Christian Gerhartsreiter

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Christian Gerhartsreiter
Born Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter
(1961-02-21) 21 February 1961 (age 53)
Siegsdorf, Bavaria, West Germany
Nationality German
Other names Clark Rockefeller
Chris C. Crowe
Chris Chichester
Charles Smith
Chip Smith
Christopher Chichester
Criminal penalty
27 years to Life for 1st degree murder.
Four to Five years in prison for kidnapping and two to three years for assault and battery with dangerous weapon concurrently.
Spouse(s) Amy Jersild Duhnke
(m. 1981-1992, divorced)
Sandra Boss
(m. 1995-2007, divorced)
Children 1 daughter
Parents Simon and Irmgard Gerhartsreiter
Conviction(s) Parental kidnapping (March 12, 2009)
Assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (March 12, 2009)
First-degree murder (April 10, 2013)

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter (born February 21, 1961) is a German impostor who is currently serving a sentence of 27 years to life in the United States for murder. In his late teens Gerhartsreiter moved to the U.S., where he lived under a succession of aliases while variously claiming to be an art collector, a physicist, a ship's captain, a negotiator of international debt agreements, and an English aristocrat. He was quite plausible, and at one point was hired to work in a brokerage firm.

In 1995 while using the assumed identity Clark Rockefeller, he married a successful businesswoman. The couple had one child, a daughter. Gerhartsreiter lived a prosperous lifestyle solely on his wife's income. She became dissatisfied with his secretive, controlling behavior, and sought a divorce. Inquiries on her behalf revealed he had fabricated his name and family background. The couple divorced and Gerhartsreiter agreed to limited access to his daughter on supervised visits. Gerhartsreiter was arrested in 2008, six days after he abducted his daughter while she was on a visit. He was subsequently convicted of the custodial kidnapping of his daughter.

Aside from Clark Rockefeller, other aliases used by Gerhartsreiter included: Chris C. Crowe, Chris Chichester, Charles Smith, and Chip Smith, among others. Gerhartsreiter's true identity was discovered after his arrest. Police had been seeking him since the 1980s as a suspect in the disappearance of a married couple. He was subsequently convicted of the 1985 murder of a man in California, and is now serving 27 years to life in California prison.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

According to his parents, Simon and Irmgard Gerhartsreiter, Christian was born on February 21, 1961, in Siegsdorf, Bavaria, Germany, although he maintains that he was born on February 29, 1960.[1] Gerhartsreiter had told Boston police that his mother is Ann Carter, an American child actress of the 1940s, which Carter has denied.[2]

Travel to the USA[edit]

In 1978 he met an American couple, Elmer and Jean Kelln, who were traveling through Germany. Later he used their names to obtain permission to go to the US, falsely saying that the Kellns had invited him to come stay with them in California. He initially made his way to Berlin, Connecticut where he found a family (the Savios) willing to let him live with them and was accepted as a foreign exchange student at Berlin High School in 1979. He told the Savios that he was from a wealthy family in Germany. Eventually he wore out his welcome with the Savios and was told to leave.[3]

Chris Gerhart: first marriage[edit]

Gerhartsreiter had the idea when he came to the U.S. that he wanted to become an actor, so he headed toward California. By the time he had reached Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he had changed his name to "Chris Gerhart." While there, he enrolled in a class at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Deciding that he wanted to become a U.S. citizen, he sought a woman who would marry him.[4] He married 22-year-old Amy Jersild Duhnke in 1981 in Madison, Wisconsin, purportedly to obtain his green card. To convince her to marry him, he falsely claimed that if he had to go back to Germany, he would have to go into the Army and would be sent to fight in the Cold War on the Russian front line. The day after the wedding took place,[5] Gerhartsreiter left his wife and headed for California.[4] Duhnke filed for divorce in 1992.[5]

Christopher Chichester: Jonathan and Linda Sohus[edit]

In the mid-1980s, Gerhartsreiter, then using the alias "Christopher Chichester," lived as a tenant in the guesthouse of Jonathan Sohus's mother, Didi in the upscale community of San Marino, California. Gerhartsreiter/Chichester was initially identified as a "person of interest" by police in the 1985 disappearance and possible murder of Jonathan Sohus, whose wife Linda was also missing. Gerhartsreiter reportedly told people that Jonathan and Linda Sohus had traveled to Europe. Their family reportedly received a postcard from the couple sent from France after Jonathan and Linda Sohus had disappeared, though its authenticity has been questioned.

