(SAN MARINO, Calif.) — A German conman, who spent decades using multiple identities to charm his way into wealthy, American high-society circles, including posing as a Rockefeller, awaits a jury’s verdict on whether “murderer” will be added to his list of transgressions.
After arriving in the United States in 1978, Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, 52, of Siegsdorf, Germany, claimed 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.
Since the early ’90s, he has gone by the name Clark Rockefeller, claiming to be an heir to the famous family’s fortune, and even fooling his ex-wife about his true identity for years during their marriage.
Gerhartsreiter is on trial, charged with murder in the 1985 killing of John Sohus, the son of his former California landlady.
Both the prosecution and defense presented their closing arguments Monday in the decades-old cold case killing of Sohus, 27, of San Marino, Calif., who disappeared, along with his wife, in 1985.
At the time, prosecutors argued, Gerhartsreiter was using the name Christopher Chichester and was living in the Sohus family guest house at their San Marino home. 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.
Two years ago, 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 ’90s and the fact Sohus was adopted as a child delayed the definitive identity of the remains.
There has been no motive presented for why Gerhartsreiter would want to kill either Linda or John Sohus. No trace of Linda Sohas has ever been found.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Denner is expected to argue that his client, Gerhartsreiter, lied about his life but is not a murderer. It is just as possible, the defense has argued, that Sohus’ wife, Linda, killed him.
Gerhartsreiter pled not guilty and chose to not testify in his own defense. But his storied past is full of bizarre and complicated twists.
According to court documents, Gerhartsreiter came to the U.S. in 1978 on a tourist visa when he was 17, which was converted to a student visa the following year. In 1981, he married an American woman named Amy Jersild, and was granted a green card. According to divorce records Jersild filed 11 years later, Gerhartsreiter left the day after they got married.
By 1993, Gerhartsreiter had taken on the name Clark Rockefeller and was living in New York, working his way into wealthy society, prosecutors said. Gerhartsreiter has no relation to the Rockefeller family.
It was then that he met Sandra Boss, who testified she was introduced to him as Clark Rockefeller and never knew him by any other name. The couple married in 1995 and their daughter, Reigh, was born in 2001.
Boss testified that after their daughter was born, her husband became “an unpleasant human being who was choosing not to work,” and a constant liar. As the family breadwinner, Boss was earning $1.2 million a year at a management consulting firm in New York, and her bank account and the family finances were controlled by her husband.
In January 2007, Boss filed for divorce. It was during the divorce proceedings that Boss said Gerhartsreiter’s true identity began to unravel, according to court documents. When the divorce was finalized in December 2007, Boss and her daughter moved to London and Gerhartsreiter was granted supervised visitation rights.
In September 2008, Gerhartsreiter was arrested and charged with kidnapping their then-7-year-old daughter and assaulting a social worker with a dangerous weapon during a post-divorce, supervised visitation in Boston.
He was convicted and sentenced to five years in a Massachusetts state prison the following year. While serving his prison term, Gerhartsreiter was extradited to California to stand trial for the murder of John Sohus.
If convicted in that case, Gerhartsreiter faces 26 years to life in prison.
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Ralph Ellis, Randi Kaye and Dakin Andone, CNN
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