A prosecutor urged jurors Monday to convict a renowned con man of the 1985 killing of his landlady’s adult son, calling him a “master manipulator” who buried the victim’s body in a San Marino backyard before hiding on the East Coast under a series of false identities.
L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. Habib Balian told the downtown Los Angeles jury that strong circumstantial evidence pointed to Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter as the killer, noting that the German native was staying in a guest house on the property where John and Linda Sohus were living when the couple went missing. John’s remains were found buried behind the guest house, out of sight from the property’s main home and from next-door neighbors.
Around the victim’s skull were two plastic bags used during the early 1980s. One was from the bookstore at USC, where Gerhartsreiter attended classes. The other was from the bookstore at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, where Gerhartsreiter was enrolled from spring 1980 to spring 1981.
“The defendant made some mistakes in this case,” Balian told jurors. “The biggest mistake he made was picking the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee to go to school.”
Gerhartsreiter, who called himself Christopher Chichester while living in San Marino, disappeared months after the Sohuses. He resurfaced on the other side of the country as Christopher Crowe and, later, Clark Rockefeller, convincing even his wife and child that he was a scion of America’s famous wealthy family.
His journey from teenage German immigrant to member of the New England social elite to accused murderer has spawned several books and a television movie.
But in the packed downtown courtroom, there was little of the showmanship that Gerhartsreiter, 52, had displayed during the previous three decades. Wearing a blue blazer and slacks, he kept his head down, writing continuously as Balian detailed nearly three weeks of testimony for jurors.
Balian played portions of a “Today” show jailhouse interview with Gerhartsreiter that had been played earlier in the trial. Gerhartsreiter said he believed he grew up in New York and had clear childhood memories of going to Mount Rushmore and picking strawberries in Oregon.
He said his real name was Clark Rockefeller.
“No, it’s not,” Balian said, standing just behind Gerhartsreiter with the recording paused. “You’re Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, you were born in Bergen, Germany, to two Catholic parents ... lies, lies, lies.”
Asked in the interview whether he killed John and Linda Sohus, Gerhartsreiter replied: “My entire life I have always been a pacifist. I am a Quaker, and I believe in nonviolence. And I can fairly certainly say that I have never hurt anyone physically.”
Balian said that in the interview, he “couldn’t even say no” to the question.
Gerhartsreiter’s attorneys are scheduled to give their closing arguments this afternoon.