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Rockefeller impostor borrowed chain saw, witness testifies

January 19, 2012 | 10:36 pm

Jonathan Sohus disappeared in 1985

A former church friend of a Rockefeller impersonator accused in the 1985 slaying of a San Marino man testified Thursday that he loaned the suspect a chain saw for a few months.

“He said he had a problem with a branch on a tree that was scraping or scratching his window,” said William Stewart, who told the court he was friends with the man he knew as Chris Chichester.

Stewart testified that the defendant returned the chain saw to him in the spring of 1985 in the “exact same condition that I gave it to him.”

PHOTOS: Clark Rockefeller investigation

The suspect told him he was leaving for Connecticut because of a family issue. “I never saw him again. Not until today,” Stewart said.

Eight witnesses took the stand Thursday in a Los Angeles County Superior Court courtroom in Alhambra  on the second day of a preliminary hearing for Christian Gerhartsreiter, who is facing a murder charge in the 1985 death of John Sohus. The remains of Sohus, 26, weren't discovered until 1994, when crews digging a swimming pool came across a fiberglass box carrying body parts meticulously wrapped in plastic.

Sohus' wife, Linda, also disappeared in 1985 and has never been found.

German-born Gerhartsreiter lived for a period of time in Sohus' mother's home. Authorities say Gerhartsreiter, who for many years pretended to be a member of the wealthy Rockefeller clan, is a con man who took on myriad aliases and personalities, including the name Christopher Chichester.

Other witnesses Thursday described the victim's mother, Ruth Sohus, as becoming increasingly "agitated" and concerned about the whereabouts of her son and his wife. She initially told police she believed her son and daughter-in-law were in Paris working on a confidential assignment, and she was able to contact them through Gerhartsreiter.

Months later, however, she was receiving calls from collection agencies and worried friends.

At the end of the court day, a close friend of John Sohus took the stand. Patrick Rayermann described John Sohus as “warm” and “upbeat.”

“John was reliable. If John said he’d be someplace, he would,” Rayermann testified. “If you said you needed help, and he could help, he would.”

The preliminary hearing will continue Friday.

-- Rosanna Xia (Los Angeles Superior Court in Alhambra)

Photo: John and Linda Sohus disappeared in 1985. His remains were found nine years later in the backyard of a San Marino home. She has never been found. Credit: Courtesy of Lydia Marano