By the late 1980s, "Chichester" had relocated to the East Coast. He was pulled over by police in Greenwich, Connecticut, during that time, driving a pickup truck that had belonged to Jonathan Sohus, but he left the area before police could interview him. At that point, police had no proof that Jonathan and Linda Sohus were dead, or had not left California voluntarily.

In 1994, bones believed to belong to Jonathan Sohus were found buried in the back yard of the home he had lived in with his wife (adjacent to Gerhartsreiter's guesthouse). Sohus's family members said the bones matched Jonathan Sohus's general description but, since he had been adopted, there was no way to compare his DNA against that of biological family members and arrive at a conclusive identity.[6] Forensic evidence showed that the victim had been struck in the head two times with a rounded, blunt object and then stabbed six times. His body had been cut into three parts.

Clark Rockefeller: second marriage[edit]

In 1995, using the name "Clark Rockefeller," Gerhartsreiter married Sandra Boss, a high-earning McKinsey senior executive who had graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School, in a Quaker ceremony that had no legal status.[3] Boss later testified that Gerhartsreiter was charming and that she believed the stories he told her at the beginning of their relationship. Later, however, he became emotionally abusive and there was a "lot of anger and yelling" in their household. Although Boss earned all of the family income, she testified that Gerhartsreiter had complete control of the family's finances and other aspects of her day-to-day life.

Gerhartsreiter went to great lengths to conceal his true identity from his wife. He repeatedly told her she should file her tax return as a single person, and later in their marriage, when his wife's firm required that a certified public accountant do her taxes, he found an accountant for her. After their divorce, Boss learned that he had told their accountant he was her brother so that the accountant would continue filing single tax returns for her.[7]

The couple had a daughter, born in 2001. Gerhartsreiter lived with Boss and their child in Cornish, New Hampshire, where he used his supposed family ties to bolster his reputation, telling friends and neighbors that he was a wealthy Yale graduate who owned a business in Canada.[3] Gerhartsreiter, under the name Clark Rockefeller, was also a member of Boston's Algonquin Club, where he spent a great deal of time.[8] He resigned as one of the club's directors in April 2008.[9]

Boss hired a private investigator in 2006 and discovered that Gerhartsreiter was not who he claimed to be, though she did not learn his real name at that time. She said he was unpleasant to live with, but did not think he was delusional.[10]

Sandra Boss changed her child's surname after her reported divorce from Gerhartsreiter, in part because he refused to provide proof of his identity. During the case, Boss accused him of lying about being a member of the Rockefeller family.[11] Members of the Rockefeller family have also denied any relation to the man.[12]

Boss testified in June 2009 at his trial that Gerhartsreiter agreed to give her custody of their daughter following the divorce. She testified that he also agreed to supervised visits three times a year with their daughter in return for an $800,000 settlement, two cars, her engagement ring, and a dress that he had given her. Boss moved with their child to London following the divorce.[3]

Custodial kidnapping and assault conviction[edit]

On July 27, 2008, Gerhartsreiter abducted his daughter at about 12:45 p.m. in a black sport utility vehicle. Boston police searched the area of the incident without success, and Massachusetts State Police issued an Amber Alert just before 5 p.m.

