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.”