Historian Allyson Hobbs tells the story of countless African Americans who passed as white, leaving behind families and friends, roots and community. A book signing follows the program.
Historian Allyson Hobbs tells the story of countless African Americans who passed as white, leaving behind families and friends, roots and community. A book signing follows the program.
A talk and book presentation by Professor Karl Jacoby:
“The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire.” Jacoby discusses how Guillermo Eliseo / William creatively navigated the complexities of identity and race issues during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States. The study of borderlands and the people who come from them, like those between Texas and Mexico, Jacoby argues, reveals the centrality of these liminal spaces in the historical identity of the United States.
LIVINGSTON, Mont. — Standing over an open suitcase inside his office here, the journalist and novelist Walter Kirn is preparing for a six-week book tour, trying to squeeze his life inside a carry-on. “The trick is to wear the nicer, costlier items — the ones that need ironing if they get wrinkled — and pack the rest,” he says, rolling up a pair of cotton briefs into a tight, cigarlike cylinder. He sets the undergarment, which is zebra striped, into the case beside three other pairs that range from polka dot to paisley. “I like to wear strong patterns against my skin,” he says, pitching his voice low, as though to share a tip that I don’t recall soliciting. “It gives me a wonderful feeling of inner confidence.”
For Mr. Kirn, 51, who indeed brims with an outer confidence that can be intimidating at times to those unused to brash, creative types who dress in custom cowboy boots and seem indifferent to the modest niceties of literary image, the loud underwear seems to be working this afternoon. After pressing a pair of red briefs into my hand (“Yours to keep,” he says), he lets it be known that he’s something of an expert on packing efficiently for extended trips. His 2001 novel, “Up in the Air” — the story of a lonesome businessman obsessed with collecting airline bonus miles that was made into a 2009 Oscar-nominated movie starring George Clooney — is all about traveling light, he says, both physically and emotionally.
“I know how you might get confused on this, but the Clooney character isn’t me,” Mr. Kirn says, addressing the first of many unasked questions. “Aside from a basic physical resemblance, we really don’t have much in common. No. 1, I’m engaged to be married. I’m not a bachelor. I form more lasting bonds.”
The new book that Mr. Kirn will be traveling to promote, “Blood Will Out,” is the story of a bond that some may wonder why he formed at all, let alone allowed to last so long: his bizarre 15-year relationship with the infamous impostor and murderer who went by the alias Clark Rockefeller. He met the masquerading German immigrant (whose real name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter and who is serving a sentence of 27 years to life in a California prison) in the summer of 1998, when Mr. Kirn was between books and feeling restless.
“A writer who isn’t writing,” Mr. Kirn reflects, tossing a pair of dark socks into his bag free-throw style, “is asking for trouble.” In his case, trouble took a canine form when the Livingston animal shelter contacted him about a homeless hunting dog that was crippled and used a wheelchair. The dog had been adopted over the Internet by “Clark,” a resident of New York, who planned to treat it using acupuncture. “The shelter asked if I’d talk to him,” Mr. Kirn says, “thinking, perhaps, that because I’d gone to Princeton, I might know how to speak his language. Long story short, I ended up setting out to drive the dog to Manhattan in my Ford pickup, thinking this might earn the shelter a big donation. I had no clue what I’d gotten myself into.”
Readers of “Blood Will Out” may find Mr. Kirn’s persistent cluelessness astonishing. For 10 years, until “Rockefeller” was unmasked after kidnapping his noncustodial daughter outside a Boston courthouse, Mr. Kirn never suspected that his posh friend was anyone other than whom he said he was, let alone a fugitive person of interest in a gruesome cold-case murder from 1985. There were many red flags, but the trusting Oxford graduate (Mr. Kirn studied there on a scholarship after Princeton), explained them away as upper-class eccentricities not unlike those of the young British aristocrats whom he encountered in his early 20s. The bogus heir described himself as “a freelance central banker” and claimed to possess a key — a master key — to all of the buildings in Rockefeller Center. He also boasted of close friendships with Britney Spears and the former German chancellor Helmut Kohl.
“People ask why I didn’t just Google him,” Mr. Kirn says, pointing to the laptop on the oak desk where he finished “Blood Will Out” over several hectic months last year, fueled by e-cigarettes, energy drinks and anger. “Well, Google wasn’t around when we first met. You took people at face value in those days.” This is slightly misleading, I respond, since Google was officially founded that year, and there were other search engines like Yahoo and Ask Jeeves. Mr. Kirn stiffens at this remark and turns sarcastic. “Ask Jeeves!” he says. “Who ever used that thing? College freshmen to find out who Goethe was — that’s it. I feel like you’re faulting me for being trusting. Well, I trust you, and I haven’t Asked Jeeves you!”
A few minutes later, having settled down some, Mr. Kirn digs in the cluttered top drawer of his desk. He’s hunting for an external battery pack to power his iPhone while he’s on the road. He intends to shoot videos on the phone, he says, to document his book tour. “I want to dispel this idea young writers have that this is a glamorous way of life,” he says. “The room-service Caesar salads with soggy croutons, the distant relatives who show up at readings pitching weird, far-fetched investment schemes, the fans who have you sign a book to ‘Cathy’ and then tell you, ‘No, it’s Kathy with a K’ — it gets challenging after a while. It tests your stamina.”
Mr. Kirn’s prickliness and flashes of arrogance seem to disguise a basic insecurity that may explain why he longed for the approval of a con man posing as a blue blood. For all of his boasting about his Princeton and Oxford days (a Time magazine review of “Blood Will Out” notes that the book mentions the universities a combined 25 times), he strikes me as anxious and socially uncertain. While packing his shaving kit, he asks me for deodorant advice. “Does the natural, unscented stuff even work?” he says. “I’m wondering if I need the stronger kind. How do I smell to you right now? Be honest.”
Before I can answer, he asks another question: What did I think of the homemade video that he recently shot for “Blood Will Out” and posted on YouTube and other social media, causing something of a stir? In the spontaneous 13-minute rant, which some viewers found inspired and others rambling, he called out the novelist Gary Shteyngart for enlisting James Franco to appear in a book trailer to publicize Mr. Shteyngart’s recent memoir, “Little Failure.” In the video, sitting on the floor beside a fireplace and looking disheveled and agitated, Mr. Kirn deplores the literary world’s drift toward celebrity worship and Internet showmanship.
“Gary’s a friend, and I hope he took it well,” Mr. Kirn tells me without waiting for my answer. “Though I don’t really know, because we haven’t spoken since. We’ve ‘favorited’ some of each other’s posts on Twitter, but I’m not sure that constitutes true communication. Actually, I’m fairly sure it doesn’t.”
Mr. Kirn gives up searching for his phone battery. His desk drawer is filled with debris from last year’s writing marathon: four nail clippers, numerous foam earplugs, countless loose Ibuprofen tablets and two brass lighters. “Not every cigarette I smoked was electronic,” he confesses. In the book, he blames some of his gullible, muddy thinking during the years he was friendly with “Rockefeller” on prescription A.D.H.D. drugs that helped him to stay up late and meet deadlines. He says he doesn’t use the pills now, preferring a natural potion, E3 Live, which is made from blue-green algae.
“My fiancée, Amanda, whom I met when ‘Up in the Air’ was being made and who won me over one day on the set by conspicuously putting her arm around me while George Clooney was feeding her some line, has turned my life around, nutrition-wise,” Mr. Kirn says. “She’s also taught me to trust people again. Knowing ‘Clark’ made me paranoid. I was a wreck. The way I’ve let my guard down with you today just wouldn’t have been possible back then. I would have been sure that you were out to get me. You aren’t, though, are you? You’re going to make me look good.”
I remind him that the job of a reporter is not to flatter or reassure a subject but simply to observe him and write the truth.
“There is no truth when it comes to human beings,” Mr. Kirn observes bitterly, bending over his suitcase and revealing a strip of garish orange-and-black tiger-striped underwear. “That’s what my book’s about. Did you even read it? You didn’t, I bet. You’re a phony like the rest of them. What’s your name? Your real name?”
I spell my name for him so he can Google it. “Just kidding, I believe you, ” Mr. Kirn responds. “I like you. You’re a character. You remind me of myself.”
By Mark Seal
Courtesy of Vanity Fair – http://www.vanityfair.com/style/2009/01/fake_rockefeller200901
On a sunny Sunday last July, Clark Rockefeller left his stately accommodations in Boston’s venerable Algonquin Club, the gentlemen’s establishment founded in 1886. Dressed in khakis and a blue Lacoste shirt, he was carrying his seven-year-old daughter, Reigh Storrow Mills Boss, whom he called Snooks, on his shoulders, walking toward Boston Common, where they were going to ride the swan boats in the Public Garden.
“Good morning, Mr. Rockefeller,” people greeted him, for he was well known in this Beacon Hill neighborhood. He had lived here for a year and a half in a $2.7 million, four-story, ivy-covered town house on one of the best streets. But that was before his wife, Sandra, left him and dragged him through a humiliating divorce, taking not only the Boston house but also their second home, in New Hampshire. In addition, she won custody of their daughter, moving her to London with her, and restricting him to three eight-hour visits a year, in the company of a social worker, who was tagging along that morning like a third wheel.
Nevertheless, he was still Clark Rockefeller. At 47, he still had his name, his intelligence, an extraordinary art collection, close friends in high places, and his memberships in clubs up and down the Eastern Seaboard, where he could sleep and take his meals, having long ago decided that hotels and restaurants were for the bourgeoisie. He also had a divorce settlement of $800,000, at least $300,000 of which he had converted into Krugerrands and then into gold U.S. coins, keeping the rest in cash. And now he had his beloved daughter with him again, for a blissful day together.
As they approached Marlborough Street, a tree-lined avenue on which Edward Kennedy has a house, a black S.U.V. limousine cruised to the curb. Rockefeller had told the driver that he and Snooks had a lunch date in Newport, Rhode Island, with a senator’s son, and that he might need help getting rid of a clingy friend (the court-appointed social worker), who might try to get into the limo. Having assured Mr. Rockefeller that nobody would get into the car without his consent—the ride, after all, was costing him $3,000—the driver wasn’t surprised, as he looked in his rearview mirror, to see Rockefeller with Snooks on his shoulders and a clingy sort of guy right behind them.
Suddenly, Rockefeller pushed his pursuer away, put his daughter down, yanked the car door open, and pulled the child into the limo so fast that she hit her head on the doorframe. “Go! Go!” he shouted, and the driver stepped on the gas, dragging the social worker, who had hold of the back-door handle, several yards before he let go and fell to the pavement.
Within minutes, according to Rockefeller’s indictment, he told the driver to pull over. Then he hailed a cab, explaining to the limo driver that he wanted to take his daughter to Massachusetts General Hospital in order to make sure the bump on her head was not serious. He instructed the limo driver to wait for him in a nearby parking lot. The driver did as he was told, and waited approximately two hours, but his $3,000 customer never showed up. Meanwhile, Rockefeller had taken the taxi to the Boston Sailing Center, where one of his many female friends was waiting for him. She had agreed to drive him to New York in her white Lexus for $500. “Hurry!,” Rockefeller implored her, saying that he and Snooks had to catch a train that would get them to a boat launch on Long Island by eight p.m.
Soon after they arrived in Manhattan, they got stuck in traffic near Grand Central Terminal. In a flash, Rockefeller swept up his daughter, threw an envelope full of cash onto the front seat, and took off without even saying good-bye. Then the woman’s cell phone rang. It was a friend asking if she had seen the Amber Alert concerning Clark Rockefeller’s abduction of his daughter. That was when she realized that she had been fooled into providing the transportation for what the Boston district attorney would later charge was a custodial kidnapping. (Rockefeller has also been charged with assault and battery by means of a deadly weapon [the limo], assault and battery, and furnishing a false name to the police.)
Back in Boston, in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel, Rockefeller’s ex-wife, Sandra Boss—a Harvard Business School graduate earning an estimated $1.4 million a year as a senior partner at McKinsey & Company, the global management-consulting firm—was informed that her ex-husband had disappeared with their daughter. At the same time Boston police were entering Rockefeller’s name into national databases and finding … nothing.
“Can you please give us his driver’s-license number?” an officer asked Boss.
She said he didn’t have one.
“Do you know if Clark has a Social Security number?”
“Is he on your tax returns?”
His credit cards were on her accounts. His cell-phone number was under the name of a friend. To each of the investigators’ questions about her ex-husband’s identification papers, Boss responded in the negative. He didn’t have any identification at all.
Twenty-four hours after his disappearance, the curious case of Clark Rockefeller was being handled by Special Agent Noreen Gleason, a tough, blonde, 17-year veteran of the F.B.I. assigned to the Boston field office. Her first call was to the Rockefeller family, she remembers. “They said, ‘Under no circumstances is there a link We are not connected.’”
Plenty of other people had heard of him, however. For five days Gleason and a battalion of F.B.I. agents and police officers in the United States and abroad were taken for a ride. Like the limo driver and the friend Rockefeller tricked into driving him to New York, the authorities soon realized that they had been set up. Before the extraordinarily well-planned vanishing act, Rockefeller had devised an equally elaborate escape plan, telling many of his well-heeled friends his destination, which in every case was different, and in every case a lie. He told one he was sailing to Peru; he informed others he was going to Alaska, the Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas. “It was fascinating,” says Gleason. “We would start going down one avenue, one lead, and we would get to the end of it, and nothing would be there.”
Red herrings popped up all over the globe before the fugitive’s true identity was finally revealed, in part by a wineglass. The night before Rockefeller fled, he had had a glass of wine at a friend’s house. When investigators arrived there the next day, the friend still hadn’t washed the glass, so they lifted fingerprints and sent them off to the F.B.I. lab in Quantico, Virginia.