Boston police said Gerhartsreiter, his daughter, and a social worker were in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood at the intersection of Marlborough and Arlington streets, traveling on foot from the Four Seasons Hotel Boston to the Boston Common when a sport utility vehicle drove up. Gerhartsreiter allegedly grabbed his daughter, pushed the social worker aside, and jumped into the vehicle, which then sped off. The social worker grabbed onto the vehicle and was dragged a short distance before letting go. He was treated for minor injuries at Massachusetts General Hospital and released. Police searched the immediate area and Logan International Airport that day. The same day police received calls reporting sightings of the child in Dedham, Hyde Park, and even New York's Grand Central Station. Police reported they followed up on all leads, but had nothing solid by the end of the day.[citation needed]

Later that night police issued a warrant for Gerhartsreiter's arrest. He was charged with custodial kidnapping, assault and battery, and assault with a deadly weapon — the sport utility vehicle.[13]

Apprehension[edit]

On August 3, 2008, after a week-long search, Gerhartsreiter was found in Baltimore, Maryland where he had recently purchased an apartment for about $450,000 under the name Charles "Chip" Smith. With the help of the owner of a local marina where Gerhartsreiter had apparently kept a catamaran for the past nine years, FBI agents were able to lure him out of the apartment with a telephone call telling him the boat was taking on water. He was arrested as he left the apartment and was charged with kidnapping and assault and battery. The child was found unharmed inside the apartment.[14]

Identification[edit]

On August 15, 2008, the FBI, the Massachusetts State Police, the Boston Police Department, and the Suffolk County District Attorney identified[15] Clark Rockefeller as Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter. He was conclusively identified by means of forensic examinations conducted by the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia. When Gerhartsreiter, using the name Clark Rockefeller, was arrested, his fingerprint impressions were taken by FBI agents in Baltimore and by Boston Police when he was returned to Massachusetts. Those fingerprints were compared to latent fingerprints lifted from a variety of sources. They matched a latent print lifted from a wine glass in Boston collected at the time of the search for "Rockefeller" and his daughter earlier in the month. Those fingerprints also match a latent print developed from a document in Gerhartsreiter's immigration file from the early 1980s. Although there were no fingerprint cards or inked impressions in the immigration file, an FBI laboratory was able to develop latent print impressions from a document in that file, which had been provided by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Through fingerprint analysis, the FBI confirmed his identity.[citation needed]

Alexander Gerhartsreiter, who lives in Bergen, Upper Bavaria, identified Rockefeller as his brother, stating they are the sons of Simon and Irmgard Gerhartsreiter, a painter and homemaker.[16][17]

Prosecution[edit]

On September 3, 2008, Gerhartsreiter was charged with furnishing a false name to a law enforcement officer following an arrest.[18][19] His lawyers later argued that he did not do this for dishonest purposes.[20]

On October 2, 2008, at a hearing requested by defense attorney Stephen Hrones, bail was revoked. Hrones had requested the hearing in order to seek a reduction from the $50 million cash bail under which the defendant had previously been held. Instead, the judge ordered the defendant to be held without bail.[21]

On February 13, 2009, Gerhartsreiter's attorneys filed notice that they intended to use an insanity defense for him.[22]

During the trial, conducted in Boston in May and June 2009, Gerhartsreiter's defense team told jurors that Gerhartsreiter believed his daughter had communicated with him telepathically from London, where she and her mother moved after the divorce, begging him to rescue her.[23]

Two defense experts testified that they have diagnosed Gerhartsreiter with delusional disorder, grandiose type, and narcissistic personality disorder. One of the defense experts, Dr. Keith Ablow, testified that Gerhartsreiter told him that his father had been emotionally abusive during his childhood. Dr. James Chu, a psychiatrist for the prosecution, testified that he had diagnosed Gerhartsreiter with a "'mixed personality disorder', with narcissistic and anti-social traits" but felt that Gerhartsreiter had exaggerated his symptoms of mental illness and was capable of knowing right from wrong, particularly since he allegedly meticulously planned the details of the abduction well in advance. Gerhartsreiter did not take the witness stand.[24]

