(LOS ANGELES) — A German conman, who became infamous for posing as a Rockefeller, was found guilty Wednesday of murder in the decades-old killing of a California man.
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, 52, who has lived for years under the name Clark Rockefeller and claimed to be an heir to the famed family fortune, was charged with first degree murder in the 1985 killing of John Sohus, the 27-year-old son of his former landlady.
Before reaching a verdict, a Los Angeles jury made up of six men and six women, spent about a day deliberating whether Gerhartsreiter killed Sohus and buried his remains in the backyard of Sohus’ mother’s San Marino, Calif., home.
Gerhartsreiter was a tenant in the Sohus’ guest house at the time of the murder.
Although Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian acknowledged in his closing arguments Monday that he presented no witnesses, no physical evidence and no motive to connect Gerhartsreiter to the murder, he spent the last three weeks arguing that circumstantial evidence was enough to convict Gerhartsreiter of the crime.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Denner had argued that while his client lied about his life and made up lavish stories, he was not a murderer. The defense also argued that it is possible that Sohus’ wife, Linda Sohus, who disappeared in 1985, killed her husband. No trace of Linda has ever been found.
Gerhartsreiter, who chose not testify in his own defense, could face up to 26 years to life in prison.
The conman spent decades under different aliases and was serving a five-year sentence in Massachusetts after being convicted in 2009 of kidnapping his 7-year-old daughter when he was extradited to California to stand trial for the Sohus murder.
He has a storied past full of bizarre twists. After arriving in the United States in 1978 at age 17, Gerhartsreiter, originally of Siegsdorf, Germany, took on several identities to charm his way into American high society circles, according to court documents. After being granted a green card in 1981, Gerhartsreiter went on to claim to be a cardiologist, a Hollywood producer and a Wall Street venture capitalist. He also boasted he was a physicist, an art collector, a ship captain and a distant descendent of British royalty.
In 1985, prosecutors argued, Gerhartsreiter was using the name Christopher Chichester and was living in John Sohus’ mother’s guest house in San Marino. During his stay, John Sohus and his new wife Linda told friends they were going to New York on a trip, but never returned. Then Chichester also vanished.
In May 1994, about a decade after the Sohus’ disappearance, the new owner of the Sohus’ family home discovered skeletal remains in the backyard while digging a swimming pool. By then, Gerhartsreiter was living in New York and using the name Clark Rockefeller.
Two years ago, in 2011, authorities confirmed for the first time the bones belonged to John Sohus, using DNA provided by his sister, Lori Moltz. The premature technology of DNA testing back in the 1990s and the fact that Sohus was adopted as a child had delayed the definitive identity of the remains.
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