Linda and John Sohus remembered

A photo of John and Linda Sohus from their wedding day in 1983 is displayed during a memorial service for the couple, at Descanso Gardens in La CaƱada Flintridge. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times / June 26, 2013)

As hummingbirds hovered nearby, friends and relatives gathered in Descanso Gardens late Wednesday to remember a young couple believed to have been murdered nearly three decades ago by a man who evaded police while pretending to be a member of the Rockefeller family.

John and Linda Sohus, who vanished in early 1985, were meant to be together, their friends said at the botanical gardens in La Cañada Flintridge, recounting how the couple shared a love for science fiction and a deep affection for each other.

The Sohuses had been married for just more than a year when they disappeared. John's remains were unearthed from his San Marino backyard in 1994; his wife has never been found.

At the time of the couple's disappearance, Christian Gerhartsreiter had been living in a guest house on the same property under the name Christopher Chichester. He vanished soon afterward, resurfacing on the East Coast under a series of fake identities, including Clark Rockefeller.

Gerhartsreiter, 52, was convicted earlier this year of murdering John, 27, and is awaiting sentencing. Some jurors in the downtown Los Angeles trial later said they believed Gerhartsreiter also killed Linda, 29.

"It's been a long journey for those of us who remember them, and we're so very grateful that justice was served," Sue Coffman, Linda's best friend, told a couple of dozen people as well as reporters who attended Wednesday's service.

Coffman recounted how she met Linda while the girls were junior high students in Los Angeles. They bonded over a common love of horses, and enjoyed showing off their plastic model horses that they decorated.

As an adult, Linda was a talented artist who painted unicorns, centaurs and other fantasy art favorites. She wanted to make a career of her art and had begun to display and sell her work when she disappeared.

John was known to many as shy and gentle, but his younger sister, Ellen, recalled how he also had a fun-loving streak. A half brother who lived with his mother, John brought Ellen and her younger brother, Chris, a reel-to-reel tape of the "Doctor Demento" radio show, which he sped up and slowed down to the delight of the young children.

"He seemed to have this unending supply of silliness, especially around us," Ellen said.

John also loved playing with gadgets, introducing Ellen and Chris to the Atari arcade video game "Pong." 

A childhood friend, Patrick Rayermann, said John was adept with computers and fascinated by space exploration. Rayermann and John joined the explorer program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the two went on to work as adults.

Rayermann said his friend would have loved to have seen the advances in computer technology that have occurred since his murder as well as such breakthroughs in space as the Rover Mission to Mars.

"It really isn't fair that he is not with us," Rayermann, a retired Army colonel, said.

John and Linda met in 1982. He was friends with a man Linda was dating. After the relationship ended, Linda remained friends with John and they eventually grew romantic. They wed on Halloween in 1983.

During this year's murder trial, Gerhartsreiter's attorneys argued that Linda may have been responsible for John's death. But the couple's friends strongly disputed such a claim, saying it was clear that the couple loved each other.

Ellen Sohus said that she had never seen her brother as happy as when she saw him at a party after he was married. "He had this glow about him," she said.

"They were in love," Rayermann said. "They had a life full of promise together and we should remember them and also honor the life that they had committed to share together. It would have been truly magnificent."

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jack.leonard@latimes.com

Twitter: @jackfleonard