Closing arguments concluded on June 8. [25] On June 12, 2009,[26] the jury found Gerhartsreiter guilty of the charges of parental kidnapping and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. He was found not guilty of the charge of assault and battery[clarification needed] and of using a false name. The judge sentenced him to four to five years in state prison on the kidnapping count and a concurrent two to three years on the assault charge.[citation needed]

Jonathan Sohus murder conviction[edit]

News reports indicated that a grand jury was to be convened in the spring of 2009 to examine the evidence in the Sohus case. The Hon. Frank Gaziano, judge in Gerhartsreiter's parental kidnapping trial, barred prosecutors from presenting evidence about the Sohus case to avoid prejudicing jurors against Gerhartsreiter.[27]

On March 15, 2011, Los Angeles County prosecutors charged Gerhartsreiter with the murder of Jonathan Sohus.[28] On January 24, 2012, Judge Jared Moses of Los Angeles County Superior Court in Alhambra ruled that Gerhartsreiter must stand trial for the death of Sohus.[29]

The murder trial was held in March and April 2013 and Gerhartsreiter was convicted of first degree murder on April 10, 2013. The verdict included an enhancement for use of a deadly weapon to bludgeon Jonathan Sohus to death. Evidence in the case was largely circumstantial, but jurors were most swayed by two plastic book bags found buried with Sohus's remains: one from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where Gerhartsreiter attended classes between 1979 and 1982, and one from the University of Southern California, where Gerhartsreiter audited film classes. One juror said that was the most solid piece of evidence presented to the jury. Jurors also heard evidence that Gerhartsreiter was in possession of the Sohuses' pickup truck following the murder.[5][30]

On August 15, 2013, Christian Gerhartsreiter was given the maximum sentence of 27 years to life. He must serve at least 85% of his sentence before being eligible to apply for parole.[31] After he was convicted, Gerhartsreiter fired his lawyers and represented himself during the sentencing phase.[31] Gerhartsreiter maintained his innocence during the sentencing hearing and said, "I want to assert my innocence and that I firmly believe that the victim's wife killed the victim, but be that as it may, once again, I did not commit the crime." He will be eligible for parole in 2035 when he would be 74 years old. He was initially transferred to North Kern State Prison in September, 2013 before being transferred to Ironwood State Prison in March, 2014.[31]

"Clark Rockefeller" in popular culture[edit]

Cable TV network Lifetime premiered the movie Who Is Clark Rockefeller? on March 13, 2010, with Eric McCormack in the title role and Sherry Stringfield as Sandra Boss. The DVD was released on September 14, 2010.[32][33]

Journalist Mark Seal published a non-fiction account of Gerhartsreiter called The Man in the Rockefeller Suit (2011).[34] The book is in preliminary development to be made into a movie by Fox Searchlight, directed by Walter Salles and produced by Donald De Line.[35]

American author Amity Gaige published a novelized version of Gerhartsreiter's life in Schroder: A Novel (2013), about Erik Schroder, an East German refugee who comes to America and reinvents himself pretending that he's a WASP-ish distant relation of American royalty and calling himself "Eric Kennedy".[36] The Los Angeles Times calls the novel "absorbing, with a propulsive plot and a narrator who is charming, ambivalent, and searching - a man driven by love who understands that love cannot save him."[37]

American author Walter Kirn published a memoir of his friendship with Gerhartsreiter.[38]

