He is a drifter and a con man, an imposter who long pretended to be a scion of the Rockefeller dynasty. He is the convicted kidnapper of his own child. An extraordinary trial that opened today in Los Angeles will now determine whether Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter is a murderer as well.
Gerhartsreiter is charged with the 1985 murder of a computer programmer named Jonathan Sohus, at whose home he was then a tenant, masquerading under the name of Christopher Chichester.
The Sohus affair may prove the final chapter in the extraordinary tale of a man, now 52, who made his way as a teenager from Germany to the US, moved from coast to coast living under different names, twice married and twice divorced, fathering a child whom he later abducted.
Gerhartsreiter first made headlines in 2009 when he was sentenced to four years in prison for kidnapping the daughter he had by Sandra Boss, a high-flying executive at the McKinsey management consulting firm.
Ms Boss fell for a man who purported to be Clark Rockefeller and charmed her with false stories of wealth and connections.
During the kidnapping trial, Los Angeles police realised that Gerhartsreiter was the same Christopher Chichester who had been a “person of interest” from the outset of the Sohus case, but of whom they had lost all trace.
Mr Sohus and his wife Linda disappeared from their home in the Los Angeles County township of San Marino in 1985, and the lodger named Chichester told neighbours and police that they had gone to Europe.
But in 1994, when a new owner was installing a swimming pool, a bag of bones was unearthed and identified as the body of Mr Sohus. Much of the evidence against Gerhartsreiter is circumstantial, however, and reliant on fading memories that date back decades. His defence may even suggest that Mrs Sohus might have been responsible, although she too is presumed dead.
Gerhartsreiter’s story has already inspired a book and TV series. Whatever the verdict this time, more will surely follow.