Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter (born February 21, 1961) is a convicted murderer and impostor. Born in Germany, he is currently serving a prison sentence in California. In his late teens, Gerhartsreiter moved to the US, where he lived under a succession of aliases while variously claiming to be an actor, director, art collector, a physicist, a ship's captain, a negotiator of international debt agreements, and an English aristocrat.
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter
21 February 1961
|Other names||Clark Rockefeller|
Chris C. Crowe
Amy Jersild Duhnke
(m. 1981; div. 1992)
(m. 1995; div. 2007)
|Children||One daughter (born 2001)|
|Parent(s)||Simon and Irmgard Gerhartsreiter|
|Victims||Daughter (custodial kidnapping)|
Jonathan Sohus (first-degree murder)
|Date||July 27, 2008 (kidnapping and assault)|
February 1985 (first-degree murder)
|Location(s)||Boston, Massachusetts (kidnapping and assault)|
San Marino, California first-degree murder
|August 2, 2008|
|Imprisoned at||San Quentin State Prison|
In 1995 while using the assumed identity "Clark Rockefeller," claiming to be part of the noted Rockefeller family, he married a successful businesswoman, Sandra Boss. They had a daughter together. Gerhartsreiter lived well solely on his wife's income. She became dissatisfied with his secretive, controlling behavior and sought a divorce. Inquiries on her behalf revealed that he had fabricated his name and his family background. The couple divorced and Gerhartsreiter agreed to accept limited access to his daughter on supervised visits. Gerhartsreiter was arrested on August 2, 2008, six days after he abducted his daughter while she was on a visit. He was subsequently convicted of the custodial kidnapping of his daughter.
In addition to Clark Rockefeller, Gerhartsreiter's aliases include Chris C. Crowe, Chris Chichester, and Chip Smith. Gerhartsreiter's true identity was revealed after author Edward Savio and his family contacted the FBI during the manhunt after seeing a photo of "Clark Rockefeller" on the news. Police had been seeking Gerhartsreiter since 1985 as a suspect in the disappearance of a married couple in California. He was convicted in 2013 of the 1985 murder of Jonathan Sohus and is serving 27 years to life in a California prison.
According to his parents, Simon and Irmgard Gerhartsreiter, Christian was born on February 21, 1961 in Siegsdorf, Bavaria, Germany. He has said he was born on February 29, 1960. He has a brother, Alexander Gerhartsreiter. After being arrested by Boston police in 2007, Gerhartsreiter told them that his mother is Ann Carter, an American child actress of the 1940s. Carter denied this statement in August 2007.
Travel to the U.S.Edit
In 1978 Gerhartsreiter met an American couple in Germany, Elmer and Jean Kelln, who were traveling. He later used their names to obtain permission to enter the US, falsely declaring that the Kellns had invited him to stay with them in California. After entering the US at New York, he went to Berlin, Connecticut, where he found a family (the family of author Edward Savio) willing to let him live with them. In 1979 he was accepted as a foreign exchange student at Berlin High School. He told the Savios that he was from a wealthy family in Germany. Eventually he wore out his welcome with the Savios and was told to leave.
Gerhartsreiter had intended to become an actor in the United States, and decided to go on to California to pursue that career. By the time he reached Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he had started calling himself "Christopher Kenneth Gerhart." While there, he enrolled in a class at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Deciding that he wanted to become a U.S. citizen, he married 22-year-old Amy Jersild Duhnke in 1981 in Madison, Wisconsin. He is believed to have used this to obtain his green card. To persuade her to marry him, he falsely claimed that if he had to go back to Germany, he would have to go into the Army and would be sent to fight in the Cold War on the Russian front line. The day after the wedding, Gerhartsreiter left his wife and headed for California. Duhnke filed for divorce in 1992.
Christopher Chichester: Jonathan and Linda SohusEdit
Using the alias "Christopher Chichester," he lived as a tenant in the guesthouse of Didi, the mother of Jonathan Sohus, in the upscale community of San Marino, California. Gerhartsreiter/Chichester was initially identified as a "person of interest" by police in the 1985 disappearance and possible murder of Jonathan Sohus, whose wife, Linda, was also missing. Gerhartsreiter reportedly told people that Jonathan and Linda Sohus had traveled to Europe. Their family reportedly received a postcard from the couple sent from France after Jonathan and Linda Sohus had disappeared, though its authenticity has been questioned.
By the late 1980s, Gerhartsreiter had relocated to the East Coast. Police pulled him over in Greenwich, Connecticut. He was driving a pickup truck that had belonged to Jonathan Sohus, but he left the area before police could interview him. At that point, police had no proof that Jonathan and Linda Sohus were dead, nor that they'd left California voluntarily.
In 1994, bones believed to belong to Jonathan Sohus were found buried in the back yard of the home he had lived in with his wife (adjacent to the guesthouse used by Gerhartsreiter). Sohus's family members said the bones matched Jonathan Sohus's general description. Since he had been adopted, there was no way to compare his DNA against that of biological family members and arrive at a conclusive identity. Forensic evidence showed that the victim had been struck in the head two times with a rounded, blunt object and then stabbed six times. His body had been cut into three parts. In 2010 the remains were conclusively identified as Jonathan Sohus.
