Testimony expected to begin in Rockefeller imposter's murder trial
John and Linda Sohus, avid science-fiction fans, married on Halloween 1983.
He was quiet and smart — a young man who tried to stump his friend in "Star Trek" trivia and mentored children participating in programs at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge. She was outgoing and artistic, an animal lover and artist who had just started selling her paintings.
They had been married for a little more than a year when, in 1985, they vanished from the upscale San Gabriel Valley community of San Marino. In 1994, construction workers digging a pool in the backyard of the Sohus’ former home found John Sohus' bones wrapped in plastic and buried 3 feet deep.
Prosecutors say John Sohus was killed by German-born Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a man with numerous aliases. Testimony is expected to begin Tuesday in Gerhartsreiter’s trial in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Gerhartsreiter’s attorney, Brad Bailey, said his client has gone by the aliases of Chris Gerhart, Chris Chichester, Chris Crowe, Chip Smith and others. For years he persuaded people, including his wife, that he was Clark Rockefeller, a member of the billionaire family and New England high society.
Gerhartsreiter — known to the Sohuses as Christopher Chichester — lived in the guesthouse of the home the couple shared with John Sohus' mother.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors presented their opening statements to a jury Monday. Gerhartsreiter, 52, wore a blue suit jacket and took notes as each side presented its case.
Bailey said his client was "a strange guy, an odd guy," but that did not prove he committed "a murder that nobody witnessed."
Deputy District Atty. Habib Balian showed photographs of the couple and of the bones. The person whose skull was found in the backyard “suffered large blows to the head with a hard, blunt object,” Balian said.
After the couple disappeared, John Sohus’ mother, Ruth “Didi” Sohus, was devastated, Balian said. She “had believed her son had abandoned her at the end of her life, had taken off,” he said.
John was adopted, and he and his mother “had a special bond,” Balian said. After John disappeared, his mother “lost her spark to live,” he said.
Gerhartsreiter, using the Rockefeller name, was arrested in 2008 on suspicion of kidnapping his 7-year-old daughter. He was convicted in Massachusetts in that case and extradited to California while serving a four-to five-year prison term. He was charged in 2011 in connection with John Sohus' death.
Although Linda Sohus was never found, authorities have said they presume her to be dead.
Bailey told jurors it was possible that Linda Sohus, whom he described as "just as odd" as his client, killed her husband.
"There are just as reasonable inferences for you to assume that John Sohus' murderer might have been … the missing Linda Sohus," Bailey said.
— Hailey Branson-Potts
Photo: Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter takes his seat before opening statements in his murder trial Monday in Los Angeles. Photo lower right is family photo of the Sohuses. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times; Handout