Christian Gerhartsreiter

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Christian Gerhartsreiter
Born
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter

(1961-02-21) 21 February 1961 (age 61)
NationalityGerman
Other namesClark Rockefeller
Chris C. Crowe
Christopher Mountbatten
Charles "Chip" Smith
Christopher Kenneth Gerhart
Christopher Chichester
Spouse(s)
Amy Jersild Duhnke
(m. 1981; div. 1992)

Sandra Boss
(m. 1995; div. 2007)
ChildrenOne daughter (born 2001)
Parent(s)Simon and Irmgard Gerhartsreiter
Conviction(s)
Criminal penalty
  • 27 years to life (first-degree murder)
  • 4 to 5 years (kidnapping)
  • 2 to 3 years (assault and battery with dangerous weapon)
Details
VictimsDaughter (custodial kidnapping)
Jonathan Sohus (first-degree murder)
DateJuly 27, 2008 (kidnapping and assault)
February 1985 (first-degree murder)
CountryUnited States
State(s)Massachusetts, California
Location(s)Boston, Massachusetts (kidnapping and assault)
San Marino, California (first-degree murder)
Killed1
Date apprehended
August 2, 2008
Imprisoned atSan Quentin State Prison

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter (born February 21, 1961) is a German convicted murderer and impostor. Born in West Germany, he is currently serving a prison sentence in the U.S. state of California. After moving to the U.S. in his late teens, Gerhartsreiter lived under a succession of aliases while variously claiming to be an actor, director, art collector, a physicist, a ship's captain, a negotiator of international debt agreements, and an English aristocrat.

In 1995, while assuming the identity of Clark Rockefeller, claiming to be part of the noted Rockefeller family, Gerhartsreiter married a successful businesswoman named Sandra Boss; they had a daughter together. Gerhartsreiter lived well solely on his wife's income. However, she became dissatisfied with his secretive, controlling behavior and sought a divorce. Inquiries on her behalf revealed that he had fabricated his name and his family background. The couple divorced and Gerhartsreiter agreed to accept limited access to his daughter on supervised visits. Gerhartsreiter was arrested on August 2, 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.

In addition to Clark Rockefeller, Gerhartsreiter's aliases include Christopher Kenneth Gerhart, Christopher Chichester, Chris C. Crowe and Charles "Chip" Smith. Gerhartsreiter's true identity was revealed after author Edward Savio – with whom Gerhartsreiter briefly lived upon arriving in the U.S. – contacted the FBI during the manhunt after seeing a photo of "Clark Rockefeller" on the news.[1] Police had been seeking Gerhartsreiter as a suspect in the 1985 disappearance of a married couple, Jonathan and Linda Sohus, in California. He was convicted in 2013 of Jonathan Sohus's murder and is serving 27 years to life in a California prison.

Early life[edit]

Christian Gerhartsreiter was born to Simon and Irmgard Gerhartsreiter on February 21, 1961, in Siegsdorf, Bavaria, West Germany; his parents gave his birthdate as February 21, 1961, while Christian himself has claimed to have been born on February 29, 1960.[2] He has a brother, Alexander Gerhartsreiter.[3] After being arrested by Boston police in 2007, Gerhartsreiter claimed that his mother was Ann Carter, an American child actress of the 1940s, and claimed that she had died. Carter was in fact still alive and denied this claim in August 2007.[4]

Arrival in the U.S.[edit]

In 1978, Gerhartsreiter met an American couple, Elmer and Jean Kelln, who were traveling in West Germany. He later used their names to obtain permission to enter the U.S., falsely declaring that the Kellns had invited him to stay with them in California. After entering the country in New York City, Gerhartsreiter went to Berlin, Connecticut, where he found the family of author Edward Savio, telling them that he was from a wealthy family in West Germany. The family allowed Gerhartsreiter live with them, and in 1979 he was accepted as a foreign exchange student at Berlin High School. Eventually he wore out his welcome with the Savios and was told to leave.[5]