After settling in Greenwich, Connecticut, Gerhartsreiter assumed the identity of "Christopher C. Crowe." He claimed to be a television producer from Los Angeles who worked on the 1980s remake of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Christopher Crowe is the name of one of the producers of the series.
He was hired by the brokerage firm S.N. Phelps and Company to work with the firm's computers. He was fired when it was discovered that the social security number he had given them belonged to serial killer David Berkowitz. He was employed by Nikko Securities Ltd. as a sales manager of corporate bonds until he was fired. He briefly worked for Kidder, Peabody & Co., but quit his job and abandoned the Christopher Crowe persona when he discovered that police were looking for him in connection with the disappearance of John and Linda Sohus.
New identity and second marriageEdit
In 1995, using the name "James Frederick Mills Clark Rockefeller," Gerhartsreiter married Sandra Boss, a high-earning McKinsey senior executive. She had graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. They had a Quaker ceremony that had no legal status. Boss later testified that Gerhartsreiter was charming and that she believed the stories he told her at the beginning of their relationship. Later, however, he became emotionally abusive, and there was a "lot of anger and yelling" in their household. Although Boss earned all of the family income, she testified that Gerhartsreiter held complete control of the family's finances and other aspects of her day-to-day life.
Gerhartsreiter went to great lengths to conceal his true identity from his wife. He repeatedly told her she should file her tax return as a single person. Later in their marriage, when his wife's firm required that a certified public accountant do her taxes, he found an accountant for her. After their divorce, Boss learned that he had told their accountant he was her brother so that the accountant would continue filing single tax returns for her.
The couple had a daughter, born in 2001. Gerhartsreiter lived with Boss and their child in Cornish, New Hampshire, where he used his supposed family ties to bolster his reputation, telling friends and neighbors that he was a wealthy Yale graduate who owned a business in Canada. Under the name Clark Rockefeller, he had gained membership to Boston's Algonquin Club, where he spent a great deal of time. He resigned as one of the club's directors in April 2008.
Boss hired a private investigator in 2006 and discovered that Gerhartsreiter was not who he claimed to be, though she did not learn his real name at that time. She said he was unpleasant to live with, but she did not think he was delusional.
After discovering that Gerhartsreiter lied about his identity and divorcing him, Sandra Boss legally changed the couple's daughter's name. During the case, Boss accused Gerhartsreiter of lying about being a member of the Rockefeller family. Members of the Rockefeller family denied any relation to the man.
Boss testified in June 2009 at his trial that Gerhartsreiter agreed to give her custody of their daughter following the divorce. She testified that he also agreed to supervised visits three times a year with their daughter in return for an $800,000 settlement, two cars, her engagement ring, and a dress that he had given her. Boss moved with their child to London following the divorce.
Custodial kidnapping and assault convictionEdit
During a July 27, 2008 supervised visitation, Gerhartsreiter, his seven-year-old daughter, and a social worker were in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood on a walk to the Boston Common. Approached by a sport utility vehicle, Gerhartsreiter pushed aside the social worker, grabbed his daughter, jumped into the vehicle, and sped away. The social worker held onto the vehicle and was dragged a short distance before falling free.
On August 2, 2008, after a week-long search, Gerhartsreiter was found in Baltimore, Maryland, where he had recently purchased an apartment for about $450,000 under the name Charles "Chip" Smith. With the help of the owner of a local marina, where Gerhartsreiter had apparently kept a catamaran, FBI agents were able to lure him out of the apartment with a telephone call telling him the boat was taking on water. He was arrested as he left the apartment and was charged with kidnapping and assault and battery. The child was found unharmed inside the apartment.
On August 15, 2008, the FBI, the Massachusetts State Police, the Boston Police Department, and the Suffolk County District Attorney confirmed Clark Rockefeller as Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter. He was conclusively identified by means of forensic examinations conducted by the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia. When Gerhartsreiter, using the name Clark Rockefeller, was arrested, his fingerprint impressions were taken by FBI agents in Baltimore and by Boston Police when he was returned to Massachusetts. Those fingerprints were compared to latent fingerprints lifted from a variety of sources. They matched a latent print lifted from a wine glass in Boston collected at the time of the search for "Rockefeller" and his daughter earlier in the month. Those fingerprints also match a latent print developed from a document in Gerhartsreiter's immigration file from the early 1980s. Although there were no fingerprint cards or inked impressions in the immigration file, an FBI laboratory was able to develop latent print impressions from a document in that file, which had been provided by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Through fingerprint analysis, the FBI confirmed his identity.
On September 3, 2008, Gerhartsreiter was charged with furnishing a false name to a law enforcement officer following an arrest. His lawyers later argued that he did not do this for dishonest purposes.