While the alleged kidnapper’s prints were being analyzed, the bureau, in hopes that someone might recognize him, released pictures to the media, and soon a lifetime of carefully constructed identities began emerging. Some people knew him as Chris Gerhart, a University of Wisconsin film student. Others said he was Christopher Chichester, a descendant of British royalty, who had charmed the residents of a wealthy Los Angeles suburb in the 1980s, only to vanish after being sought for questioning in the disappearance of a California couple and their possible murder. Still others remembered him as Christopher C. Crowe, a TV producer, who had worked for at least three Wall Street investment firms in the late 1980s before suddenly vanishing. Scores of people knew him as Clark Rockefeller, a Boston Brahmin and scion of industry whose friends included important artists, writers, producers, physicians, financiers, and members of prestigious private clubs.
“Now, we’re thinking that we’re dealing with a person who might have committed two homicides,” says Gleason. “We’ve tracked this person for a week, and we really don’t know who he is. Statistically speaking, parental kidnappings can go very bad. A lot of times people say, ‘If I can’t have her, she’s not going to have her, either.’ We’ve seen time and time again that the person who has kidnapped the child will kill himself and the child. You don’t want to get to the point where he knows he’s caught and he has possession of her, because that’s when the game is going to be over.”
When the results came back from the print lab, one thing became clear: the alleged kidnapper was not a Rockefeller. He was Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a 47-year-old German immigrant who had come to America as a student in 1978, and who had disappeared into a complicated existence that the Boston district attorney would call “the longest con I’ve seen in my professional career.”
A.k.a. Christopher Gerharts Reiter
Once Rockefeller’s flight hit the headlines, reporters joined the manhunt in order to discover who the suspect was and where he had gone. The trail began in Bergen, Germany, a small resort town in the Bavarian Alps, where Gerhartsreiter grew up a misfit, and where no one had heard from him in 30 years. He was a short, skinny, fantasy-obsessed boy, whose father was a housepainter and an amateur artist, and whose mother was a seamstress. “He was like Batman … always going into different roles,” a friend of the family told the *Boston Herald’*s Jessica Van Sack. “Like his dad, he was an artist. And he always had crazy ideas.”
On a train trip, he met and charmed a family from America, who told him that if he was ever in the United States he should look them up. Seeking a fresh start in a new country, he arrived unannounced on the family’s doorstep in Meriden, Connecticut, in 1978. After living with them for a short time, he posted an ad for lodging in the local newspaper, and eventually landed with the Savio family in nearby Berlin. “He said he was an exchange student, and he was going to finish high school in the States,” says the eldest son of the family, Edward Savio, now a San Francisco–based screenwriter and novelist. In the Savio home, and in Berlin High School, Christopher Gerharts Reiter, as he was calling himself by then, began a process of re-invention. He practiced his English and cultivated his appearance—tight European clothing, long hair, white sunglasses. “He said his father was an industrialist,” says Savio, “something to do with Mercedes.”
“He was fascinated with Gilligan’s Island and the character Thurston Howell III,” says Boston deputy police superintendent Thomas Lee, referring to the character played by Jim Backus, an ascot-wearing millionaire member of the northeastern elite who is so rich that he will take tens of thousands of dollars in cash and multiple changes of clothing for a three-hour tour. The superintendent groans. “I wouldn’t make this up,” he says of the German student’s fascination with the wealthy character. “He mimicked his speech pattern.”
Chris slept on the Savios’ couch, and each day when he awoke he expected his breakfast to be prepared and his clothing laundered. “He made it clear that living in this manner was beneath him,” says Savio. The final straw came one winter afternoon when he refused to get up from the couch to unlock the door for Edward’s little sister. “We kicked him out,” says Savio.
He gave himself a new name. “He’d become Chris Kenneth Gerhart by the time he left us,” says Savio. Soon he was at the University of Wisconsin, on the Milwaukee campus, where he studied film, and where, he told the Savios in a phone call, he planned to vote for Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election. “But you’re not an American citizen!” one of them exclaimed. Not a problem, he said; he would soon have a green card and become a legal resident.
“We were in a class together, studying film noir,” remembers Todd Lassa, now a writer for Motor Trend, who was a witness at Chris Gerhart’s quickie courthouse wedding, in 1981, when they were both undergraduates. The bride was a woman Gerhart didn’t know well, and they were divorced soon after he got his green card. Several weeks after the wedding, he stopped showing up for his classes. Soon his old friend Edward Savio, who was living in Los Angeles, got a phone call from the immigrant his family had kicked out of their house. He had just arrived in L.A., he said, and wanted to say hello. He was going into the film business.
A.k.a. Christopher Chichester
Having mastered English, the young man who now called himself Christopher Chichester—the name stolen, according to Savio, from one of his teachers at Berlin High School, Joan Chichester—was ready to launch his most impressive identity to date, not in L.A., where there’s a poseur on every corner, but 18 miles to the east, in the wealthy suburb of San Marino. He became a regular at the local business and social clubs, where free lunches were served to members; at the prominent churches, where weddings with bountiful buffets were easily crashed; and at the libraries, where he could loiter for hours and improve his mind. Soon, with his Ivy League clothes, impeccable manners, and aristocratic accent, he was squiring the town’s elderly widows around, enjoying their big houses and their lavish lifestyles. He flashed an oversize calling card, embossed with what he claimed was the Chichester family crest—a heron, its wings spread, with an eel in its beak—and the family motto, “Firm en foi,” meaning firm in faith. The card read, “Christopher Chichester, XIII Bt [for 13th baronet], San Marino, CA.”
“Oh, he said he was of royalty in England,” remembers San Marino hairdresser Jann Eldnor, who cut Chichester’s hair every two weeks. “Although he was only in his 20s, he acted like he was 40. Every time he’d meet a lady, he’d take her hand and kiss it.”
Chichester employed his charm not only on women but also on men. He could talk about anything, Eldnor says—business, politics, society, royalty, especially royalty, because, he said, he was descended from British royalty, specifically Lord Mountbatten, the British naval officer and last British viceroy of India.
“I was impressed by him!” says a longtime resident. “I thought he was very important!” says another. “He told us he was the descendant of Sir Francis Chichester, who took his sailing ship, the Gipsy Moth, around the world,” recalls one woman. “And we all thought, Wow, this is exciting—he has credentials! One day he brought me a newspaper from a neighboring community—not San Marino.” The headline was all about Sir Francis Chichester, complete with a picture of him and the Gipsy Moth, and the story mentioned that the young Christopher Chichester, incredibly, was “living in our area!” the woman continued. “Now I’m wondering if he had it dummied up somehow.”
“This is a small town where people volunteer, and in the process of that, he met people, and people had daughters, and the daughters were volunteering,” says another resident, Wray Cornwell. “He was paying attention all the time.”
Soon he was a Rotarian and a member of the City Club, the darling of the city fathers and their wives and daughters, including Carol Campbell, who accepted a lunch date. She was surprised to find the esteemed nephew of Lord Mountbatten driving a “nerdy” tan Datsun, the interior of which was completely plastered with yellow Post-It notes “to himself.” The date turned out to be a round of errands, with Chichester talking about himself all the way. “Oh, like he was from nobility, the second duke of something, a film producer,” remembers Campbell. “And I came home and said, ‘Mom, that guy is lying! He’s creepy!’”
Most locals, however, were completely snowed. They even gave him his own television show, Inside San Marino. “It was public-access, Channel 3,” says Peggy Ebright, who was the interviewer on the show. The crew consisted of a part-time teenage cameraman and the producer, Christopher Chichester. “He told me he was a student at the U.S.C. film school,” recalls Ebright, who still marvels at how Chichester got the Who’s Who of San Marino—as well as Los Angeles luminaries such as then police chief Daryl Gates—to sit down for a cable-TV show that very few people ever watched.
Nine miles down the freeway from San Marino is the University of Southern California, with its celebrated film school. Here, Christopher Chichester also became a familiar presence. “It seemed that he knew everybody and everything at U.S.C.,” remembers Dana Farrar, a film-and-journalism student at the time. Although no records list Chichester as a student of the film school, he always seemed to have a screenplay from its library under his arm. Farrar adds, “He acted like he was a T.A. [teacher’s aide] at Arthur Knight’s class [a prestigious introduction-to-film course, in which guest speakers have included Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, and Clint Eastwood], where all the big stars would come and debut their films for the students.”
He said he was working toward an M.F.A. in film, and he invited Dana Farrar and her friends to be his guests at a U.S.C. party attended by directors Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Robert Zemeckis and a number of Hollywood stars to celebrate the opening of the Marcia Lucas Post-Production Building, a state-of-the-art multi-media facility. “I’m getting you passes,” Chichester said, and, sure enough, he did. At the party, he knew everybody, according to Farrar, who shows me snapshots of Chichester from that time, a skinny bon vivant, wearing tight slacks and a V-necked sweater, staring pensively into a glass of wine in one picture, striking a giddy pose with three cone-shaped paper birthday hats on his head in another. His passion was film noir.
“He’d say, ‘Day-naaah, you just must see Double Indemnity with me! It’s just the best film!’”
And here, the film of Christopher Chichester’s life turns to noir.
Enter John and Linda Sohus
‘This town is divided into three,” says Jann Eldnor. “Super Marino, on the hill, with houses $5 million and up; San Marino, on the flats, good, big houses for doctors and professionals; and Sub Marino, where the houses are cheaper, for engineers, schoolteachers, and lower-income.” Chichester was living squarely in Sub Marino, rent-free in a guest dwelling behind the main house of Ruth “Didi” Sohus, known to everyone as a reclusive alcoholic.
The drama began when Didi’s adopted son, John, a geeky man in his 20s who had a low-level job in the computer department of Jet Propulsion Laboratory in nearby Pasadena, moved in with his mother. He arrived with his wife, Linda, a vivacious redhead and aspiring artist who worked as a clerk at the Dangerous Visions science-fiction bookstore. “They made an odd couple,” Lili Hadsell, who was then on the San Marino police force, told me. “He was short, curly-haired, and dorky. She was tall, big-boned, attractive.” Jann Eldnor, who got to know John well when Didi would bring him in for haircuts, adds, “They came with four cats and a horse.”
More than 20 years later, after Clark Rockefeller allegedly kidnapped his daughter, investigators came upon an astonishing video about the years he had lived in San Marino: a July 1995 segment of the Unsolved Mysteries television series, called “San Marino Bones,” which begins with a scene of workers digging a pit for a swimming pool. They discover three plastic bags containing human skeletal remains.
“Immediately, speculation turned to a couple who went missing from the house in 1985 … John Sohus and his wife, Linda,” the actor Robert Stack says in the voice-over. “Though married for two years, John and Linda still lived with John’s mother, Didi Sohus, by all accounts an alcoholic. However, the most intriguing character would prove to be a mysterious young man who went by the name Christopher Chichester.” As Stack says this, a photograph of a suave, bespectacled young man wearing a suit and tie fills the screen.
In early 1985, according to the program, John and Linda told friends they had landed an important job with a U.S.-government satellite program. Although they were sworn to secrecy, Linda let it slip to a friend that they both had to report immediately for duty in New York, but that they would return to San Marino in two weeks to pack up their things. Eight weeks later, since there had not been a word from them, Linda’s sister called Didi Sohus for an explanation.
Unsolved Mysteries re-created a scene of Didi, in a pink housecoat, with a drink in her hand, grabbing the phone and slurring, in a half-whisper, “John and Linda went to Europe on a top-secret mission! For the government!” She told the police, who had been contacted by Linda’s family, that she had a “source.” This source was giving her updates on her son and daughter-in-law, who, except for two postcards purportedly from Linda and postmarked Paris, France, were never heard from again. Five months after their disappearance, Didi Sohus filed a missing-persons report on the couple, suddenly wise to her so-called source. “He’s gone, too,” she told police. “Just disappeared!” Robert Stack tells the TV audience, “According to Didi, the mysterious contact was none other than her guesthouse tenant, Christopher Chichester. However, he had recently moved, leaving no forwarding address.”
The skeletal remains were uncovered in May 1994. Immediately questions arose regarding Chichester, who, according to a neighbor, had borrowed a chain saw from him about the time John and Linda were leaving for New York, in spite of the fact, Edward Savio says, that he had “never picked up a fucking tool in his life.” Investigators interviewed Dana Farrar, who recalled the day she accepted Chichester’s invitation for a game of Trivial Pursuit. The whole backyard was dug up. “What’s going on in the yard, Chris?” she asked. “Oh, I’m having some plumbing problems,” he said.
Along with the human bones, investigators found a flannel shirt and blue jeans, John Sohus’s standard dress. (Using the chemical luminol, they also detected traces of blood on the floor of Chichester’s apartment.) But what about Linda? “When John and Linda moved back into Didi’s house, they discovered the man in the back, Christopher Chichester,” says Jann Eldnor. “And John now started to put his nose in what Chichester was doing. He sees his mother’s condition, and he’s thinking this Chichester maybe is taking money from his mother. So he might have started to question Chichester. Also, Chichester had his eye on all the ladies, young and old. So right away he must have had his eye on John’s wife, Linda. It might not take long for Linda to start having a liking for the guy. And John, well … “
“The authorities would like to speak to the young man known as Christopher Chichester,” Robert Stack says at the end of the segment about the case. “They now know that his real name is Christian Gerhartsreiter, a native of Germany.”
Before skipping town, Chichester had gone to get a last haircut at Jann of Sweden. “A family member has died in England, and I have to go back and take care of the estate,” he said. He had gotten all he could out of San Marino, including the pickup truck that belonged to the missing couple.
