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Rockefeller impostor tried to sell rug with blood, witnesses say

January 23, 2012 |  1:27 pm

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter
A one-time Rockefeller impostor accused in a three-decade-old San Marino cold case murder tried to sell a rug with what appeared to be a blood stain on it, witnesses said Monday, testimony the judge said he would allow as an “adoptive admission.”

Christian Gerhartsreiter, 50, faces a murder charge in the death of John Sohus, who went missing in 1985 and whose remains were unearthed a decade later in the backyard of his mother’s San Marino home. Gerhartsreiter, authorities say, was a con man who used myriad aliases and for many years posed as Clark Rockefeller, a member of the famous clan.

Robert and Bettie Brown, a couple who said they met a man they knew as Christopher Chichester at their San Gabriel church, both identified Gerhartsreiter in court Monday as the man they occasionally invited over to their home in San Marino for prayer groups.

“He’s seated right there in the blue jumpsuit,” Robert Brown testified, pointing to Gerhartsreiter, at a hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence for the man to stand trial for murder.

“Is there any doubt in your mind?” Deputy Dist. Atty. Habib Balian asked.

“No. He does appear to be a bit older, as I assume we all do,” testified Brown, who is now 85.

The Browns both testified that one evening in 1985, Gerhartsreiter, then Chichester, came over to their house with an armful of odd belongings and tried to sell them some articles. One of the items, they said, was an Oriental rug, with a round, rust-colored stain no larger than a quarter.

“She said ‘Chris, this has blood on it,’” Robert Brown recalled, referring to his wife.

“I said it looked like blood, and it’s hard to clean,” Bettie Brown testified.

The couple recalled in court testimony that the man did not deny the stain was blood, and instead abruptly rolled up the rug and left their home. He disappeared from San Marino shortly afterward, they said.

Judge Jared Moses said that he would admit the testimony as an “adoptive admission” by the defendant-–meaning he would consider the man not refuting that there was blood on the rug to be an admission of the fact, because a normal person would be expected to immediately dispute such a statement if it were not true.

Robert Brown said the man’s sudden departure from town did not surprise him.

“He was just different, he was unusual,” he said. “He was very believable up to a point, and you could never pin down great detail, at least I couldn’t, with him. There was always something loose, feathery.”

Defense attorney Brad Bailey questioned Bettie Brown about how certain she was that the stain was in fact blood, noting that she initially told police only that it was a spot, and that she did not have any training in identifying blood.

“As a parent, children have blood,” she replied. “I haven’t had any scientific training, but when you are trying to wash clothes, and there’s blood it’s more difficult to wash sometimes than other spots.”

Bailey also questioned Robert Brown about the fact that the witness never mentioned the rug in his initial police interview. He said he was reminded by his wife afterward.

“I can show you exactly in the library where he spread it out,” he told the attorney.

Also on Monday, a man who knew Gerhartsreiter in Connecticut around 1988, then by the name Christopher Crowe, testified that the man gave him a white pickup truck that he later learned was linked to a missing person’s investigation in California.

Christopher Bishop, an Episcopal priest who was at the time a struggling film student, said Gerhartsreiter, who claimed to be a film producer, gave him a truck he said he had used in a movie production and no longer needed.

Authorities have said the truck belonged to John Sohus, who abruptly went missing along with his wife, Linda, around the time Gerhartsreiter left San Marino. Gerhartsreiter allegedly lived for a period of time as a tenant in the guest house of Sohus’ mother, Ruth “Didi” Sohus.


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-- Victoria Kim

Photo: Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter appears in court for a preliminary hearing in Alhambra on Jan. 19. Credit: Walt Mancini / Pool