February 21

This Day in History

Crime

Feb 21, 1961:

Rockefeller imposter and convicted felon born

On this day in 1961, Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a con man who went by the alias Clark Rockefeller and passed himself off as an American blueblood, is born in Germany. Gerhartsreiter gained the public spotlight in 2008, when he kidnapped his young daughter and became the target of an international manhunt. The attention the case sparked helped lead to Gerhartsreiter’s conviction in 2013 for the murder of a California man in the 1980s.

Gerhartsreiter, the son of a landscape painter and seamstress, was raised in Bergen, Germany, and came to America as a teenager on a tourist visa in 1978. By the early 1980s, he was living in San Marino, California, where he went by the name Christopher Mountbatten Chichester and claimed to be a movie producer, among other occupations, as well as a relative of Lord Mountbatten, the British statesman. He rented a small guesthouse from Didi Sohus, whose son and daughter-in-law, John and Linda Sohus, lived with her. In 1985, John and Linda Sohus disappeared. Soon after, Gerhartsreiter moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, where he presented himself as a wealthy individual named Christopher Crowe and used a fake social security number to land jobs with several firms on Wall Street.

By the early 1990s, he was passing himself off as Clark Rockefeller, a member of one of America’s most famous families, who made their fortune in the oil business. Living in New York City as Clark Rockefeller, Gerhartsreiter owned an impressive (but later believed to be fake) art collection, dined at private clubs, wore silk ascots and told people that he worked helping Third World countries manage their debt. He was described as intelligent and eccentric by those who knew him. In 1995, he married Sandra Boss, a Harvard-educated executive at a management consulting firm. After moving to Boston, the couple purchased a multi-million-dollar town house there, as well as an estate in Cornish, New Hampshire. When their daughter Reigh was born in 2001, Gerhartsreiter stayed home to raise her while Boss supported the family. After filing for divorce in 2007, Boss (who later stated she was unaware her husband was a fraud during their marriage) paid Gerhartsreiter an $800,000 settlement and gained custody of Reigh.

On July 27, 2008, during a court-supervised visit in Boston, Gerhartsreiter abducted his 7-year-old daughter and took her to Baltimore, Maryland, where he had already found a home and established a new identity as Chip Smith, a yacht captain. Following a highly publicized manhunt, Gerhartsreiter was captured by police on August 2 outside his Baltimore residence. His daughter was unharmed.

In June 2009, Gerhartsreiter was convicted of kidnapping his daughter and sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison. The spotlight on Gerhartsreiter brought renewed attention to the unsolved murder of John Sohus, whose dismembered remains were found buried in the backyard of his former house in San Marino in 1994. Sohus’ wife has never been found. In March 2011, Gerhartsreiter was charged in connection with John Sohus’ death. During the serial impostor’s trial, prosecutors presented an array of circumstantial evidence linking him to the crime, including the fact that two unearthed bags of Sohus’ remains had logos from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Southern California, schools Gerhartsreiter once attended. On April 10, 2013, a jury convicted Gerhartsreiter of first-degree murder, and he later was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison.

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