In late 1988, the truck turned up in Greenwich, Connecticut. A man calling himself Christopher Crowe had tried unsuccessfully to sell it to the son of a local minister. In the course of their investigation police discovered that Christopher Chichester and Christopher Crowe were one and the same. By then the strange young man had vanished again.
A.k.a. Christopher Crowe
In Connecticut, Christopher Crowe gravitated once more to private clubs and older women. At the Indian Harbor Yacht Club, in Greenwich, into which he walked “pretending to own the place,” as one observer told The Boston Globe, he struck pay dirt: someone who worked at S. N. Phelps and Company, a leading brokerage firm based in Greenwich. Soon the young man got an interview with the well-known venture capitalist Stan Phelps, a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Business School, who had trained junk-bond king Michael Milken, among others. Phelps hired Crowe as a computer whiz, according to a fellow employee at the firm. (Phelps didn’t respond to numerous requests for comment.) “This guy, Christopher Crowe, looked like he was worth a million bucks,” says the employee. “The way he dressed, the way he carried himself, his air. Always had custom-made shirts—with his monogram, CCC, on the pocket—the Burberry raincoat. He said he was a producer from L.A., who had done all of the Alfred Hitchcock remakes, and if you go back 20 years, there was a Christopher Crowe who was a producer.”
Although he was hired to work in computers, Crowe was frequently in the trading room, talking about Hitchcock or, more often, himself. He would speak about his mother and sister in Paris and show photographs of his mansion in France. The job ended abruptly when someone checked his background through the Social Security number he had written on his application. It reportedly came back as the number of David Berkowitz, known as Son of Sam, the serial killer who had haunted New Yorkers in the 70s. Crowe was promptly fired.
Despite having neither a college degree nor any semblance of experience, Crowe was next hired to head a department in the U.S. offices of Nikko Securities, Ltd., on Wall Street, with an estimated annual base salary of $150,000. “Everyone was flabbergasted,” says his former Phelps co-worker. “We could not even imagine how he got a job he was clearly not capable of handling.” He was hired by a now deceased ex–Goldman Sachs executive, who “was taken by people who seemed to be blue-blooded, and wasn’t the kind of guy who would necessarily check references,” one of Crowe’s fellow employees remembers.
Nikko institutes corporate bond department, read a July 13, 1987, press release about the company’s expansion into selling “high-grade bonds, swaps … and distribution of securities” to institutional investors. The department, with offices in the World Financial Center, would consist of five bond salesmen as well as a team of up to 15 traders and analysts. “Christopher Crowe, who formerly ran the Battenberg-Crowe-von-Wettin Foundation, will lead the endeavor as vice president.”
The appointment made headlines in The Bond Buyer, the bond-industry periodical, which reported that Crowe’s department was “participating in a $250 million Chevron Capital USA deal that came to market yesterday, as well as a $150 million Colgate-Palmolive Co. offering.… [Crowe] said the department will work most heavily in the long-term industrial sector.… ‘Customers like industrials,’ he said, adding that ‘they’ve been oversaturated with banks and finance.’”
The staff he led was unimpressed. “It was obvious he had no experience,” says one. He certainly knew how to act the part, however, living in a guest dwelling on an estate in Greenwich, where he was staying, he said, while renovating the main house. He also claimed to be related to Mountbatten and the Battenberg family from Germany—whose name was at the center of his family foundation—which he reportedly said had a collection of Rolls-Royces and Italian sports cars. According to another colleague, “Every article of clothing, from his slippers to pajamas, was monogrammed CCC.”
“He was hired as sales manager of corporate bonds, but he had never sold a corporate bond,” says Richard Barnett, who was hired by Crowe as Nikko’s director of corporate-bond research. “He had no idea what he was doing.”
Fired once again, Crowe soon found another responsible position, in the Manhattan offices of the prestigious securities firm Kidder, Peabody and Co. By then Connecticut state troopers were searching for him, having received the paperwork on John Sohus’s missing truck. Possibly tipped off, Crowe quit his new job shortly after having started it, on the pretext that his parents were missing in Afghanistan and he had to rush off. When the authorities arrived at his former places of business and his rented guest quarters, Crowe was gone. When he next resurfaced, he had grabbed an even higher rung on the ladder to success. After several as yet unaccounted-for years, about which the authorities haven’t been able to learn much, he devised his greatest persona yet: Clark Rockefeller.
For this new life, he would need money—not a lot, but a fair amount. Some say he had hoarded his $150,000-a-year (not including bonuses) Wall Street salary. Others point to a statement he made later, that he had been given his new name, Clark Rockefeller, by Harry Copeland, his “godfather,” who died in the late 1990s. A New York businessman, Copeland also happened to be a habitué of Belmont Park racetrack, on Long Island. Did Rockefeller possibly make his money betting on the ponies? His attorney Stephen Hrones says Rockefeller never had “substantial money to change his life” until he met his future wife. But friends insist that he had cash, as well as a credit card emblazoned with the name Rockefeller. With his smart wardrobe and Eastern prep-school accent, he was ready to begin the greatest act of his lifetime. Naturally, there was only one place to unveil his masterpiece: New York City.
A.k.a. Clark Rockefeller
Moving into an apartment at 400 East 57th Street, he determined never to set foot in Connecticut again. He told friends it was because his parents had been killed there. He was so adamant about this that he once “threw a fit” when he realized that the car he was in was about to cross the state line. “Before we crossed the border into Connecticut, Clark made everybody stop and use the bathroom, because he wouldn’t let us stop at all after that,” says one friend. As they entered the state, Rockefeller allegedly turned up his collar, put on a hat, and hunkered down low in his seat. Connecticut, California, Wisconsin, and Germany were all far behind him now.
He began to be known in Manhattan in late 1992 or 1993, proudly displaying two of the credentials that are catnip to the cognoscenti: a fancy dog, a Gordon setter named Yates—nothing sparks a conversation between strangers faster than a walked dog—and a major collection of modern art. Once again, he gained entry into the higher echelons through the church, in this case Saint Thomas Church, on Fifth Avenue, the epicenter of Manhattan Episcopalianism.
“He intimated that he was from the Percy Rockefeller branch of the clan—not John D. ultra-rich, but plenty rich,” one friend remembers. And he cleverly cast himself as properly eccentric, “paranoid about security and walking around with a radio device that he claimed was connected to a security office,” to which he regularly had to report his whereabouts. Thus, questions about his background could be dismissed as plebeian probes. “In Clark World, you were always trying to find out how rich he was, because once he had established how maniacally private he was, he could take the position that he could decline questions that impinged on his privacy.”
“He told me his work was solving Third World debt, particularly in the Pacific Rim,” says art dealer Martha Henry, president of Martha Henry Inc. Fine Art, who met Rockefeller when he moved into the apartment next to hers, on East 57th Street. Her door abutted his, she says, adding, “I left mine ajar a lot.” She and her “neurotic, paranoid, odd” neighbor soon became friends. He told her about his parents’ death in a car accident when he was 16, just before he went off to Harvard. She also learned that he never ate in restaurants, “because you can’t trust the kitchen”; that his diet consisted mainly of cucumber-and-watercress tea sandwiches—only on Pepperidge Farm bread with the crusts removed—and Pepperidge Farm cookies, preferably the Nantucket variety; that his favorite food was haggis, the Scottish dish, and his drink of choice was Harveys Bristol Cream sherry. “You just think, Oh, well, he’s a Rockefeller, he’s eccentric,” says Henry.
One day he asked if she would help him determine the value of some paintings he had inherited. “O.K., Clark, tell me the names of the artists,” Henry responded. “Well, I’ve got a Jackson Pollock, a Mondrian, somebody named Rothko, and I think Twombly or something,” he said, mispronouncing the names.
The art dealer cut him short and rushed right over, “doing the math,” she remembers, as she stared at what she estimated was a multi-million-dollar collection, haphazardly hung on walls and sitting on the floor. (Rockefeller would later give several estimates of the collection’s value, telling Dateline, for instance, that it was worth $1 billion.) “He said he had inherited them from his great-aunt Blanchette [the Museum of Modern Art benefactor and widow of John D. Rockefeller III], who ‘started that little old museum on 53rd Street.’
“It all made sense,” says Henry. “Blanchette Rockefeller died in 1992, so there could have been an estate settled. And I thought, He is a Rockefeller. What else could he be?” She also thought a $300,000 Adolph Gottlieb from Knoedler & Company, the esteemed Upper East Side gallery, would be a prudent addition to his collection. But when they got to Knoedler, Rockefeller balked. “I don’t buy pictures with green in them,” he said.
Later, Rockefeller enlisted Henry’s help in finding a larger apartment. She suggested Alwyn Court, the turn-of-the-century building with the most intricate terra-cotta façade in the city. “Oh, I would never live there,” said Rockefeller. “It’s dreary and depressing.” Besides, he told her, he had to rent in a Cushman & Wakefield building, “because those are the family buildings, Rockefeller buildings, and I can get a very low rent.” He needed a spacious place, he told Henry, with plenty of room for his art, his Gordon setter, and—oh, yes—his bride. He was getting married, he said, and the lucky girl was named Sandra Mills Boss.
Enter Sandra Boss
Among all the people Clark Rockefeller met at Saint Thomas Church, Julia Boss would turn out to be the critical key to his future. She was smart, stylish, attractive, and engaged to be married, and she had a twin sister named Sandra, a Stanford graduate who was attending Harvard Business School for her M.B.A. Would Clark like to meet her? Of course, he said. In fact, he would like to throw a party for her in his apartment. It would be a Clue party, based on the board game in which the players are guests at a mansion who try to determine which one among them killed Mr. Boddy, their millionaire host. Rockefeller instructed each guest to come costumed as a character from the game and to tell the doorman they were there to see Mr. Boddy. Rockefeller played the role of Professor Plum, a Harvard archaeologist who always becomes uncomfortable when asked about his past. Sandra Boss came as Miss Scarlett, the femme fatale Hollywood actress, whose career is in shambles and whose desire to “marry rich” has brought her to Boddy Mansion.
Immediately, Professor Plum and Miss Scarlett were attracted to each other, initially through their mutual love of business and their admiration of each other’s intelligence. In addition, friends say, Sandra fell in love with Clark because he made her laugh. Like Rockefeller, Sandra Boss was on her own journey of re-invention. Her father was a Boeing engineer, and she had grown up upper-middle-class in Seattle, “in a nice two-story Cape Cod house with a finished basement,” says a friend. There, she started to develop what would become her defining trait. “She is one of the most competitive people I know,” says the friend, adding that she competed most doggedly against her fraternal twin, Julia. “Julia and Sandra, seniors at Blanchet High, are the only sibling Merit scholars from this area,” read a 1985 article in The Seattle Times. “They’ve never spent more than three days apart.… Nonetheless, when Julia announced, ‘I want to go to Yale,’ Sandra replied, ‘Okay, I want to go to Stanford.’”
“Julia and Sandy used to play this crazy game that dates back to when they were growing up,” says someone who knows them both. “They would find a point of competition, and they would confer on who won that particular round.” In childhood, it was selling cookies; in school, it was scholarship; in young adulthood, it was, to give an example, “if one of them had an Hermès scarf, and the other one had Christian Louboutin shoes, they would have to figure out which one was better, because they both cost about the same.” After graduating from Yale, Julia worked as an assistant to the publisher at Algonquin Books and was engaged to be married to a fellow Yalie from an upper-middle-class family in Coral Gables, Florida.
As Sandra moved through increasingly impressive jobs—an elite private-equity program that attracted the best and brightest to a Dallas real-estate giant; a position in debt markets with Merrill Lynch—people found her sharp but shy, eager for success but socially, according to one observer, “on the outside looking in.” Then she met the enigmatic young man with the famous name and fell in love with him. He was, she told friends, the brightest man she’d ever met. He knew the works of the obscure 20th-century novelists she loved, and spoke several languages fluently, including Klingon, the language of the Star Trek warrior race. He was charming, witty, and worldly, and had once been rich, he said, before his late father’s fortune was wiped out by a lawsuit. She loved the fact that he wasn’t concerned about material wealth; he not only shared her altruistic passion for setting up nonprofits for international poverty relief and development but also worked in debt re-structuring for emerging nations.
Soon his primary occupation was being the perfect man for Sandra Boss. When he asked her to marry him, at an Episcopal church in Isleboro, Maine, she said yes. They announced their engagement with a Stilton-and-sherry party at Clark’s apartment. Clark and Sandra were married at the Quaker Meeting House on Nantucket, near a house they were living in, at 1 Kite Lane. He said his parents—his mother was the child star Ann Carter, known for her starring role opposite Humphrey Bogart in The Two Mrs. Carrolls, the 1947 film noir—had both died in a car crash (a clear reference, some say, to the fatal December 1979 car crash in Darien, Connecticut, of Avery Rockefeller Jr., a descendant of John D.’s). However, other Rockefellers were due to attend the nuptials, the groom told everyone, but at the last minute a problem arose and he disinvited them. Not to worry. Sandra would meet them all in the future, he said. Until then, his dog, Yates, named for the British novelist Edmund Hodgson Yates, would serve as “best dog.” Then there was the matter of the paperwork. “If you want to have a marriage where you don’t have to deal with legal stuff, Quaker is the way to go,” says a friend. Sandra had signed all the necessary marriage documents, entrusting the task of filing them to her husband; he never did. “Not only didn’t they have a license, I don’t believe they have a marriage certificate,” says Rockefeller’s lawyer, who insists the marriage wasn’t valid.
