Phony 'Rockefeller' to Stand Trial in Cold Case Murder of San Marino Man

RentalsServices and ShoppingKidnappingHomicideClark Rockefeller

ALHAMBRA, Calif. (KTLA) -- A German-born man who gained fame by pretending to be a Rockefeller has been ordered to stand trial in the gruesome murder of a San Marino man in 1985.

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, 50, is already serving time for kidnapping his then 7-year-old daughter in 2008.

He will now stand trial for murder in the death of John Sohus, of San Marino.

The 27-year-old computer programmer, who was also the son of Gerhartsreiter's landlady, disappeared along with his wife Linda in 1985.

Sohus' dismembered remains were found nine years later by workers digging a backyard pool at a home where the couple lived.

Linda, then 28, has never been found.

During a preliminary hearing, construction worker Jose Perez recounted how he and his father unearthed a large plastic bag while operating a backhoe on the property.

"He looked inside it, and he mouthed to me that there were bones in it," Perez testified.

"He thought it was a dog, but it didn't look like a dog.

"I told him to drop it, and he did," Perez continued. "It was a human skull."

Frank Sheridan, a forensic pathologist, testified the skull suffered at least one blow to the forehead and at least two blows to the right side. The several fractures were made at or about the time of death, said Sheridan, who is also the medical examiner of San Bernardino County in California.

The shape of two fractures also indicated an object with a curved surface, such as a baseball bat, was used to deliver the blows, Sheridan testified.

"This individual was alive when these fractures occurred," he added.

The preliminary hearing, to determine whether Gerhartsreiter should be bound over for trial, is expected to last six days, said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the LA County DA's Office.

Gerhartsreiter came to the United States from Germany in 1978.

In 1983, he settled in San Marino ,where he lived under the name of Christopher Chichester from 1983 to 1985.

He posed as a film student and boasted that he was of English royalty, according to Vanity Fair magazine, which profiled him in January 2009 and quoted several people who knew "Chichester" at the time.

As Chichester, he rented a guest house from Ruth "Didi" Sohus.

Her son John and his wife, Linda, came to live with Didi during the time Gerhartsreiter lived in the guest quarters.

It is unclear what his relationship was with the couple.

Didi Sohus told investigators she believed that her son and daughter-in-law were in Europe.

She filed a missing person report in July 1985.

Didi and one of Linda Sohus' friends received postcards postmarked from Paris in mid-1985, purportedly from the couple, but investigators were suspicious of their authenticity.

Sohus sold the house in late 1985 after suffering a stroke. She died three years later.

Through luminol testing of the guest quarters where "Chichester" lived, investigators found what appeared to be a large amount of blood. (Luminol causes a glow when it comes in contact with blood).

It is not clear when the luminol testing took place, but police thoroughly searched the house when the remains were found, and again after Gerhartsreiter's arrest in the kidnapping case.

A former neighbor quoted by Vanity Fair said that "Chichester" borrowed a chain saw from him at about the time the couple went missing.

An acquaintance, Dana Farrar, said she "saw an area of dirt that had obviously been dug up and filled in" at the time, according to the Pasadena Star-News.

When she asked him why, "Chichester" told her he was having plumbing problems.

Sheriff's detectives from Los Angeles County sought "Chichester" for questioning in early May 1985, but he had disappeared in a pickup truck registered to John Sohus.

He resurfaced under yet another identity -- that of Christopher Crowe -- in Connecticut in the late 1980s.

Connecticut police soon learned that "Chichester" and "Crowe" were the same person, but he disappeared again before police could question him.

He resurfaced in Manhattan in 1993 as Clark Rockefeller.

Meantime, back in San Marino, workers digging in the backyard of the former Sohus home discovered three plastic bags containing the skeletal remains of a man who wouldn't be identified as John Sohus until 2010.

During the intervening years, "Rockefeller" married Harvard-educated financial executive Sandra Boss.

The couple had a daughter, Reigh, in 2001.

The couple divorced in 2007 after Boss hired a private investigator to conduct a background check on her husband.

Gerhartsreiter snatched his daughter and tried to disappear, but was later found hiding out in Baltimore.

He was convicted in 2009 of kidnapping and assault, and has been serving a five-year sentence in a Massachusetts state prison.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times