Gerhartsreiter was also the subject of television documentary, "The Six Million Dollar Conman" (2012). The documentary traces his early life through to his arrest, but prior to his murder trial. It features interviews with police, and people who knew Gerhartsreiter via his various identies.[39]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Clark Rockefeller probe points to Germany". The Boston Herald. 2008-08-08. 
  2. ^ "'Rockefeller Is Not My Son,' Actress Says". TheBostonChannel.com. 2007-08-29. 
  3. ^ a b c d The Man in the Rockefeller Suit; Vanity Fair, January 2009.
  4. ^ a b "The Great Pretender". December 17, 2012. Investigation Discovery.
  5. ^ a b c Fresh Details on Mystery Man Clark Rockefeller as Trial Opens, ABC News, May 26, 2009
  6. ^ "DNA tests underway on bones in Rockefeller case", Associated Press, August 14, 2008
  7. ^ "'Rockefeller' seeks dismissal of false name charge", Boston Globe, March 13, 2009
  8. ^ Profile of Gerhartsreiter, bostonmagazine.com, August 14, 2008
  9. ^ archived Algonquin Club website
  10. ^ Ex 'Mrs. Rockefeller': I had a pretty big blind spot", CNN, June 2, 2009
  11. ^ Rockefeller returns to Boston to face a kidnapping charge.; retrieved August 5, 2008.
  12. ^ Depressed during holidays, Clark Rockefeller spoke of kidnapping; retrieved 2008-8-11
  13. ^ Guilfoil, John M. (2008-07-28). "Police search for girl abducted during father's visit". The Boston Globe. 
  14. ^ ABC News: Who is Clark Rockefeller? Retrieved on 2008-8-5
  15. ^ http://www.bpdnews.com/Rockefellerfinalrelease.pdf
  16. ^ "L.A. authorities: 'Rockefeller' is wanted German", USA Today; retrieved August 15, 2013.
  17. ^ "Town struggles to understand Rockefeller case", Boston Globe, August 10, 2008.
  18. ^ " 'Clark Rockefeller' charged with using false name", WHDH News
  19. ^ "Massachusetts General Laws IV:I:268:34A" www.mass.gov
  20. ^ "Judge in kidnapping case: False name charge will go to jury", Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, April 27, 2009.
  21. ^ "Judge: No bail enough to hold ‘Rockefeller’". Boston Herald.Retrieved October 5, 2008
  22. ^ " 'Clark Rockefeller' Plans Insanity Defense in Kidnapping Trial". Fox News, February 13, 2009
  23. ^ "Clark Rockefeller says he has telepathic link to Snooks". Boston Herald, May 29, 2009
  24. ^ "Final 'Rockefeller' trial witness: he's not insane". Associated Press, June 5, 2009
  25. ^ "'Clark Rockefeller' Kidnapping Case Goes to Jury" ABC News, June 8, 2009
  26. ^ "Jury convicts Rockefeller in kidnapping trial". The Boston Globe, June 12, 2009.
  27. ^ Grand Jury Probes Murder Case Against Rockefeller, WBZTV, March 25, 2009
  28. ^ "Elusive 'Clark Rockefeller' figure charged in 1980s slaying of San Marino man". Los Angeles Times. March 15, 2011. Retrieved October 14, 2012. 
  29. ^ Girardot, Frank C. (February 15, 2012). "Judge rules fake Rockefeller must stand trial in death of San Marino man". Pasadena Star-News. Retrieved October 14, 2012. 
  30. ^ "Jurors say guilty verdict for phony Rockefeller was in the bag". Los Angeles Daily News. Retrieved April 11, 2013. 
  31. ^ a b c Hailey Branson-Potts (August 15, 2013). "Rockefeller impostor gets 27 years in prison; maintains innocence". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 15, 2013. 
  32. ^ Who Is Clark Rockefeller? profile at IMDb
  33. ^ Who Is Clark Rockefeller? official site at mylifetime.com
  34. ^ Michiko Kakutani. "Fooling Them All With a Big Name", New York Times Book Review, June 6, 2011
  35. ^ Dave McNary (January 31, 2013). "Walter Salles in talks for 'Rockefeller Suit'". Variety. Retrieved February 27, 2013. 
  36. ^ The New Yorker, April 15, 2013, p. 77
  37. ^ Janelle Brown (February 21, 2013). "A real impostor's tale inspires fascinating fiction in 'Schroder'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 27, 2013. 
  38. ^ Kirn, Walter (March 10, 2014). Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade. Liveright. p. 272. ISBN 978-0871404510. 
  39. ^ http://www.channel4.com/programmes/six-million-dollar-conman/episode-guide

External links[edit]