They settled into married life in New York and Nantucket. Rockefeller ran Asterisk, L.L.P., advising Third World countries on their finances. He didn’t make any money in the job, he explained, because the nations were dirt-poor; charging them a consulting fee would be unconscionable. While it’s now clear that his job was a sham, Sandra actually had a real career going. After graduating from Harvard Business School, she accepted a position with McKinsey & Company, the ultra-discreet consulting firm which advises the world’s leading businesses, governments, and institutions, and whose staff has included former C.I.A. operatives and future Enron executives.
She was happy with her husband then, friends say. If she ever had doubts about who he was, she didn’t express them. At the same time, she was busy moving up the McKinsey ladder—leading the company’s work for New York’s Senator Charles Schumer and Mayor Michael Bloomberg regarding the global competitiveness of New York and U.S. financial services, for instance—which Rockefeller would later claim was partially owing to the unspoken influence of his name “whenever it was to her advantage,” as he told the Today show after his capture. “She usually did so in a very understated way, calling special attention to it by keeping it extra quiet. Sort of the, quote, ‘Psst, she is married to a Rockefeller.’ She is the youngest woman ever to be elected to being a director of McKinsey & Company. And many of her colleagues, who were friendly with me, believed it had a lot to do with me and my name.” A friend adds, “Everybody knew she was married to a Rockefeller. And she could be all modest about it and act like she didn’t care, but she cared.” (Through her spokesman, Sandra Boss insists that she never used her husband’s name to advance her professional standing.)
Their apartment, at 55th Street and Sixth Avenue, was a showcase for their art. Furnishings were minimal, and Clark’s dog was given free rein. “We celebrated our first art purchase, a large painting by Rothko, on a cold, wet New York City afternoon,” Sandra wrote in Artnews. “Our dealer and a Rothko expert had just arrived at our apartment when Yates, our 85-pound Gordon setter, returned from his walk, jumped on his usual spot on the sofa, and shook his head. A four-inch-long swath of saliva emerged from his mouth.” Naturally, it landed on the Rothko, and the art expert carefully wiped if off with a paper towel. Sandra wrote that the incident was evidence of her husband’s insistence that fine art and purebred dogs could live together harmoniously, despite their “slight incompatibilities.”
Mr. and Mrs. Rockefeller were similarly different yet compatible, at least in the beginning. “They were both very stiff, very formal.… She was very distant in some ways … but she was equally awkward,” says a friend who went to dinner with them on several occasions, always beginning with cocktails at one of Rockefeller’s clubs, usually the Lotos, the tony literary club housed in a Vanderbilt mansion, whose membership directory listed Clark’s name just below that of the billionaire philanthropist Laurance Rockefeller. Then they would go to dinner at another private club, sometimes the Metropolitan, on East 60th Street, founded by J. P. Morgan, where the staff always greeted their host with a chorus of “Good evening, Mr. Rockefeller.” Once, they went to a club that had a grand view of the skyline. Gazing out the window, the friend exclaimed, “Oh, look, Clark, you can see Rockefeller Center from here!”
“And he reached into his pocket and pulled out a key, and he said, ‘Yes, I have the key right here!’ That’s really the first moment I smelled bullshit,” the friend remembers. “I just thought, There’s no fucking way there’s one key to Rockefeller Center.” Of Sandra the friend says, “She’s a very quiet woman.… I just remember the way she would say his name, absolutely two syllables: ‘Oh, Cla-aaaark!’ And he would call her Sahn-dra.” Their friend wasn’t impressed. “I was repulsed by the name-dropping and the excessive wealth and the khaki pants and the polo shirt. Also, they weren’t really people that you wanted to be around. They weren’t warm. I think other people were excited to be with a Rockefeller. It didn’t matter how awkward it was to be with them. It was worth it, because they were Rockefellers.”
Among their friends, questions increasingly arose as to the mysterious man’s background. The grandiose career, the silk ascots, and the museum-quality art collection (Robert Motherwell, Clyfford Still, Piet Mondrian, and several Mark Rothkos, whose authenticity was never questioned, not even by a former chief of staff of the Whitney Museum of American Art) were all too much for some. “It was like a parlor game: Hey, what do you think Clark’s real story is?” says one. “I think Sandra wanted to believe him. I asked her about it once; I said, ‘How do you know he’s really Clark Rockefeller and not some ax murderer on the lam?’ ‘He’s my fiancé!’ she said. ‘I think that he would tell me more about his past than he would tell you!’”
As her position with McKinsey grew, Sandra was away from her husband more and more, which left him with plenty of time to walk Yates in Central Park, where, he would later say, “my dog was very much in love with Amelia, Henry Kissinger’s dog.” Broadway producer Jeffrey Richards crossed paths with Rockefeller while walking his dog through the park one day. They got to talking, and Richards told him he was producing a new play by David Ives, who had written All in the Timing. Rockefeller exclaimed, “I’ve seen that play six times!” He then hinted that he might like to become a backer on Ives’s next play. “It would look quite wonderful to have a Rockefeller on one’s résumé,” says Richards, who arranged to meet with his new potential investor and Ives, after which Rockefeller offered the playwright a ride on his private jet. However, neither the jet nor the investment ever materialized.
New York: Rockefeller’s Center
Sharlene Spingler, a writer and P.R. executive, met Rockefeller while walking her Shar-Pei and English setter in Tudor City, and soon they began walking their dogs together. He told her how he flew his setter with him on his Learjet to London, where, he added, “the food is so terrible I just bring cereal,” and how he regularly invited friends to run their dogs at Pocantico Hills, the storied 3,400-acre Rockefeller estate near Tarrytown, New York. He said his profession was “advising foreign governments on how much money to print.” She introduced him to her friends and took him to the private clubs to which she belonged, and to which he would soon belong as well. “He knew how to work the churches, so the obvious next step would be private clubs,” says Spingler. “Back in 1993, you could join the India House, a private gentlemen’s club on Wall Street, for $850 to $1,200, for which you would get reciprocal memberships at the Lotos, the Metropolitan Club, and many others. If you joined the Metropolitan outright, they would probably hit you up for $35,000. Knowing Clark, with his pathology, wouldn’t you find the cheapest way in?”
“You’re walking your dog with a Rockefeller? Wow!” the noted New York–based artist William Quigley, whose work is collected by politicians, entertainers, and business leaders, asked a friend one day. Not only is he a Rockefeller, the friend replied, but he loves your work. Within a month, Quigley was summoned to Rockefeller’s apartment, where he was staggered by his collection of modern art. The connoisseur promptly promised to buy some of Quigley’s paintings, and told him he wanted to introduce him to a great friend of his, Larry Gagosian, one of the world’s foremost dealers. First, however, came a series of lunches and dinners, usually at the Lotos, where Clark would exclaim, “Let’s have the oysters Rockefeller!” Once, when the dish of oysters baked in spinach arrived, he said, in his East Coast lockjaw, “Quigley, do you know why they call them oysters Rockefeller?” No, the artist answered. “Because they’re green.”
Sometimes, Sandra would join them, but usually she was at work. Clark loved to dine at the 7th Regiment Mess, the historic restaurant in the Park Avenue Armory, where, he told Quigley, “we’ve been members for years,” and where “Uncle David,” meaning the only surviving grandchild of John D. Rockefeller, loved to dine as well. “Clark always used the word ‘grand,’” remembers Quigley. “Everything we ate, or everything we talked about, he would say, ‘Oh, isn’t this grand?’” At the end of many a meal of beef ribs and succotash at the armory, Rockefeller would exclaim, “Isn’t this grand!,” and if it was an extra-grand evening, he would add, “It’s a peach-melba night!” Quigley recalls, “And then he would order peach melba, and here we were, two grown men, sitting there eating parfaits.”
Although Rockefeller hadn’t yet purchased a Quigley painting—they were then selling for approximately $10,000—he wanted to ensure that others did by enlisting Larry Gagosian to represent the artist. “Some people are after that guy and he never calls back. With me, he calls too much,” Rockefeller said.
He called the Gagosian Gallery and said he wanted to buy a Quigley. Gagosian immediately had one of his associates contact the artist, and, just like that, Quigley was asked to send over transparencies of his work. “Tomorrow, Sandy and I will go to Gagosian in New York and look at your portfolio,” Rockefeller wrote in an e-mail to Quigley on October 11, 1998. “We will take along a very important person from the Whitney Museum, and we will place an order for twelve paintings.… This operation should impress Gagosian quite a bit.”
Rockefeller repeatedly assured Quigley that price was no object when it came to purchasing art. “I have always paid with a blank check and asked my banker never to bother to tell me the amount,” he wrote in a letter of recommendation for the artist. However, neither Rockefeller nor the Whitney Museum ever bought a Quigley painting from Gagosian. Rockefeller did acquire three Quigley works, though: he bought one from the artist, got one as a gift, and picked up the third at an estate sale for a nominal sum.
None of Rockefeller’s new friends, who included a respected female Park Avenue physician and a top Japanese female executive at Moody’s Investors Service, probed too deeply into the stories he told them. They were all too content to bask in his glow. “He came up to the house and said that his great-uncle had founded the University of Chicago,” says the husband of one smitten friend. “I looked it up: John D. Rockefeller was the founder of the university. He didn’t say he was a descendant of John D., but John D.’s brother. He had on a University of Chicago tie.”
At the end of 1998, Rockefeller sent out a mass e-mail to his growing circle:
First, I must tell you why you’ve not heard from me. While I’m in a meeting at the U.N. the Friday before Labor Day, I stared at some papers a delegate handed to me.… I remembered nothing until I woke up at a New York hospital five hours later. The hospital discharged me shortly afterwards and the doctors told me that I suffered from severe exhaustion. In short, a “burnout.” The obvious cause: too many 19-hour days. During June, July and August, I generated 1,085 billable hours, about 400 hours more than persons in comparable working situations.… On the advice of my doctor, I have decided to change my lifestyle. My plan: I will take a sabbatical from my work and go to stay at my cousin’s villa in Cap Ferrat.
Soon stresses arose in his marriage: he was controlling, difficult, paranoid. In early 2000, Sandra left him, having had enough of what David Deakin, the assistant district attorney in Boston, called “his emotional and occasional physical abuse,” but he eventually wooed her back. He became the old Clark again, and during this period she became pregnant. Determined to keep the marriage together for the sake of their unborn child, she resolved to work things out.
One day he came home to say he’d had an unpleasant altercation with a woman in Central Park while walking the dog. Soon the police came to the apartment to speak with Rockefeller about the incident. Shortly after that he announced that he didn’t want to live in Manhattan anymore. “We’re moving to New Hampshire,” he said.
Again he chose an enclave of wealth: Cornish, New Hampshire (population 1,800), made famous by the 19th-century American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and such part-time residents as the artist Maxfield Parrish and Woodrow Wilson, whose Cornish home was considered his summer White House. The community’s most famous current resident is the reclusive novelist J. D. Salinger, which is, some say, what attracted Clark Rockefeller to the place. He told people that he had chosen Cornish because of its location, halfway between Sandra’s job in Boston and his company in Canada. “He said he was a scientist, and his company, Jet Propulsion something, made jet engines for rockets, the space shuttle, or the satellite,” one Cornish local remembers.
Sandra Boss paid $750,000 for Doveridge, the former estate of the famous U.S. jurist Learned Hand and the artists Thomas and Maria Dewing. Rockefeller immediately embarked on an extensive restoration, taking it down to the studs and digging up the backyard for a swimming pool. While Sandra was away on business, he began making quite a splash. There was a welcoming party for the new arrival at the home of two noted New England lawyers. “My recollection is of a fellow in chinos, a sweater tied around his neck or maybe an ascot—that was Clark Rockefeller, as he let everybody know,” remembers New Hampshire state senator Peter Burling.
The newcomer started chatting up Senator Burling’s wife, Jean, a veteran judge and one of the first women appointed to the New Hampshire bench. “He began to lecture her about Abstract Expressionism,” remembers Senator Burling. “What’s the word I want? Hauteur? Arrogance? He was assuming Jean knew nothing about art.” Jean Burling detected a fraud from the start, and the Cornish gossip mill began churning: Who the hell is this guy?
“My name is Clark Rockefeller, and I can put an injunction on your little book,” he told Alma Gilbert, director of the Cornish Colony Museum, who wanted to include pictures of Doveridge in A Place of Beauty, about the homes and gardens of Cornish artists. “He later sent me an e-mail saying, ‘I work for the U.S. Defense Department, and I cannot have it known where I live,’” Gilbert remembers. Rockefeller eventually backed down, “when I informed him that my publisher was in California,” Gilbert says, adding that she now realizes the “relevance” California had for Rockefeller. By then he’d turned Doveridge into a construction site, keeping his art in storage tubes and a collection of Rockefeller memorabilia—pennants, neckties, campaign bumper stickers, “things I’ve had most of my life”—in his upstairs office, all of which he would show off to visitors.
For someone who claimed to be avoiding attention, he actually seemed to court it, becoming a standout in this quiet New England town, where pockets are deep but money is never mentioned, much less displayed. Rockefeller would grandly ride through the village streets on a Segway, wearing a Yale baseball cap. He parked some of what he claimed was a 21-car collection, including a number of antiques, on his 25-acre property, and an old police car he had bought at an auction, on whose sides he had stenciled doveridge security, at the entrance. Since he didn’t have a driver’s license, he was chauffeured around town in an armored Cadillac. He let drop that guests he entertained included former German chancellor Helmut Kohl and the astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.
