lorian Road. She said Gerhartsreiter attributed it to a plumbing problem.

Detectives 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.

But police were unable to prove that Gerhartsreiter had not purchased the truck legally.

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

As Clark Rockefeller, he married a Stanford and Harvard Business School graduate, Sandra Boss, who divorced him 13 years later. 


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-- Richard Winton

Photo: Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who calls himself Clark Rockefeller, enters Suffolk Superior Court in Boston for a hearing in 2010. Credit: Ted Fitzgerald / Associated Press