Gerhartsreiter decided to move to California to pursue a career in acting. By the time he reached Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he had started calling himself "Christopher Kenneth Gerhart." While there, he enrolled in a class at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Deciding that he wanted to become a U.S. citizen,[6] he married 22-year-old Amy Jersild Duhnke in 1981 in Madison, Wisconsin, in order to obtain a green card.[5] To persuade Duhnke to marry him, Gerhartsreiter falsely claimed that if he had gone back to West Germany, he would have to go into the military and be sent to fight in the Cold War on the Russian front line. The day after the wedding,[7] Gerhartsreiter left his wife and headed for California.[6] Duhnke filed for divorce in 1992.[7]

Gerhartsreiter's identities[edit]

Christopher Chichester[edit]

Using the alias "Christopher Chichester," Gerhartsreiter lived as a tenant in the guesthouse of Didi Sohus in the upscale community of San Marino, California. He was initially identified as a person of interest by police in the 1985 disappearance and of Didi's son, Jonathan Sohus, and his wife Linda. Gerhartsreiter reportedly told people that the couple had traveled to Europe. Their family reportedly received a postcard from the couple sent from France, though its authenticity has been questioned. In late 1988, Gerhartsreiter was pulled over in Greenwich, Connecticut, while 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, nor that they had left California voluntarily.

In May 1994, bones believed to belong to Jonathan Sohus were found buried in the backyard of the couple's former property. Sohus's family members said the bones matched his general description. Since Sohus had been adopted, there was no way to compare his DNA against that of biological family members and arrive at a conclusive identity.[8] 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. The bones were not conclusively determined to belong to Sohus until 2010.[9]

Christopher Crowe[edit]

After settling in Greenwich, Gerhartsreiter assumed the identity of "Christopher C. Crowe" and claimed to be a television producer from Los Angeles who worked on the 1980s revival of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. His alias matched the name of one of the producers for the series.[5]

Gerhartsreiter was hired by the brokerage firm S.N. Phelps and Company to work with the firm's computers, but was fired when it was discovered that the social security number he had given them belonged to serial killer David Berkowitz. He was also fired from his employment by Nikko Securities Ltd. as a sales manager of corporate bonds. Gerhartsreiter briefly worked for Kidder, Peabody & Co., but quit his job and abandoned the Christopher Crowe persona when he discovered that police were looking for him in connection with the Sohus disappearances.[5]

Clark Rockefeller[edit]

In 1995, using the name "James Frederick Mills Clark Rockefeller," Gerhartsreiter married Sandra Boss, a high-earning McKinsey senior executive. They were married in a Quaker ceremony that had no legal status.[5] 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 household income, she testified that Gerhartsreiter held complete control of the family's finances and other aspects of her day-to-day life. The couple had a daughter, born in 2001.[10]

Gerhartsreiter went to great lengths to conceal his true identity from his wife. He repeatedly told Boss to file her tax return as a single person. Later in their marriage, when McKinsey required that a certified public accountant do her taxes, Gerhartsreiter 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.[11]

Gerhartsreiter lived with his wife and daughter in Cornish, New Hampshire, where he used his supposed family ties to the Rockefeller family to bolster his reputation, telling friends and neighbors that he was a wealthy Yale graduate who owned a business in Canada.[5] Under the name Clark Rockefeller, he had gained membership to Boston's Algonquin Club, where he spent a great deal of time.[12] He resigned as one of the club's directors in April 2008.[13]

In 2006, Boss hired a private investigator and discovered that Gerhartsreiter was not who he claimed to be, though she did not learn his real name at that time.[14] After divorcing him, Boss legally changed the name of their daughter and accused him of lying about his relation to the Rockefeller family;[15][16] members of the family came forward to deny any relation to Gerhartsreiter.[17]

Boss would later testify at Gerhartsreiter's trial that he had agreed to give her custody of their daughter following the divorce and to supervised visits three times a year 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.[5]

Arrest and prosecutions[edit]

Custodial kidnapping and assault conviction[edit]

