A deadly twist in the saga of the Rockefeller impersonator

  • @guyadams

Smooth as one of the silk handkerchiefs that peeped out of his blazer pocket, Clark Rockefeller talked his way into Manhattan society by pretending to be a scion of a famous oil dynasty. Then everything went wrong. After a messy divorce, he kidnapped his daughter and led police on a six-day manhunt before being arrested on his way to an upmarket yachting marina in Baltimore.

That was in 2008. This week, the man who was born Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter and is currently serving a five-year prison sentence for the child abduction, learned of another twist in his colourful life story when he was charged with the unsolved murder of a man who is believed to have been his landlord and neighbour in the early1980s.

Prosecutors in Los Angeles say that Gerhartsreiter, now 50, was a mysterious individual called Christopher Chichester, who, for several years, posed as a successful British film producer and relative of Lord Mountbatten. At the time, he lived in the guesthouse of Jonathan and Linda Sohus, in an upscale neighbourhood of San Marino.

In 1985, police believe that he killed Mr Sohus with a "blunt instrument" and buried his body in the garden, where it was discovered a decade later. Gerhartsreiter is also suspected of killing Mrs Sohus, although he has not been charged with her murder, partly because a body was never found. He now faces extradition to California, where he will face trial later this year.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department claims it has "overwhelming evidence" of the suspect's guilt, including testimony from a neighbour who, shortly after Mr and Mrs Sohus went missing, asked "Chichester" why new turf had appeared in their garden. Gerhartsreiter allegedly attributed it to a plumbing problem.

Prosecutors also claim that Gerhartsreiter, using the alias Christopher Crowe, attempted to sell a truck belonging to Mr Sohus in Connecticut, several months later. Local police investigated the vehicle after the potential buyer became suspicious about a lack of identification documents. But they never realised the truck's link to the missing-person case.

Gerhartsreiter's life story has inspired a TV film called Who is Clark Rockefeller? His saga began in the late 1970s, when he emigrated from his native Bavaria as a 17-year-old exchange student and promptly married a Wisconsin woman to gain permanent residency.

After separating from her, he spent several years in Los Angeles, leaving shortly after Mr Sohus disappeared. He then gained a stockbroker's license in Connecticut using the alias "Crowe" before re-branding himself as "Rockefeller" and moving to Manhattan.

In 1995, he married Sandra Boss, a partner in McKinsey Consulting. The custody dispute that led to his arrest followed the breakdown of their marriage in 2007.