On October 2, 2008, at a hearing requested by defense attorney Stephen Hrones, bail was revoked. Hrones had requested the hearing in order to seek a reduction from the $50 million cash bail under which the defendant had previously been held. Instead, the judge ordered the defendant to be held without bail.
During the trial, conducted in Boston in May and June 2009, Gerhartsreiter's defense team told jurors that Gerhartsreiter believed his daughter had communicated with him telepathically from London, where she and her mother moved after the divorce, begging him to rescue her.
Two defense experts testified that they have diagnosed Gerhartsreiter with delusional disorder, grandiose type, and narcissistic personality disorder. One of the defense experts, Dr. Keith Ablow, testified that Gerhartsreiter told him that his father had been emotionally abusive during his childhood. Dr. James Chu, a psychiatrist for the prosecution, testified that he had diagnosed Gerhartsreiter with a "'mixed personality disorder,' with narcissistic and anti-social traits" but felt that Gerhartsreiter had exaggerated his symptoms of mental illness and was capable of knowing right from wrong. He noted the defendant had allegedly meticulously planned the details of the abduction well in advance. Gerhartsreiter did not take the witness stand.
Closing arguments concluded on June 8. On June 12, 2009, the jury found Gerhartsreiter guilty of the charges of parental kidnapping and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. He was found not guilty of the charge of assault and battery[clarification needed] and of using a false name. The judge sentenced him to four to five years in state prison on the kidnapping count and a concurrent two to three years on the assault charge.
Conviction for the murder of Jonathan SohusEdit
News reports indicated that a grand jury was to be convened in the spring of 2009 to examine the evidence in the Sohus case. The Hon. Frank Gaziano, judge in Gerhartsreiter's parental kidnapping trial, barred prosecutors from presenting evidence about the Sohus case to avoid prejudicing jurors against Gerhartsreiter.
On March 15, 2011, Los Angeles County prosecutors charged Gerhartsreiter with the murder of Jonathan Sohus. On January 24, 2012, Judge Jared Moses of Los Angeles County Superior Court in Alhambra ruled that Gerhartsreiter must stand trial for the death of Sohus.
The murder trial was held in March and April 2013, and Gerhartsreiter was convicted of first degree murder on April 10, 2013. The verdict included an enhancement for use of a deadly weapon to bludgeon Jonathan Sohus to death. Evidence in the case was largely circumstantial, but jurors were most swayed by two plastic book bags found buried with Sohus's remains: one from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where Gerhartsreiter attended classes between 1979 and 1982, and one from the University of Southern California, where Gerhartsreiter audited film classes. One juror said that was the most solid piece of evidence presented to the jury. Jurors also heard evidence that Gerhartsreiter was in possession of the Sohuses' pickup truck following the murder.
On August 15, 2013, Christian Gerhartsreiter was given the maximum sentence of 27 years to life with credit for 1 year served after finishing his sentence in Massachusetts. After he was convicted, Gerhartsreiter fired his lawyers and represented himself during the sentencing phase. Gerhartsreiter maintained his innocence during the sentencing hearing and said, "I want to assert my innocence and that I firmly believe that the victim's wife killed the victim, but be that as it may, once again, I did not commit the crime of which I stand accused." His sentence was reduced on appeal in 2015, to 26 years to life. With good time credits, he will be eligible for parole in September 2030, when he will be 69 years old. A parole hearing is currently scheduled for July 2029.
He was initially transferred to North Kern State Prison in September 2013 before being transferred to Ironwood State Prison in March 2014. His appeal was denied on October 23, 2015 and again on January 20, 2016, thus exhausting state appeals. He still has federal appeals pending. In December 2016 he was transferred to San Quentin State Prison.
In popular cultureEdit
Journalist Mark Seal published a non-fiction account of Gerhartsreiter called The Man in the Rockefeller Suit (2011). In 2016, the book was in preliminary development to be made into a movie by Fox Searchlight, directed by Pablo Trapero and produced by Donald De Line.
American author Amity Gaige published Schroder: A Novel (2013), inspired by Gerhartsreiter's life. It features Erik Schroder, an East German refugee who comes to America and reinvents himself, pretending that he's a WASP-ish distant relation of American "royalty" and calling himself "Eric Kennedy". The Los Angeles Times calls the novel "absorbing, with a propulsive plot and a narrator who is charming, ambivalent, and searching - a man driven by love who understands that love cannot save him."
In 2014, Journalist Frank Girardot published Name Dropper, a biography of Gerhartsreiter which offered an inside look at the investigation into the murder of John Sohus.
Gerhartsreiter was the subject of a 2012 television documentary, The Six Million Dollar Conman, that aired on Channel 4. The documentary traces his early life through to his arrest, ending prior to his murder trial. It features interviews with police, and people who knew Gerhartsreiter via his various identities.
A documentary named My Friend Rockefeller was produced in 2015, and includes testimony by many of the main people in his life. Some are filmed for this account, and testimony footage of the court cases is also included.
Also in 2016, podcast Liar City covered the story in their "A Rockefeller By Any Other Name" episode.
In 2017, true crime podcast Judge and Jeremy discussed the case in their 24th episode.
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