During a July 27, 2008, supervised visitation, Gerhartsreiter, his daughter, and a social worker were in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood on a walk to the Boston Common. Approached by a sport utility vehicle, Gerhartsreiter pushed aside the social worker, grabbed his daughter, jumped into the vehicle, and sped away. The social worker held onto the vehicle and was dragged a short distance before falling free. Later that night, a warrant charged Gerhartsreiter with custodial kidnapping, assault and battery, and assault with a deadly weapon — the sport utility vehicle.[18]

Apprehension[edit]

On August 2, 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, 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.[19]

Identification[edit]

On August 15, 2008, the FBI, the Massachusetts State Police, the Boston Police Department, and the Suffolk County District Attorney announced that Clark Rockefeller had been positively identified as Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter.[20] He was conclusively identified by means of forensic examinations conducted by the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia. When Gerhartsreiter 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 Gerhartsreiter and his daughter earlier in the month. Those fingerprints also matched 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, the FBI Laboratory was able to develop latent print impressions from a document in that file, which had been provided by ICE. Through fingerprint analysis, the FBI confirmed Gerhartsreiter's identity.[20]

Prosecution[edit]

On September 3, 2008, Gerhartsreiter was charged with furnishing a false name to a law enforcement officer following an arrest.[21][22] His lawyers later argued that he did not do this for dishonest purposes.[23] On October 2, 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.[24] On February 13, 2009, Gerhartsreiter's attorneys filed notice that they intended to deploy an insanity defense.[25]

During the trial, conducted in Boston in mid-2009, Gerhartsreiter's defense team told jurors that he believed his daughter had communicated with him telepathically from London, where she and her mother moved after the divorce, begging him to rescue her.[26] Two expert witnesses for the defense 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. He noted the defendant had allegedly meticulously planned the details of the abduction well in advance. Gerhartsreiter did not take the witness stand.[27]

Closing arguments concluded on June 8, 2009.[28] On June 12, the jury convicted Gerhartsreiter of the kidnapping of his daughter as well as one count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, for ordering his getaway driver to pull away even while his daughter's social worker was hanging onto the vehicle. He was acquitted of a second assault charge as well as for giving a false name to police.[29] 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.[30]

Conviction for the murder of Jonathan Sohus[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. Judge Frank Gaziano, who presided over Gerhartsreiter's parental kidnapping trial, had barred prosecutors from presenting evidence about the Sohus case to avoid prejudicing jurors against the defendant.[31]

On March 15, 2011, Los Angeles County prosecutors charged Gerhartsreiter with the murder of Jonathan Sohus.[32] The murder trial was held in March and April 2013, and ended with Gerhartsreiter being convicted of first-degree murder on April 10, 2013. The verdict included an enhancement for use of a deadly weapon to bludgeon 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. Jurors also heard evidence that Gerhartsreiter was in possession of Sohus's pickup truck following the murder.[33][34]

On August 15, 2013, Gerhartsreiter was given the maximum sentence of 27 years to life with credit for one year served after finishing his sentence in Massachusetts.[35] After he was convicted, Gerhartsreiter fired his lawyers and represented himself during the sentencing phase.[35] He 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 of which I stand accused." His sentence was reduced on appeal in 2015, to 26 years to life. With good time credits, he will be eligible for parole in December 2029, when he will be 68 years old; a parole hearing is currently scheduled for November 2028.

Gerhartsreiter was initially transferred to North Kern State Prison in September 2013 before being transferred to Ironwood State Prison in March 2014.[35] His appeal was denied on October 23, 2015, and again on January 20, 2016, thus exhausting state appeals. He still has federal appeals pending. In December 2016, he was transferred to San Quentin State Prison.[36]

In popular culture[edit]

The case of Christian Gerhartsreiter has been covered extensively in various media forms since Gerhartsreiter's arrest and exposure.