But the most important change in Clark Rockefeller’s life came on May 23, 2001, when Sandra Boss went into labor. A friend drove Clark and Sandra to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where, on the following day, Reigh Storrow Mills Rockefeller was born. With her arrival on the scene, Rockefeller acquired an anchor, the one person he couldn’t cheat, con, or escape. “The one real thing in his life was his daughter, and his love for his daughter. Everything else has been a fraud,” says Boston deputy police superintendent Thomas Lee.
As Rockefeller had done elsewhere, he gravitated to a place of worship, in this case Trinity Church, the 1808 wooden structure that Walker Evans had photographed and the National Register of Historic Places had listed as critical to preserve. Peter Burling had spent 20 years and a considerable amount of money restoring the church—much to Rockefeller’s apparent distaste. Jean Burling had been among the first to gently question his identity, and, Senator Burling says, Rockefeller decided to get back at the couple. First, he bought the fire engine that Burling had once owned. Then he began a campaign to take over Trinity Church. After buying the crumbling church in 1984, the senator had promised the Bishop of New Hampshire that he would donate it to the town in 20 years, which meant 2004. “Clark had other plans and stirred up virulent opposition,” says Burling.
It all came to a head at a town meeting, called in 2004 to vote on spending $110,000 for a new police station. As always, Senator Burling served as moderator. Sitting in the front row in his Yale baseball cap, Rockefeller raised his hand. “I recognized him to speak, and he stood up and pulled what appeared to be a check from his pocket and said, ‘I have here a check for $110,000. If the town will accept Burling’s donation of Trinity Church and sell it to me for a dollar, I will donate the money to build the police station.’
“At that point there were 410 mouths hanging open,” says Burling.
Rockefeller got the historic church with $110,000 of Sandra’s money, as well as the attention of the Valley News, a daily newspaper covering parts of New Hampshire and Vermont. On July 3, 2004, reporter John Gregg wrote of the new buyer’s plans for the church, adding that the supposed scion “declined repeatedly” to say if he was directly related to the John D. Rockefeller family. “Maybe I am, maybe I’m not,” Rockefeller told the newspaper. “It’s not something I would confirm or deny.”
The issue seemed to go away as Rockefeller audaciously charged forward. He took the role of Mars, the god of war—with Snooks as a nymph—in a play at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, and he signed his name to a series of articles in the town newsletter, one of which appears to have been plagiarized from a speech by best-selling author Michael Crichton.
His Cornish charade ended in 2006, when Snooks turned five and was ready to enter kindergarten. Until then, he had been home-schooling her, but now Sandra insisted that Snooks needed to be around other children. Rockefeller told friends that he could get her into Spence, the private girls’ school in New York, “with one phone call.” Instead, she was accepted at Southfield School for girls, in Boston, which shares a campus with Dexter, the boys’ school of which John F. Kennedy was an alumnus. The Rockefellers took off for Boston, leaving behind in Cornish their unfinished house, the historic church, and many unanswered questions.
In the fall of 2006, Sandra paid a reported $2.7 million for a town house in Boston, on Pinckney Street, where Senator John Kerry has a house. In this Beacon Hill neighborhood, Rockefeller entered his improbable Mr. Mom phase, the stay-at-home father whose wife was forever away at her high-powered job. “He said he’d sold his jet-propulsion company to Boeing for a billion dollars and that was the last time he’d worked,” remembers a Southfield parent whom Rockefeller took to lunch at the Harvard Club and told that he was positioned exclusively in “Treasuries.” “He said Sandy only made $300,000 to $400,000 a year, and, judging from what they had, I thought he had a lot of his own money. He said he was going to donate a planetarium to our daughters’ school.”
Every morning he would walk Snooks to the bus stop in front of Cheers, the bar that became the basis for the popular 1980s television show. As soon as she was safely on the bus, he would stroll down the street to Starbucks, where he soon found a new constituency—who called themselves Café Society—of Beacon Hill lawyers, Harvard researchers, a celebrated architect, and successful businesspeople, on their way to work.
One day, the aristocrat in the Lacoste shirt was breathless when he arrived at the bus stop. After putting Snooks on the bus, he said, “I’ve just pushed an armoire up to the fifth floor of my house.” Bob Skorupa, a local lawyer and Starbucks regular, says, “That’s how he integrated himself. Immediately you knew he had a five-story house.”
The Starbucks group also learned very soon that he was a Rockefeller, as well as a director of the ultra-private Algonquin Club, down the street, to which he soon invited his newfound circle for breakfast. “When you walked into his fancy-schmancy club, his name was on the wall,” says John Greene, a businessman. He knew everybody, his friends agree, and he was so entrenched in the club, with its 20-foot ceilings and rooms named for Calvin Coolidge and Daniel Webster, that he once reportedly introduced the consul general of Germany to the membership in German. “Now, many people have said, ‘Oh, yeah, we knew,’ but believe me, he had them fooled,” Thomas Lee says of Rockefeller’s sway at the Algonquin. “Oh, absolutely!” adds John Greene. “At a club like that—very Yankee, old-boys, blueblood—people get a hard-on over the name.”
Everything was swell until the check arrived. “You’d think he’d pay for breakfast, since non-members can’t pay. But the next day he wanted his money,” says Greene. “He invited several of us to a New Year’s party at the Algonquin,” says Bob Skorupa. “We all assumed it was an invitation, but afterward he hit us up for a hundred bucks apiece.”
Nevertheless, according to the architect Patrick Hickox, Rockefeller soon won people over and proved himself to be very impressive, “a true connoisseur.” He would design Web sites for people he liked, and he once played nine recordings of Cole Porter’s “From This Moment On” for a group to see which of them could identify the various vocalists. “Clark’s the only person I may ever know who could play the didgeridoo, this extraordinary aboriginal wind instrument,” says Hickox.
He spent his free time at the Boston Athenaeum, one of the oldest and most exclusive private libraries in America, to which he gained membership through the intervention of his neighbor John Sears, a Harvard Law graduate and former Suffolk County sheriff. Sears suggested that the library’s directors “look with kindness on an application,” and the man with the famous name was immediately accepted. “On Saturday mornings, even when we’d been out late the night before, he’d make it a practice to read to children at the Athenaeum,” says Hickox. “He was an excellent reader who could perform in a number of accents. I heard him recite Robert Burns—long pieces from memory—in a flawless Scottish brogue.”
He now directed his attention toward his daughter, who he insisted go by his wife’s last name—Boss, instead of Rockefeller—to avoid reverse discrimination. Almost every day, says a Boston friend, “he would take Snooks to the Athenaeum and read to her, and she could read by the time she was two.” Rockefeller said that he once read Tennyson’s poem “The Daisy” to her 25 times in a single evening, and that she was reading aloud from the scientific journal Nature by the time she was three. When a neighbor suggested that Clark bring Snooks over for a playdate, the precocious little girl said, “Oh, no, I don’t do playdates; playdates are for children!” According to the friend, “She really was very bright. The first time she met one of the neighbors, she said, ‘And what’s your name?’ And he said, ‘My name’s Elwood Headley.’ And she said, ‘Hmm, let me see. E-L-W-O-O-D H-E-A-D-L-E-Y.’ She spelled his name. And she was five then! There was a picture of her on the cover of The Beacon Hill Times.” It was a photograph of Snooks with a diagram she had made. “She drew the entire periodic table of the elements on the corner of Charles and Beacon Streets, right on the sidewalk! I said to Clark, ‘Does she know what it means?’ And he said, ‘Oh, yes.’ I never learned the periodic table in high school, and here she is five or six at this point.”
“He was so devoted to that little girl,” says John Sears. Father and daughter would stroll through Beacon Hill, dine together, and read books for hours on end. The carefree child, whose favorite book and movie was The Little Princess, was so happy that she would literally hop or skip every fifth step. And forever at her side, or carrying her on his shoulders, was the adoring father. “I love you too much, Daddy,” Snooks would often say.
He loved her too much as well, perhaps, at least too much for discipline. At a parent-teacher conference, Clark and Sandra met with school administrators to discuss how Snooks was acting in class. But he refused to take any advice. When the couple returned home, according to friends, Sandra confronted him. She may not have questioned his identity, but she vehemently disagreed with his ideas on how they should raise their daughter. “She went off on a business trip, and a short time after she left, Clark was served with the divorce papers,” says a close friend from Cornish. “He said he was in complete shock.”
The divorce and custody battle were extremely contentious, with Sandra living at the Boston Ritz, Rockefeller moving in with European friends a few blocks away, and Snooks shuttling between the two. “Sandy was the money that allowed him to have the antique cars, the artwork, the clubs, and when she pulled the plug on it he was incredibly distraught,” says a Southfield parent. Financially cut off by his wife, Rockefeller asked people to buy back the antique cars they’d sold him. He even tried to sell some of his art. As a final indignity, he had to resign from the Algonquin Club. He told friends that his wife had bled him of his riches. “He told me, ‘Sandy only wanted my money. She married me because I’m a Rockefeller. Now she wants everything,’” says the art dealer Sheldon Fish. He said he was going to interview every high-powered attorney in Boston so that Sandra wouldn’t be able to hire any of them, because of conflict-of-interest restrictions.
But she did get a lawyer, a good one. Once the divorce was under way, her father, William Boss, decided to investigate his son-in-law, since he and other members of the family had come to suspect that Clark was either siphoning off money from Sandra or hiding Rockefeller money from her. First, Boss went on the Wikipedia Web site to check out Rockefeller’s late mother, Ann Carter, the former child star who had supposedly died in a car wreck. According to Wikipedia, Ann Carter was very much alive. The deeper Boss dug, the more inconsistencies he found, and he reported them all to Sandra. Finally, she saw the light: if Clark would lie about his mother, what else had he lied about?
“Could Sandy be conned?” asks Tony Meyer, her boss when she worked at Trammell Crow Company in Dallas. “Perhaps. She had a certain naïveté to go along with her smarts. But here’s the question: You get seduced by it, you get married to it, but what do you do when you wake up one day and you find out that he’s not really a Rockefeller?”
She hired a private investigator to find out who her husband really was. From that point forward, Rockefeller, unwilling to risk exposing his past and unable to produce documentation to prove his current identity, never stood a chance. Sandra Boss got everything: the historic house and church in Cornish, as well as the town house in Beacon Hill. She also won custody of Snooks, and the judge approved her request to take the child with her to London, where she now lives in Knightsbridge, limiting the doting father to only three court-supervised visits a year.
“On the day of the hearing, he sent me a text message: ‘I’ve just signed the Treaty of Versailles,’” says Bob Skorupa. “It was a few days before Christmas that he lost the case,” adds John Greene. “He gave up all rights to his kid in return for $800,000—plus there would be no due diligence”—that is, no investigation of his true identity. “We were in here at Starbucks, and his kid was gone, legally taken by his ex-wife to London. I think he took the money from her and then had regrets. I think the moment he took that money he started planning on how to get his daughter back.”
A.k.a. Chip Smith
‘He told me he’d spent $800,000 on the custody fight, and also had to pay Sandy’s attorney fees of $1.2 million, and he was completely broke and was going to have to start looking for a job—which I found funny, because he had never mentioned having to have a job before,” says one friend. “He called me and said, ‘I don’t have anything. I had to give Sandy all of the paintings, and I’m broke. I’m down to my last two million,’” says Sheldon Fish.
The truth was, he was down to his last $800,000, the sum he’d gotten from his wife in the divorce settlement. “There’s nothing going on there for Clark,” says Noreen Gleason of the F.B.I. “There aren’t any jobs. There isn’t any money coming in. He’s one big con. He’s getting his money because he married it. She was the breadwinner.”
“I may have had a nervous breakdown,” he once wrote in an e-mail, and if it ever really happened it was after his divorce. No more Snooks, no more Algonquin Club. For Christmas 2007, he wore his green pants, embroidered with candy canes, to a Yuletide celebration with William Quigley and his family. But his mood was far from festive. He’d fought for Snooks with every ounce of energy he had, he told Quigley. “He kept saying, ‘I just miss her so much.’ He was completely devastated and ripped apart.”
He seemed to find solace in impressing women. He told one that he was the model for the effete and phobic Dr. Niles Crane character on Frasier. And he put the full-court press on Roxane West, a young woman from a West Texas oil family who travels between New York and Texas frequently, after she collided with him at a party at the Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts gallery on East 69th Street in New York one evening last May. He told her he was 40, a Yale graduate, and a single parent with a seven-year-old daughter, produced by a surrogate mother. He was on his way to China on a business trip for his work as a nuclear physicist, and had just come from giving his daughter’s class a one-hour tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She accepted his invitation to lunch the next day, where his stories got even wilder, after which he began sending her a flurry of text messages, which he referred to as “text flirting.”
“Problem: I cannot get you out of my head. What to do? Argh!” he wrote in one message. “Just gazed at Saturn for the last ten minutes. Viewing excellent tonight in Brookline. Wish you could see this. Wish I could see you.” In another: “In a submarine. Crowded. Strange. Thought of you a minute ago.” In a third: “Sipping strange tropical drinks on Nantucket now. Would love to see you. This coming week perhaps go to Central Park and kiss. Sound good?”
By now there were cracks appearing in his fictional armor; his stories didn’t make sense. The façade was falling apart. “I just knew it was all bullshit, that he wasn’t who he said he was,” says West.
Normally he would have moved onward and upward, into a new life, a more elaborate ruse. Now, however, he was hopelessly frozen in his identity as a caring father. On July 27, in the midst of a long and lonely summer, he snatched his beloved Snooks off Marlborough Street in Boston and launched his carefully orchestrated escape plan, leading what quickly grew into a 20-officer F.B.I. and Boston Police task force on a five-day goose chase.
