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.


Washington Monument dedicated

The Washington Monument, built in honor of America’s revolutionary hero and first president, is dedicated in Washington, D.C. The 555-foot-high marble obelisk was first proposed in 1783, and Pierre L’Enfant left room for it in his designs for the new U.S. capital. After George more

Nixon in China

President Richard M. Nixon arrives in Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China, on the first presidential visit to the world’s most populous nation. Given that the U.S. federal government had formally opposed China’s communist government since it took power in 1949, more

Marx publishes Manifesto

On February 21, 1848, The Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx with the assistance of Friedrich Engels, is published in London by a group of German-born revolutionary socialists known as the Communist League. The political pamphlet–arguably the most influential in more

Malcolm X assassinated

In New York City, Malcolm X, an African American nationalist and religious leader, is assassinated by rival Black Muslims while addressing his Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights. Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925, more

Nixon visits China

President Richard Nixon visits the People’s Republic of China. After arriving in Beijing, the president announced that his breakthrough visit to China is “The week that changed the world.” In meeting with Nixon, Prime Minister Zhou Enlai urged early peace in Vietnam, but did more

John Quincy Adams suffers a stroke

On this day in 1848, just as he stands up from his desk in the House of Representatives to defend his no vote on a bill, former President John Quincy Adams suddenly collapses from a cerebral hemorrhage. House members carried him to a bed in the Speaker of the House’s private more

Erma Bombeck is born

On this day in 1927, humorist Erma Bombeck is born in Dayton, Ohio. Bombeck studied English at Ohio University and the University of Dayton and worked part time as a reporter at the Dayton Journal Herald, writing obituaries and features. At age 20, she was diagnosed with a kidney more

Tornadoes move across Mississippi River Delta

On this day in 1971, the Mississippi River Delta is pounded by powerful tornadoes that kill more than 100 people. The storm that caused the twisters moved up from the bayous of Louisiana through Mississippi to Tennessee. Hundreds of people were injured across the three states. more

Double agent Aldrich Ames is arrested

CIA operative Aldrich Ames is arrested for selling secrets to the Soviet Union. Ames had access to the names and identities of all U.S. spies in Russia, and by becoming a double agent he was directly responsible for jeopardizing the lives of CIA agents working in the Eastern more

Battle of Val Verde

On this day in 1862, at the Battle of Valverde, Confederate troops under General Henry Hopkins Sibley attack Union troops commanded by Colonel Edward R. S. Canby near Fort Craig in New Mexico Territory. The first major engagement of the Civil War in the far West, the battle more

Nixon arrives in China for talks

In an amazing turn of events, President Richard Nixon takes a dramatic first step toward normalizing relations with the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) by traveling to Beijing for a week of talks. Nixon’s historic visit began the slow process of the re-establishing more

NASCAR founded

On this day in 1948, the National Association for Stock Car Racing–or NASCAR, as it will come to be widely known–is officially incorporated. NASCAR racing will go on to become one of America’s most popular spectator sports, as well as a multi-billion-dollar industry. The driving more