Title Author Medium/genre Release date
Unsolved Mysteries, Season 7, Episode 11 NBC (network) Television Show 1995
Who Is Clark Rockefeller? Lifetime (network) Film 2010
The Man in the Rockefeller Suit[37] Mark Seal Non-fiction book[38] 2011
Schroder: A Novel[39] Amity Gaige Fiction novel 2013
Name Dropper Frank Girardot Non-fiction book 2014
Blood Will Out (memoir)[40] Walter Kirn Memoir 2014
The Six Million Dollar Conman[41] Channel 4 Television documentary 2012
My Friend Rockefeller[42] LOOKSfilm Television documentary 2015
Episode 30 Georgia Hardstark, Karen Kilgariff (My Favorite Murder podcast)[43] Podcast episode 2016
A Rockefeller By Any Other Name[44] Liar City Podcast episode 2016
Episode 24 Judge and Jeremy[45] Podcast episode 2017
Episode 14: Christian Gerhartsreiter Con Artists Podcast episode 2019
Episode 55: The Power of Suggestion & Con Man Clark Rockefeller Let's Go To Court! Podcast episode 2019
Episode 79: The Rockefeller Swindled Podcast episode 2022

References[edit]

  1. ^ Winton, Richard; Hall, Carla; Hennessy-Fiske, Molly (August 9, 2008). "Many possible aliases probed in cold case". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 9, 2019.
  2. ^ Sweet, Laurel J.; Van Sack, Jessica; Fargen, Jessica (August 8, 2008). "Clark Rockefeller probe points to Germany". Boston Herald. Archived from the original on August 10, 2008. Retrieved March 12, 2010.
  3. ^ Donaldson-Evans, Catherine (August 8, 2008). "Mystery of 'Clark Rockefeller,' Accused of Kidnapping Daughter, May Be Solved". Fox News. Retrieved June 9, 2019.
  4. ^ "'Rockefeller Is Not My Son,' Actress Says". WCVB-TV. August 29, 2007. Archived from the original on March 18, 2010. Retrieved March 12, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Seal, Mark (December 3, 2008). "The Man in the Rockefeller Suit". Vanity Fair. Retrieved June 9, 2019.
  6. ^ a b "The Great Pretender". Deadline: Crime With Tamron Hall. December 17, 2012. Investigation Discovery.
  7. ^ a b McPhee, Michele (May 26, 2009). "Fresh Details on Mystery Man Clark Rockefeller as Trial Opens". ABC News. Retrieved June 5, 2009.
  8. ^ Watkins, Thomas (August 14, 2008). "DNA tests underway on bones in Rockefeller case". Associated Press. Archived from the original on March 18, 2010.
  9. ^ Good, Meaghan (March 5, 2016). "Linda Sohus". The Charley Project. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved July 31, 2017.
  10. ^ Erin Moriarty (March 22, 2014). "AKA Rockefeller". CBS News. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  11. ^ "'Rockefeller' seeks dismissal of false name charge". Boston Globe. March 13, 2009.
  12. ^ Storrs, Francis (August 14, 2008). "Money Talks". Boston Magazine. Retrieved June 9, 2019.
  13. ^ Archived Algonquin Club website
  14. ^ Karas, Beth; O'Neill, Ann (June 2, 2009). "Ex 'Mrs. Rockefeller': 'I had a pretty big blind spot'". CNN.
  15. ^ Seal, Mark (January 2009). "The Man in the Rockefeller Suit". Vanity Fair. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  16. ^ Rockefeller held without bail (original citation title: "Rockefeller returns to Boston to face a kidnapping charge.") at the Wayback Machine (archive index)
  17. ^ Molloy, Joanna; Gendar, Alison; Kennedy, Helen (July 30, 2008). "Depressed during holidays, Clark Rockefeller spoke of kidnapping". New York Daily News. Retrieved August 11, 2008.
  18. ^ Guilfoil, John M. (July 28, 2008). "Police search for girl abducted during father's visit". Boston Globe. Retrieved August 15, 2008.
  19. ^ Schoetz, David; McPhee, Michele; Alfonsi, Sharon (August 5, 2008). "Back to Boston for Con-Man Kidnap Suspect (original citation title: "Who is Clark Rockefeller")". ABC News. Archived from the original on August 8, 2008. Retrieved August 5, 2008.