Eventually the investigators got a break: a real-estate agent in Baltimore recognized Rockefeller’s picture on television and called the F.B.I. The agent said he’d sold someone resembling the man on the wanted poster a carriage house on Ploy Street in Baltimore for $432,000, which the man had paid for the previous week with cashier’s checks. The agent said that the buyer, identifying himself as Chip Smith and his daughter as Muffy, said he was a single parent and a ship’s captain, and he was relocating from Chile.
Noreen Gleason got the news in Boston at one a.m., and one hour later a team of investigators had surrounded the house on Ploy Street. Through the windows they could see an opened case of sherry and paintings leaning against the walls, but they could detect no movement inside, which Gleason, knowing Rockefeller to be an insomniac who often worked at his computer throughout the night, thought was a bad sign. “We’d gone down so many avenues, we were afraid that maybe he had been there and then left,” she says. Since their first priority was getting the girl out safely, they decided to try to trap the fugitive Clark Rockefeller–style. “We wanted her to remain inside the house, but we wanted him to come out,” remembers Gleason. “That’s where the ruse came in.”
Investigators had previously discovered Rockefeller’s “yacht,” a run-down 26-foot Stiletto catamaran, which he had kept docked in a Baltimore marina two miles away. Through a window of the boat, they were able to see a file labeled “Chip Smith,” presumably the plans for the new identity he was setting up, so they knew they had their man. They got the manager of the marina to call Rockefeller on his cell phone and say that his boat was taking on water. “I’ll be there,” he said. Investigators saw movement in the house, and soon he walked outside.
“Hey, Clark!” a plainclothes agent called. Rockefeller turned around. “Where you going, Clark?” asked the agent.
“I’m going to get a turkey sandwich,” he said. It would be the last lie he told before 20 agents with assault rifles wrestled him to the ground, while others stormed the house and got the little girl.
Back in Boston, Noreen Gleason told Sandra Boss that her daughter was safe and her ex-husband was in custody. “She literally collapsed,” says Gleason. After she was revived and had spoken on the phone to her daughter, Sandra turned to the agents and asked, “Who is he?”
“He is a mystery man, a cipher,” a spinner of stories “literally so numerous and varied they are proving to be difficult to keep track of, even using a database,” said Assistant District Attorney Deakin during Rockefeller’s bail hearing. His trial for parental kidnapping is set to begin in March. Meanwhile, the Unsolved Cases Unit of the L.A. County sheriff’s homicide department recently conducted extensive soil analysis of the San Marino backyard where the bones believed to have been John Sohus’s were buried almost 24 years ago, hoping to find evidence to bring that case to a close. Thus far, Rockefeller has declined to meet with investigators regarding the Sohus case, and he still hasn’t satisfactorily answered the question asked by his ex-wife, “Who is he?” Not for Stephen Hrones (“He told me he’s Clark Rockefeller … and he was raised in New York”). Not in a jailhouse interview with the Today show (“I have a clear memory of once picking strawberries in Oregon,” he told Natalie Morales, who asked him about his childhood. “I remember clearly going to Mount Rushmore in the back of a woody wagon.… I believe it was a ‘68 Ford”). Not for The Boston Globe, whose reporters he met in jail wearing tasseled loafers with his prison scrubs (“Peppering his speech with verbal filigrees such as ‘quite so’ and ‘rather,’ he rambled on about the ‘five or six or seven’ languages that he speaks, the historical novel about the roots of Israeli statehood he is writing, and his work as a researcher of ‘anything from physics to social sciences,’” wrote one of the reporters). And not for police and F.B.I. investigators in a two-hour interrogation after his arrest (“He talks about his amnesia, and how he can’t remember certain things,” says Noreen Gleason. “For a sharp guy, he’s got a very sketchy memory,” adds Thomas Lee).
In early November, Rockefeller retained the firm of criminal-defense attorney Jeffrey Denner, who has this to say regarding his client: “There’s nothing about this case that takes it out of the ordinary range of a fairly straightforward parental-kidnapping allegation. As far as his being an alleged person of interest in a potential California criminal prosecution, we don’t believe for a second that it’s going to result in any criminal conviction or liability for him, and he absolutely denies any wrongdoing whatsoever in connection with his purported stay in California.” Asked about the various names his client has assumed over the last three decades, Denner says, “He’s certainly not the first immigrant who’s come to this country and Anglicized himself for purposes of adjustment to life here. Nor is there anything illegal about the use of aliases or other names per se, unless there is an indication they were used for some fraudulent purpose, which we do not believe is the case here.”
As for Sandra Boss, is she an innocent victim or a simple enabler? She insists through her spokesman that she is the former, the ultimate dupe in an elaborate web of lies, living for 12 years with a man she knew only as Clark Rockefeller. How could this high-powered Stanford graduate and Harvard M.B.A. not have known? How could she marry, and remain married to, a Rockefeller who had no identification, employment history, or visible means of support? She must now realize it was all a farce: the famous name, the distinguished career, the maniacal security, even the incredible collection of modern paintings that hung on her walls, which Rockefeller’s attorney Stephen Hrones now says are fakes—“derivatives, worthless basically.”
She’s doing her best to forget all that. She has a new life in London, and she wants to leave her former life behind, just as her ex-husband so often did.
Mark Seal is a Vanity Fair contributing editor.
Correspondent Erin Moriarty
Produced by Judy Rybak
Christian Gerhartsreiter was a man of many identities – but to most he was “Clark Rockefeller”– a con man who duped people across the country. To police, he was a suspected killer on the run from a 1985 murder. “48 Hours” correspondent Erin Moriarty confronts Gerhartsreiter, pressing him to reveal his secrets.
“I’d never been to a murder trial before. You know, imagine me. One of my best friends is the defendant at the first murder trial I get to go to … somebody who’s fooled me for years. … I’m a journalist and a novelist. And so you’d think that I was the kinda guy who would see through someone like him. And the fact was I never did,” Walter Kirn told Moriarty.
Writer Kirn was a friend of “Clark Rockefeller” – or the man he who knew by that name.
“But now, witness after witness was coming up and giving evidence about what was really going on and that the person I knew was actually hiding from a murder the whole time and that a lot of what I thought were his eccentricities, his concerns about privacy, his concerns about security … all of these things suddenly took on a whole new meaning,” he continued.
America has long been the land of opportunity, and in 1982, there were few places more inviting than San Marino, Calif., an opulent suburb of Los Angeles that felt like a small town.
“It was a — sort of an Andy Hardy existence,” described one San Marino socialite.
“Like, a wealthy Mayberry?” Moriarty asked. “Well, that could be,” the woman replied.
It was the perfect setting for English royalty.
“You knew him by what name?” Moriarty asked the trio of women.
“Christopher Chichester the 13th — the 13th Baronet (laughs) of England,” the same woman replied.
The 21-year-old baronet had a posh accent and old-world charm and made sure that he was properly introduced.
“He was at Church of Our Savior a lot,” the woman explained. “It’s the oldest church in the area.”
And the church was the most prestigious — the perfect place to charm his way into San Marino high society.
“And he was passing out hymnals … going to the free lunches and joining the city club and meeting all the regulars,” said Vanity Fair reporter and “48 Hours” consultant Mark Seal, author of “The Man in the Rockefeller Suit”.
“He was handing out business cards that said, ‘Thirteenth Baronet of Chichester’ and it had the — the crest, and he would hand out a business card and kiss the ladies’ hands,” Seal explained. “… and pretty soon he’s a member of the community.”
So much so that he started making elaborate plans for the city, none of it setting off any alarms among the trusting folk.
“I remember Chris coming over and saying, ‘I can get a chapel. We have a chapel on our property in Europe, and I’ll have it sent over — ” the woman explained.
” — the Chichester Cathedral, no less,” a second woman added with a laugh.
“Did you believe it at the time?” Moriarty wondered.
“I thought, ‘Fabulous. That will look so perfect right here,'” the first woman said.
“Police say that you are a con artist, a con man. What do you — call yourself?” Moriarty asked “Clark Rockefeller”.
“Did I con? Who did I con?” he asked defiantly.
“If not a con artist, what would you call yourself?” Moriarty continued.
“Steve Badrowski … is an absolute literary genius. He came up with the word – confabulator,” “Rockefeller explained. “Confabulations — harmless inventions of fun that don’t really hurt anyone,” he explained dramatically.
“So you don’t believe you hurt anyone,” said Moriarty.
“I don’t think so,” he replied.
It was through friends at church that “Chris Chichester” reportedly met wealthy divorcee Ruth Sohus, better known as Didi. Didi had a small guesthouse in the backyard of her San Marino home. Legally, she wasn’t allowed to rent it out, but the 65-year-old had been running out of money. So when she let “Chichester” move in, it had to be their secret. That suited her new tenant just fine.
“No one ever knew what house he lived in,” one of the ladies told Moriarty. “He told me he was living in the second house from the corner on Lorain and West,” said another. “He told me he lived on the corner,” said a third woman.
But all the while, he lived in the guesthouse where authorities believe he turned from con man to killer.
“John Sohus, Didi’s adopted son … and Linda, his soon-to-be bride … were low on money, they moved into Didi’s house,” Seal explained.
“Christopher Chichester’s living in the back … in the guest house. …John is a computer nerd, a ‘Star Trek’ fanatic. Linda’s six feet tall, a strawberry blonde artist who loved horses and painted fanciful unicorns.”
While the young con man was living in their backyard, John and Linda got married and made plans to move out on their own. For more than two years Didi, John, Linda and “Chichester” seem to have coexisted without a peep.
“Did she ever express any concern about the tenant?” Moriarty asked Linda’s best friend, Sue Coffman.
“Nothing,” she replied.
“But your memory is that she thought he was creepy?” Moriarty asked.
“Yeah. Or just kind of like — just unsavory. Like she didn’t want anything to do with him,” said Coffman.
Asked how well he knew John and Linda Sohus, “Rockefeller” said “I mean, I — I knew them sort of. But not really.”
“Well, you were living in that guest house for almost two years while they were living with – John’s mother,” Moriarty reasoned.
“Yeah — yeah, they– they didn’t talk to me,” he replied.
It was early February 1985 when something very strange happened: John and Linda Sohus disappeared. At first, no one was really worried. Just days before they vanished, Linda told several people that she and John were going off on a secret government mission to New York.
“Did Linda tell you what government agency was hiring her husband?” Moriarty asked Coffman.
“She just said, ‘the government and it’s top secret and I can’t tell you anymore,'” Coffman replied.
“At any point did Linda seem worried about this trip to New York or — about this job that her husband was – offered? And she didn’t say how he got offered the job?” Moriarty continued.
“No. That’s — that’s what’s — you know, in hindsight it’s like, ‘Why didn’t I ask more questions?’ But I didn’t know she was gonna disappear,” said Coffman.
The real story wouldn’t come out until 28 years later, when the State of California put “Chris Chichester,” also known as “Clark Rockefeller,” on trial for the murder of John Sohus. The prosecutor believes he also killed John’s wife, Linda.
“I don’t think it was murder he was interested in. It was getting away with murder,” Kirn said. “You know, he was a fan of Hitchcock and film noir … he was steeped in the literature and the cinema of murder.
“And a lot of these movies he saw have a plot in which somebody who thinks they’re very smart commits the perfect crime,” Kirn continued.
“And it makes fools of everybody else, because they get to go forth with this secret that no one else will know…”
Efforts to get to that secret are met with resistance. During their interview, whenever Moriarty got a little too close to the man who calls himself “Rockefeller,” he frantically tries to get “48 Hours” producer Judy Rybak to stop her.
“Judy. Judy … we gotta stop this,” “Rockefeller” called out. “You know, you gotta stop that Erin. It’s too adversarial, Erin. Judy, let’s — let’s– let’s discuss that.”
“Rockefeller” even tries to walk out of the interview. “Unfortunately, Erin, we gotta stop it. It’s not going the way I had hoped,” he said.
But Moriarty kept him in his chair long enough to ask: “Did you kill John Sohus?”
Sometime in May1985, four months after Linda and John Sohus vanished from San Marino, “Christopher Chichester” did the same. About a month after that, 3,000 miles away in Greenwich, Conn., “Christopher Crowe” appeared … once again, in church.
“He gravitates to the most exclusive Episcopal church there … Christ Church. … And he’s passing out hymnals and meeting the locals,” author Mark Seal explained. “He was very smart to launch his lives at churches, because, you know, people at churches tend to believe. …He meets the minister’s son. … Chris Bishop is an aspiring filmmaker … and they became friends.”
Twenty-seven years later, at the trial, Chris Bishop took the stand to describe the man he knew as Chris Crowe.
Prosecutor: What projects was he working on when you met him?Chris Bishop: According to Chris, he was — the executive producer of the new “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” series.
In the 1980s, the classic series from the ’50s was remade.
Sure enough, there was a Christopher Crowe in the credits. Of course it wasn’t the same Chris Crowe, but no one seemed to question the 24-year-old’s story.
“…he had studied up on whatever he was trying to do, enough to get away with it,” said Seal.
Nor did anyone question him when, two years later, the “television producer” evolved into a bond trader on Wall Street.
“In New York City, he met a man who worked for Nikko Securities, and he was actually hired to lead an entire department of corporate bond salesmen,” said Seal.
“Didn’t you have to lie to get that job?” Moriarty asked “Rockefeller”.
“Not necessarily,” he replied.
Richard Barnett was hired to work under “Crowe”, who claimed to be royalty.
“He was hired, you know, simply because of his name,” Barnett explained. “He said his name was — Christopher Crowe Mountbatten. Mountbatten is — is related to the Queen.”
“When did you start having questions about his abilities?” Moriarty asked.
