Fatal blows described in Rockefeller impostor case
John Sohus suffered at least three potentially fatal blows to the head from a blunt object before his skull was wrapped and buried in two plastic bags bearing insignias of universities linked to murder defendant Christopher Gerhartsreiter, prosecution witnesses testified Wednesday.
The 27-year-old victim’s remains were discovered in 1994 in the backyard of a San Marino home where Gerhartsreiter -- then known as Christopher Chichester -- had previously lived in the guesthouse. After the discovery, crime scene investigators found four bloodstains on the floor of the guesthouse, said Lynne Herold, a criminalist for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The bloodstains were not visible to the naked eye, Herold said, but chemical tests showed the blood was wiped while it was still wet. One of the stains was 25 inches wide, she said. Herold said the technology to identify who the blood in the guesthouse belonged to did not exist at the time she examined the scene. It is still unknown how long the blood had been there, who it belonged to and whether it is human blood, she said.
German-born Gerhartsreiter, who is being tried in Sohus’ killing, has pleaded not guilty. His attorneys have said there was no forensic evidence linking Gerhartsreiter to the slaying. They said they don’t dispute that the buried remains were Sohus’ or that he was killed.
The killing, attorney R. Bradford Bailey has said, “is a classic case of whodunit.”
Shortly before vanishing in 1985, Sohus and his wife, Linda, had been living in the main house on the property where the bones were found. The couple lived with John Sohus’ mother, while Gerhartsreiter lived in the guest house.
Later, Gerhartsreiter also disappeared, surfacing on the East Coast under a series of new names, including Clark Rockefeller.
During her testimony Wednesday, Herold said that the shirt found with Sohus’ body had six cuts caused by a sharp instrument while he was still alive. The cuts, she said, were to the left shoulder of the shirt and the left elbow, suggesting Sohus’ arm was raised when the cuts were inflicted or that he was cut from behind.
Another prosecution witness, San Bernardino County Chief Medical Examiner Frank Sheridan, testified that fractures to Sohus’ head were created by “a significant amount of force” from a blunt, possibly curved object. “When the actual injuries happened, the victim was still alive but died very quickly afterward,” Sheridan, a forensic pathologist, testified.
Photos of Sohus’ skull showed fractures in the front, and a large portion of the back right side appeared crumbled, with some pieces of bone missing.
The skull was pieced together after it was found by workers excavating for a pool, said Sheridan, who examined the skull. Each blow to the head would have rendered the victim unconscious, he said.
“It was not a light tap,” Sheridan said. “This is a major blow.... I have no doubt these are fatal injuries.”
Witnesses also described two plastic bags wrapped around Sohus’ skull.
One bore a logo of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee that was only in use from 1979 to 1982, said Linda Hausladen, who works in the university bookstore. Gerhartsreiter was a student there during that time, Deputy Dist. Atty. Habib Balian said.
The other bag said “Trojan Stores USC.” Herold, who attended USC, said it was from a campus bookstore. Gerhartsreiter often visited the USC film school and said he was a student there, several witnesses have said.
Linda Sohus is still unaccounted for. Bailey, Gerhartsreiter’s attorney, has argued that there may be as much evidence that points to Linda as having attacked her husband before vanishing.