  20. ^ a b Szep, Jason (August 15, 2008). "FBI identifies "Rockefeller" as German con man". Reuters. Retrieved June 9, 2019.
  21. ^ "'Clark Rockefeller' charged with using false name". WHDH News. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved September 19, 2009.
  22. ^ "Massachusetts General Laws IV:I:268:34A". Suffolk County District Attorney's Office. Retrieved September 19, 2009.
  23. ^ "Judge in kidnapping case: False name charge will go to jury". Suffolk County District Attorney's Office. April 27, 2009. Archived from the original on December 5, 2009. Retrieved September 19, 2009.
  24. ^ Sweet, Laurel J. (October 2, 2008). "Judge: No bail enough to hold 'Rockefeller'". Boston Herald. Archived from the original on October 6, 2008. Retrieved October 5, 2008.
  25. ^ "'Clark Rockefeller' Plans Insanity Defense in Kidnapping Trial". Fox News. February 13, 2009. Archived from the original on May 14, 2013. Retrieved February 13, 2009.
  26. ^ Sweet, Laurel J. (May 29, 2009). "Clark Rockefeller says he has telepathic link to Snooks". Boston Herald. Archived from the original on September 21, 2012. Retrieved June 9, 2019.
  27. ^ "Testimony Ends in 'Clark Rockefeller' Kidnap Trial, Closing Arguments Set for Monday". Fox News. June 4, 2009. Retrieved June 9, 2019.
  28. ^ ""Rockefeller" Kidnap Case Goes To Jury". CBS News. June 8, 2009. Retrieved June 9, 2019.
  29. ^ "Jury convicts Rockefeller in kidnapping trial". Boston Globe. June 12, 2009. Retrieved November 25, 2019.
  30. ^ Karas, Beth (2009-06-12). "Rockefeller poser gets up to 5 years for kidnapping". CNN. Retrieved 2019-11-25.
  31. ^ "Grand Jury Probes Murder Case Against Rockefeller". WBZ-TV. March 25, 2009. Archived from the original on June 18, 2009. Retrieved June 5, 2009.
  32. ^ "Elusive 'Clark Rockefeller' figure charged in 1980s slaying of San Marino man". Los Angeles Times. March 15, 2011. Retrieved March 15, 2011.
  33. ^ Effron, Lauren. "Clark Rockefeller Impostor Found Guilty of 1985 Murder". ABC News. Retrieved April 10, 2013.
  34. ^ "Jurors say guilty verdict for phony Rockefeller was in the bag". Los Angeles Daily News. Archived from the original on June 28, 2013. Retrieved April 11, 2013.
  35. ^ a b c Branson-Potts, Hailey (August 15, 2013). "Rockefeller impostor gets 27 years in prison; maintains innocence". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 15, 2013.
  36. ^ "B251546 Appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County" (PDF). California Courts, The Judicial Branch of California. The court of appeal of the state of California second appellate district division eight. October 23, 2015. Retrieved January 16, 2016.
  37. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (June 6, 2011). "Fooling Them All With a Big Name". The New York Times Book Review.
  38. ^ McNary, Dave (February 8, 2016). "'El Clan' Director Pablo Trapero to Helm Rockefeller Imposter Movie'". Variety. Retrieved February 9, 2016.
  39. ^ Brown, Janelle (February 21, 2013). "A real impostor's tale inspires fascinating fiction in 'Schroder'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
  40. ^ 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.
  41. ^ "Six Million Dollar Conman - Episode guide". channel4.com. Retrieved July 5, 2014.
  42. ^ "My Friend Rockefeller - now on Netflix". Retrieved June 9, 2019.
  43. ^ "The F*** Word Murder Mystery Show". FeralAudio.com. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  44. ^ "A Rockefeller By Any Other Name". Liar City. February 19, 2016.
  45. ^ "Judge and Jeremy – The only true crime podcast with the Back Porch Verdict". judgeandjeremy.com. Retrieved July 26, 2017.

External links[edit]