“Actually fairly — fairly soon,” Barnett replied. “He didn’t understand … the basic elements … of what a corporate bond was all about.”
“You took a job with a securities company — as the head of — a corporate bond department with absolutely no experience,” Moriarty pointed out to “Rockefeller”.
“Uh-huh .Corporate bond department,” he affirmed. “And produced a huge profit.”
“The people who worked with you said you didn’t know what you were doing,” said Moriarty
“Well, that’s their opinion. I, nonetheless, produced a huge profit,” “Rockefeller” replied.
According to Barnett, “[He] never sold a bond.”
“How unusual is that?” Moriarty asked.
“Impossible,” he replied.
It took the better part of a year, but “Crowe” was finally fired from Nikko.
Meanwhile, back in California, Didi Sohus died heartbroken, believing her only son, John, had abandoned her. Shortly afterward, “Chris Crowe” of Connecticut did something that would eventually put “Chris Chichester” of San Marino back on the radar in connection with the Sohus’ disappearance.
“He said – ‘Hey, I’ve got this pickup truck. It was a production vehicle on a movie that I made. I can’t use it. I don’t want it. Would you like it?'” Bishop testified.
“Crowe” gave Chris Bishop a white 1985 Nissan pickup. But when Bishop went to register it at the DMV, there was a problem. The truck belonged to the long missing John and Linda Sohus.
Police in San Marino wanted answers and asked the Greenwich police for help.
“The San Marino Police Department was looking to find out if the new owner of this — pickup truck that was connected to this missing couple had any information on where they might be. Because their case was still open,” said Lieutenant Dan Allen, who was a detective in Greenwich in 1988.
Within days, Det. Allen discovered that “Chris Crowe” was also “Chris Chichester” and was no longer in Greenwich. He had moved to New York City and talked his way into another job at a large brokerage house. He was living with a girlfriend, Mihoko Manabe, who hoped to marry him.
When Det. Allen called the number he had for “Crowe”, it was Manabe who answered.
“He said that he was– detective with the Greenwich Police,” Manabe testified.
“And that’s when she said ‘he’s not here.’ ‘So would you leave him a message?'” Det. Allen told “48 Hours”. “And she said she would.”
But over the next few days, with his girlfriend’s help, “Crowe” kept dodging Det. Allen.
“If you had nothing to do with the death of John Sohus, why wouldn’t you talk to Detective Allen?” Moriarty asked “Rockefeller”.
“Because Detective Allen never contacted me,” he replied firmly.
“He contacted … Mihoko,” Moriarty noted.
“Uh-huh. He never gave her a reason for the contact, did he?” Rockefeller asked.
“But you knew what they were there for,” Moriarty pressed. “You had no idea?”
“How would I know?” he replied.
But here’s what Mihoko Manabe said at trial:
“He told me that next time he calls, that, you know, he wasn’t there and that I didn’t know where he was,” she testified.
“He had told her I wasn’t a police officer, I wasn’t a detective. I was a hit man out to kill him,” Det. Allen told “48 Hours”.
“And she believed that?” Moriarty asked.
“And she believed that,” the detective replied.
Now that “Crowe” knew that the police were onto him, it was time, once again, to disappear –leaving Det. Allen at a dead end.
Asked if he ever met “Crowe” face to face or spoke with him on the phone, the detective replied, “No.”
Mihoko Manabe: Fairly soon after Detective Allen’s call, we moved to another apartment. … He grew a beard. … I helped color his hair. …We never came out of the building at the same time. … Always walked down different sides of the street.Prosecutor Balian: Whose idea was it to do all this?
Mihoko Manabe: It was his idea.
“Chris Crowe” laid low for about three years, and in that time a “Rockefeller” was born.
“According to … Mihoko Manabe … they went out to a restaurant … and he couldn’t get a reservation. And so he just said, ‘Rockefeller. My name’s Clark Rockefeller.’ Suddenly a table appeared. The name worked its magic, and would work its magic from that point forward,” said Seal.
“He wrote me a letter from his jail cell that I got just recently in which he claimed that his entire career in America was based on a novel he read when he was 10 — about somebody who came up in society through fraudulence,” former friend Walter Kirn said. “I think that might’ve been ‘The Great Gatsby.'”
“When you were growing up, did you get most of your ideas about America from watching movies and reading books? ” Erin Moriarty asked “Rockefeller”. “Books,” he replied… “I’m a big reader.”
“You once mentioned “The Great Gatsby”, Moriarty noted.
“Uh-huh. Yeah, that’s one of them,” he replied, seemingly reluctant.
And of course, there was television — “Gilligan’s Island” was a favorite show.
“Because it’s actually a religious show … and the characters represent the seven deadly sins. Gilligan is sloth. The Skipper is anger … The Professor is pride. Mary Ann is envy. Ginger is lust. … the millionaire’s wife is gluttony. And … the millionaire is — greed… ” he told Moriarty, who asked if his accent is modeled after Thurston Howell III.
“Thurston Howell III, yeah. … Yeah. I –picked it up unconsciously,” he replied.
“Because that was your idea of — what a blue-blooded American would sound like?” Moriarty asked.
“Perhaps unconsciously,” he said.
“We only saw the Clark that comes out on stage. But there was a lot of offstage time, when he was … dressing the set, making the props, adjusting the costume. I think he loved that,” said Kirn.
Sometime in 1992, his riskiest, most outrageous identity was unveiled when the congregation at Saint Thomas Church on New York’s swanky Fifth Avenue met “Clark Rockefeller.”
“He would carry around a security device that he said was connected to the Rockefeller offices because he was very paranoid about security and being kidnapped … which is pretty gutsy, because that church has real Rockefellers,” said Mark Seal.
It was through friends at church that “Clark Rockefeller” met a bright young Harvard business school student named Sandra Boss, while playing a game that, coincidentally, involved fake identities and murder:
Prosecutor: Are you talkin’ about the– the board game Clue?Sandra Boss: The board game Clue.
Prosecutor: Who did you go as?
Sandra Boss: I was Miss Scarlet.
Prosecutor: OK. Was the defendant in character?
Sandra Boss: Yes.
Prosecutor: Who was he?
Sandra Boss: He was Professor Plum.
Boss and “Rockefeller” quickly became an item and later moved in together. She says she simply accepted his odd and eccentric behavior.
Sandra Boss: He refused to set foot on the soil of Connecticut because it was an evil state and that was where his parents had died. So even if we had to drive between Boston and New York he would not actually allow stops in the state of Connecticut.Prosecutor: What about to use the restroom?
Sandra Boss: That was not done. One waited. (laughs)
While a “Rockefeller” courted his soon-to-be wife in New York, back in San Marino, the mystery of John Sohus’ disappearance was about to take a sharp turn.
“The owners of Didi Sohus’ house at 1920 Lorain, decide to put in a swimming pool. And during the excavation of the pool, the bulldozer operator struck something hard. … and it turned out to be human bones,” said Seal.
The gravesite was directly behind the guest house where a young man named “Chichester” once lived.
“The body was found — it was inside of — a fiberglass container,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Detective Tim Miley explained. “Inside the container, the arms, legs and torsos were wrapped in Saran Wrap. Hands were covered in bags. And the — the hands, feet, and head were covered in plastic bags.”
The remains were so decomposed that they couldn’t be officially identified and the coroner wouldn’t rule it a homicide.
The TV show “Unsolved Mysteries” recreated the scene and even posted a picture of “Christopher Chichester”, calling him a person of interest.
But no one called in with a tip.
“And when they didn’t get anything back from that, then the case just went cold again,” Det. Miley told Moriarty.
“But who was then the main… person of interest at the time the body was found?” she asked.
“They were lookin’ at both Linda Sohus … the wife … and Christian Gerhartsreiter,” Det. Miley replied.
Gerhartsreiter was now hiding out in plain sight as “Clark Rockefeller” and telling everyone that he had just inherited what they would all come to believe was a multimillion dollar art collection. Writer Walter Kirn remembers the first time he laid eyes on it.
“Standing unframed against the walls are what must have been $50, $60 million worth of Mark Rothkos, Jackson Pollacks, abstract expressionist masterpieces,” he told Moriarty.
That artwork was one reason that Kirn never doubted Rockefeller — until years later when the whole world would learn that the art was expertly forged.
“You wouldn’t guess that the man is fake, the art is fake, the name is fake, everything, you know?” said Kirn.
Shortly after the art appeared, Sandra Boss married her Rockefeller.
Prosecutor: Who supported your family financially after you got married?Sandra Boss: I did.
Prosecutor: Who controlled the finances?
Sandra Boss: Umm, the defendant.
Kirn met the couple in 1998, when the marriage was already in trouble.
“I remember sitting there thinking, ‘This is a sad marriage. They don’t love each other,'” Kirn recalled. “It didn’t seem like a happy place.”
But they stayed together, and even had a daughter. In 2001, Reigh Storrow Rockefeller was born. But five years later, Boss filed for divorce and when things got contentious, her husband’s con finally unraveled.
“I found out in August of 2007 that he was not Clark Rockefeller,” Boss testified.
She hires a detective and he goes, ‘We can find absolutely nothing on this individual. We don’t know who he is,” Seal explained. “It was like he had materialized outta thin air.”
“He called me up around Christmastime. And he said, ‘I just lost my daughter in a divorce, Walt. I don’t think I’m ever gonna be able to see her again. My wife’s taking her to England,'” said Kirn.
On July 27, 2008, FBI Agent Tammy Harty got a call from headquarters that a Rockefeller living in Boston had kidnapped his 7-year-old daughter during a supervised visitation.
“The social worker tried to prevent it,” Agent Harty said. “And he was dragged by the vehicle and was injured during the course of the abduction.
For six days “Rockefeller” eluded even the FBI, by changing his identity once again.
“He has set up an elaborate new identity in Baltimore, as Chip Smith, the high sea ship captain who has a daughter named Muffy,” said Mark Seal.
“It was very apparent that this was a well-thought-out abduction, that he had planned this for a long time,” said Agent Harty.
But it all came to an end when a real estate agent in Baltimore saw the fake Rockefeller on the news. She realized he was the man she had just sold a house to. The FBI surrounded that house, and when they were certain the child was safe, they arrested her father without incident.
At his kidnapping trial, the world met Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter — a young German immigrant who had come to America as a young man and created a life that was complete fiction.
Gerhartsreiter was tried and convicted, although his defense team argued that their client was delusional and actually believed he was a Rockefeller. But that’s not the man Federal Agent Tammy Harty met the night he was arrested:
Agent Harty: Did it ever open up doors for you?“Clark Rockefeller”: Oh, plenty. Are you kidding? Everywhere. … It was amazing. Works like a charm. Try it sometime. (laughs) I’m serious. No, it works like a charm.
“He knew, ‘I’m not a Rockefeller. I’m not Christopher Crowe. I’m not Count Mountbatten’, or whoever that was,” Agent Harty told Moriarty with a laugh.
Asked if he’s dangerous, Agent Harty said, “Yes. I have no doubt that he killed John Sohus. I have no doubt that he killed Linda Sohus.”
In California, detectives Tim Miley and Delores Scott were also convinced Gerhartsreiter killed Linda and John and were working against the clock to prove it before he could serve his time on the kidnapping charge and then disappear … again.
Unmasked at last, Christian Gerhartsreiter now has a new identity: inmate number 2800458.
“Which persona did you like the most? Who did you like being the most? Clark Rockefeller?” Moriarty asked Gerhartsreiter.
“Umm, no. No, no, no, no. Let — let’s not get into that again. Erin, Erin, Erin –”
“Well, because we’re talking about how you would put on these personas, that it was fun,” Moriarty explained.
“Let’s go back to the trial testimony. That’s why we’re here,” he said.
Gerhartsreiter, aka “Clark Rockefeller”, was serving a four-to-five year sentence for kidnapping his daughter when he was suddenly on the move again. He was hauled from a Massachusetts prison to a California jail, where he would now face charges for the murder of John Sohus.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives Tim Miley and Delores Scott led the cold case investigation.
“Did you know what you were getting into when you first started this investigation?” Moriarty asked the detectives.
“No. We had no idea how bad it was. How difficult it was gonna get,” Det. Miley replied.
“No,” Det. Scott said. “It took four years. Four years of our lives, right?”
The detectives had to determine exactly how John Sohus died. The problem was all they had to work with was the victim’s skull and it was in pieces and had to be reconstructed by a special lab in Hawaii.
That’s when forensic pathologist Dr. Frank Sheridan was finally able to determine how John Sohus had died. He had been viciously bludgeoned.
Asked how he could tell, Dr. Sheridan told Moriarty, “Partly it’s based on looking at the edges of the fractures, the dark appearance.”
Dark edges, says Dr. Sheridan, mean the fractures occurred at the time of death and not when the body was unearthed.
“Decomposing scalp, blood, can sink down in the fracture lines and that’s one of the indications that these fractures occurred shortly before death,” he explained.
“How many time do you think John Sohus was hit here?” Moriarty asked, as she and Dr. Sheridan examined the skull.
“In this area here, I believe at least twice,” he replied. “… it takes a fairly fair amount of force to cause this kind of injury.”
But now, how to prove the killer was Gerhartsreiter? Sohus was buried just feet from the guest house where Gerhartsreiter once lived and his body wrapped in plastic bookstore bags traced to colleges that Gerhartsreiter had attended. Yet no DNA, no fingerprints belonging to the defendant were found.
“But you have to understand that obviously the bags and the body have been underground for nine years … and dirt just decomposes everything,” Det. Scott explained.
“Right, but you’ve got a jury that might say reasonable doubt,” Moriarty noted.
“All we can do is put on the best case we can,” said Det. Miley.
