|Born||Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter
21 February 1961
Siegsdorf, Bavaria, West Germany
|Other names||Clark Rockefeller
Chris C. Crowe
|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)
(m. 1995-2007, divorced)
|Parents||Simon and Irmengard 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 man who is currently serving a life sentence in the United States for murder. In his late teens Gerhartsreiter moved to the US, 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 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. Gerhartsreiter's true identity was discovered after his arrest. Police had been seeking him since the eighties 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.
According to his parents, Simon and Ermengard Gerhartsreiter, Christian was born on February 21, 1961 in Siegsdorf, Bavaria, Germany, although he maintains that he was born on February 29, 1960. Gerhartsreiter told Boston police that his mother is Ann Carter, an American child actress of the 1940s, which Carter has denied.
Travel to the USA and first marriage
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.
Gerhartsreiter had the idea when he came to the US that he wanted to become an actor, so he headed toward California. By the time he reached Milwaukee he had changed his name to Chris Gerhart. While there, he enrolled in a class at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Realizing that he wanted to become a US citizen he sought a woman who would marry him. 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. After the marriage took place, Gerhartsreiter left his wife and headed for California. Duhnke filed for divorce in 1992 and, according to the divorce papers, claimed that Gerhartsreiter left her the day after the wedding.
In 1995, Gerhartsreiter married Sandra Boss in a Quaker ceremony that had no legal status. The couple had a daughter. 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, a high-earning McKinsey senior executive who had graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School, accused him of lying about being a member of the Rockefeller family. Members of the Rockefeller family have also denied any relation to the man. 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.
Boss 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. She 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.
Prior to the divorce, Gerhartsreiter had 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. Gerhartsreiter, under the name Clark Rockefeller, was also a member of Boston's Algonquin Club, where he spent a great deal of time. He resigned as one of the club's directors in April 2008.
Custodial kidnapping and assault conviction
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. 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.
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.
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.
On August 15, 2008, the FBI, the Massachusetts State Police, the Boston Police Department, and the Suffolk County District Attorney identified 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.
Gerhartsreiter went to great lengths to conceal his true identity from his wife, Sandra Boss. 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. Aside from Clark Rockefeller, other aliases used by Gerhartsreiter included: Chris C. Crowe, Chris Chichester, Charles Smith, and Chip Smith, among others.
On September 3, 2008, Gerhartsreiter was charged with furnishing a false name to a law enforcement officer following an arrest. His lawyers later argued that he did not do this for dishonest purposes.
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.
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.
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.
Closing arguments concluded on June 8,  On June 12, 2009, 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.
Jonathan Sohus murder conviction
Gerhartsreiter was initially identified as a "person of interest" by police in the 1985 disappearance and possible murder of Jonathan Sohus, a California man in whose guesthouse he lived as a tenant in the upscale community of San Marino, during the mid-1980s. Bones believed to belong to Sohus were found in 1994 buried in the back yard of the home he had lived in with his wife, Linda, who is also missing. Sohus's family members said the bones match Jonathan Sohus's general description but, since he was adopted, there was no way to compare his DNA against that of biological family members and arrive at a conclusive identity.
Gerhartsreiter, who was then using the alias Christopher Chichester, 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. "Chichester" was pulled over by police in Greenwich, Connecticut, in the late 1980s driving a pickup truck that had belonged to Jonathan Sohus, but he left the area before police could interview him. Police had no proof that Jonathan and Linda Sohus were dead or had not left voluntarily. 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.
On March 15, 2011, Los Angeles County prosecutors charged Gerhartsreiter with the murder of Jonathan Sohus.
On October 17, 2011, an Alhambra Superior Court judge ordered Gerhartsreiter to appear in court there on January 18, 2012 for a preliminary hearing where a judge was to decide if enough evidence existed for the case to go to trial. On January 24, 2012, Judge Jared Moses of Alhambra Superior Court ruled that Gerhartsreiter must stand trial for the death of Sohus. The murder trial was held in March and April 2013 and Gerhartsreiter was convicted of first degree murder on April 10, 2013. The verdict includes an enhancement for use of a deadly weapon to bludgeon Jonathan Sohus to death. Forensic evidence showed that Sohus had been struck in the head two times with a rounded, blunt object and then stabbed six times. His body had been cut in three parts. 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 Sohus' pickup truck following the murder.
On August 15, 2013, Christian Gerhartsreiter was given the maximum sentence of 27 years to life. After he was convicted, Gerhartsreiter fired his lawyers and represented himself during the sentencing phase. 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."
"Clark Rockefeller" in popular culture
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.
Journalist Mark Seal published a non-fiction account of Gerhartsreiter called The Man in the Rockefeller Suit (2011). 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.
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". 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."
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- Clark Rockefeller Case File at America's Most Wanted
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- "1985 Cold Case warrant issued - San Marino murder suspect" — Los Angeles County public notice issued March 15, 2011 (includes photos)