In an Los Angeles courtroom in March 2013, Gerhartsreiter went on trial for the murder of John Sohus.
Gerhartsreiter insists he didn’t kill John or Linda Sohus. He says Linda is alive. “No. Absolutely not,” he adamantly tells Moriarty when asked if he killed Linda Sohus, whose body has never been found. “She’s around somewhere.”
Gerhartsreiter’s defense is that Linda Sohus is the one who killed her husband and is alive and hiding from authorities. The proof: postcards, in Linda’s handwriting, that were sent to her family and friends from Europe after she disappeared. But to Walter Kirn, this was classic Gerhartsreiter.
“The postcards were such an ingenious move, you know what I mean? Your common murderer doesn’t try to cover a crime that way…” he told Moriarty.
Like a scene from a Hitchcock thriller, Kirn says, the defendant carefully concocted the couple’s disappearance.
“To me, one of the most convincing piece of evidence was the stories they told about going off on a secret mission …going off on a secret mission was a Clark idea,” he said. “Now obviously, that was to prepare people not to look for them, to prepare people for their absence.”
After nearly three decades, Linda nor her body have been found.
“Isn’t it possible that Linda’s out there just under a different name doing what Chris did?” Moriarty asked Det. Scott.
“No, everything points to her being deceased,” she replied.
Detective Miley says that Linda couldn’t have sent the postcards. DNA taken off the stamp doesn’t match Linda’s, but it also doesn’t match the defendant.
“That proves that he has the ability to have someone send a postcard from Europe when he is not there,” he explained.
John Sohus’ younger sister, Ellen, attended the trial every day and says there is no way that Linda would have killed her brother.
“Linda and John, if you could have seen them together, it would be very hard for you to believe that she would have done anything to hurt John,” she told Moriarty.
Ellen says there is far more evidence that points to Gerhartsreiter.
“All the things I learned about how he changed identities, trying to sell my brother’s truck, covering up all those things,” she said.
“Gerhartsreiter says Didi gave him the truck. You don’t believe that?” Moriarty asked.
“No,” Ellen replied. “… she didn’t touch the bedroom that they slept in. All of his stuff and Linda’s stuff was left untouched. She wouldn’t have done that and given the truck away.”
“This truck was in my possession for three-and-a-half years with its license plates attached, unaltered, unchanged, in excellent condition. Why would a person who is aware of criminal liability preserve evidence?” Gerhartsreiter asserted to Moriarty. “Answer that.”
Lieutenant Dan Allen of the Greenwich Police Dept. answered.
“No way, no way,” he said. “It wasn’t out in the open as far as I could determine. … no one ever saw that white pickup truck.”
And how did he miss someone burying the body right behind Gerhartsreiter’s house, when according to trial testimony, it would have taken the killer several hours?
“If Linda in fact killed her husband — wouldn’t you have seen her burying the body? ” Moriarty asked.
“Well, if you believe that I am home every single second, that I never leave my house,that I never go out at all, that I don’t go away on — on weekends,” he reasoned.
“But wouldn’t you notice the ground was dug up?
“It was not a very well-kept property, let’s put it that way,” said Gerhartsreiter.
As the case goes to the jury, Gerhartsreiter is feeling confident.
“I believe it because I know for a fact that I did not do this. I know that for an absolute fact,” he said.
“Sitting in that courtroom … waves of anger would come over me,” Kirn said. “… every minute I was sitting there, I was going ‘Please jury … find him guilty. He did it. He did it.'”
As a packed courtroom gathered to hear the verdict in the murder trial of Christian Gerhartsreiter, the man who once called himself “Rockefeller” looked confident, while prosecutor Habib Balian seemed nervous.
“He’d conned so many people for so many years, you always worry that, OK, this might be his one last con and he’s going to escape justice,” said Balian.
Writer Walter Kirn, who wrote a book, “Blood Will Out”, about his former friend, attended the trial for The New Yorker Magazine.
“I deferred to the old-time court reporters who were there around me and they said, ‘Oh, he’s gonna get off.’ … ‘Why do you say that? The evidence is so circumstantial.’ … ‘one of the victims is missing.’ … ‘She might still be out there.’ ‘Maybe she did it.’ … ‘They can’t establish a motive…” Kirn said. “These people had me convinced that, you know, this was gonna be Clark’s greatest magic trick.”
Ellen Sohus and another brother, Chris, were just as worried.
“I was very worried that — those key pieces would be enough to create doubt,” said Ellen.
But in the end, the jury finds Christian Gerhartsreiter guilty of first-degree murder in the death of John Sohus.
“I started to cry,” Ellen said, “because we finally got justice.”
But it’s a bittersweet victory, because a painful question still remains: where is Linda Sohus?
“Do you believe then that Christian Gerhartsreiter also killed Linda?” Moriarty asked Ellen and Chris Sohus.
“Yes,” Ellen replied.
“Yeah, I believe she probably met a similar fate to my brother,” said Chris.
“Do you think we’ll ever know what happened to Linda?” Moriarty asked.
“Not unless he decides to confess,” Chris replied.
Curious about how the jury felt about Linda Sohus, Moriarty had the opportunity to ask the foreperson:
“Did you feel Linda had anything to do with it?”
“I — I didn’t,” the foreperson replied.
“So did you believe at the end of the trial that if Christian Gerhartsreiter killed John, he probably killed Linda too?”
Asked if he thinks we’ll ever really know what happened to Linda Sohus, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said, “I hope so.”
“Was justice done in this case?” Moriarty asked.
“Yes and no. There’s no real justice in a murder case. … You’ll never bring back a victim,” Sheriff Baca replied. “But, we’re happy we solved this case. And the ingenuity of the homicide detectives and all their colleagues on the federal and local level — are to be cheered for this.”
At his sentencing, Gerhartsreiter addressed the judge PASSIONATELY: “Your Honor, I can only say once again — that I — I want to assert my innocence and that I firmly believe that the victim’s wife killed the victim.”
“That emptiness is evil,” Kirn told Moriarty. “It’s that lack of feeling, using everybody as a tool, everybody as a way to get your will, is as close to a definition of evil, of monstrousness, as I can come to.”
“You really think he’s a monster?
“I think he’s a monster. I think he’s a monster,” said Kirn.
The sentence: 25 years to life. The day Moriarty spoke with Gerhartsreiter, he had just been sentenced:
“I can’t speak for the jurors’ decision. Half of them were probably — too stupid to understand — reasonable doubt. The other half were probably too lazy to even think about what’s been presented and just wanted to get out of here,” he said. “This will be overturned. Make no mistakes about this. So, it’s just a minor inconvenience until then. That’s all it is.”
“Rockefeller” fired his lawyers and filed a motion for a new trial. It was denied.
His daughter is now 12 years old and living with her mother abroad. She has no contact with her father.
A stunning true story from the author of “Up in the Air.” For 15 years, acclaimed journalist and novelist Walter Kirn fell for the pedigreed charms of one Clark Rockefeller. Then in July 2008, authorities pursued “Rockefeller” for kidnapping his own daughter, and an elaborate lie very publicly unraveled. Clark’s real identity was revealed to be Christian Gerhartsreiter, a German imposter with a murderous past. What started as a story about American nobility became “Blood Will Out,” a deeply personal account of Kirn’s relationship with a psychopath masquerading as a gentleman.
This program was recorded on October 25, 2014 as part of the 25th Anniversary Chicago Humanities Festival, Journeys: http://chf.to/2014Journeys
By Frank C. Girardot, Pasadena Star-News
LOS ANGELES >>Thirty minutes after a judge handed down a 27 years-to-life prison sentence for a 1985 murder, the German-born con man once known as Clark Rockefeller on Thursday continued to assert his innocence.
In an exclusive interview with this newspaper, convicted killer and lifelong grifter Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, 52, said he didn’t kill John Sohus and blamed the man’s murder on his long-vanished spouse, Linda Sohus.
In a 23-minute interview, Gerhartsreiter said the proof of his innocence could be found in the same circumstantial evidence a jury used to convict him of the murder earlier this year.
“It was the victim’s wife,” he said.
Gerhartsreiter came to court Thursday morning hoping to present a lengthy motion outlining his case for a retrial. When he was denied the opportunity to read it aloud, Gerhartsreiter withdrew the paperwork. It was later sealed.
When he requested a sentence of time served. Judge George Lomeli instead sent him to state prison for life.
The sentence followed the recommendations of a probation report that characterized Gerhartsreiter as “a significant threat to public safety” and “ a danger to others.”
He will be ordered to pay restitution, the amount of which has yet to be determined.
Sentencing hearings can be emotional events in criminal court. By law, surviving victims are given the opportunity to explain how the violent death of a loved one affected their lives.
The victim’s sister, Ellen Sohus, said the slaying of her brother devastated her father. Throughout her statement to the court, Gerhartsreiter looked away. Several in the audience choked up and wiped away tears as she spoke.
“Your honor I put my trust and faith in you. That you will uphold the justice of the court. You cannot give me back my brother, but you can make a statement about the value of his life,” she said. “All I ask of you is that justice be served and that you hold the defendant accountable for his choices, his actions and his decision to sacrifice my brother’s life for his gain.”
At one point the victim’s sister turned to the defendant.
“Why did you kill my brother?” she said in calm and measured tones. “What happened to Linda?”
It’s a question that’s been asked several times over the past 28 years.
In February 1985, John and Linda Sohus disappeared from the San Marino home they shared with John’s mother. At the same time Gerhartsreiter, under the name Christopher Chichester, rented a converted garage at the back of the property in the 1900 block of Lorain Road.
Just prior to their disappearance, Linda Sohus told several friends and family members that her husband had been offered a government job on the East Coast and the couple would be moving to take advantage of the opportunity.
Linda’s sister and mother filed a missing persons report with the San Marino Police Department in the spring of that year. During that same period of time, Linda’s family and friends received postcards signed by the missing woman. All appeared to have been sent from Paris.
Gerhartsreiter left San Marino in late May or early June of the same year. At the time he told San Marino barber Jann Eldnor he was returning to England, where a wealthy relative had died and left him a sizeable estate.
Regardless, Gerhartsreiter next appeared in Greenwich, Connecticut under the assumed name Christopher Crowe. He told friends he had been a movie producer. He was briefly employed by several brokers in both Connecticut and New York City.
In 1988 police linked Gerhartsreiter to a pickup truck that belonged to the missing couple. He fled Greenwich and became Clark Rockefeller.
John’s body was discovered in 1994 during a swimming pool excavation at the Lorain Road home where the missing couple once lived. A brief manhunt resulted in no clues even though the case was profiled on national television in the show “Unsolved Mysteries.”
Linda has never been found.
As Rockefeller, Gerhartsreiter passed himself off as a poor relation of the oil baron’s clan. In 1993 he married Sandra Boss, a management consultant with McKinsey and Company. The couple lived in several locations, including Boston and Cornish, N.H. Together they had one child, Reigh “Snooks” Boss.
The couple divorced in 2007. During a supervised visitation in July 2008, Gerhartsreiter kidnapped the child and fled to Baltimore where he became Chip Smith, boat captain. Within a week he was arrested by the FBI and linked to the San Marino cold case.
“I find it ironic that he was caught because of his desperate measures to avoid being separated from his child,” Ellen Sohus said. “And yet it was his actions in 1985 that resulted in that very experience for my father.”
During Thursday’s interview, Gerhartsreiter said he once believed John was killed by his own mother — Ruth “Didi” Sohus, by all accounts a frail, chain-smoking alcoholic who was devastated by the disappearance of her beloved diabetic son.
“I always thought the mother,” he said. “She was as strong as an ox; she carried whole coils of garden hoses and she was pretty strong.“
But after reading transcripts of his murder trial, Gerhartsreiter said he became convinced the diminutive victim was killed by his red-headed, 6-foot, 200-pound wife. He alleged that he was able to track Linda’s whereabouts well after 1985 and claimed she had possibly become a horse trainer in North Carolina at the time he was in Connecticut.
“We had a hint of someone who, how do I explain this, we just thought it looked so much like Linda,” he said. According to Gerhartsreiter, the look-alike also disappeared, sometime around 1987. “Unfortunately since then the lead has gone nowhere.”
He declined to explain how he came into possession of the victim’s truck.
“I can’t really testify to this. I can’t release anything about it. It’s not part of the testimony,” Gerhartsreiter said. “I can’t tell you a thing. I don’t want to jeopardize any appeals. I can only tell you what’s in the testimony. Look at it this way, why would I keep it parked in my driveway for 3 1/2 years?”
As for his multiple identities, Gerhartsreiter also had an explanation and said he wasn’t hiding from anyone. He also explained his reasons for leaving California.
“The reason for leaving this area had to do with the complete abject failure of my film career. It just never panned out. First I tried producing under the name Chichester and that was the name I used for my producing career… the producing career never worked.”
He said he then turned to script writing only to have his work rejected. He recalled a producer saying, “You have industry, but you have no talent.”
An August report filed with Lomeli detailed some of Gerhartsreiter’s early life in Germany based on his interview with a probation officer.
“He had an ‘OK’ childhood,” the report indicates. “He did not get along with his father. He came to this country for a better life because Germany was a divided country at the time. It was not an easy life and there was a real threat of war. “
Gerhartsreiter told the interviewer that prior to his arrest, he worked as a “self-employed writer and researcher.” He claimed to be broke and noted that his house in Baltimore and its contents were sold to pay his legal fees.
Thursday’s sentencing closed a chapter in a mystery that has simmered for 28 years.
“Many people have made comments to me about finally having closure,” Ellen Sohus said. “Let me make this clear, there is no closure. John is still gone.”