Rockefeller impersonator murder trial starts | News | DW | 19.03.2013
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Rockefeller impersonator murder trial starts

The murder trial of a German man who posed as a member of the fabled Rockefeller family has begun. For decades, the Bavarian born con man passed himself off as a member of the famed American family, among other aliases.

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, known for 20 years as Clark Rockefeller, appeared in court Monday to face murder charges from a 27-year-old cold case killing of John Sohus.

Sohus disappeared with his wife, Linda, in 1985 from their home in San Marino, California. During that time Gerhartsreiter, who was calling himself Christopher Chichester, lived as a tenant in a home behind the victims. After the couples' disappearance ‘Chichester' had been a person of interest,

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, known for 20 years as Clark Rockefeller, appeared in court Monday to face murder charges from a 27-year-old cold case killing of John Sohus.

John Sohus disappeared with his wife, Linda, in 1985 from their home in San Marino, California. During that time Gerhartsreiter, who was calling himself Christopher Chichester, lived as a tenant in a home behind the victims'. After the couples' disappearance ‘Chichester' had been a person of interest, but subsequently vanished.

In 1994, Sohus' bones were found in the backyard of the home. In March 2011, after years of investigation, and publicity resulting from a different criminal charge, Los Angeles County police tracked down Gerhartsreiter and charged him with the murder of Sohus.

The prosecution is based on the bag of bones, traces of blood found in the cottage where Gerhartsreiter lived and the blurry memories of locals. No trace has been found of Sohus' wife, Linda.

Gerhartsreiter has pleaded not guilty. On Monday he sat quietly listening to Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian's opening statement, which wove a complicated web of circumstantial evidence, but failed to state a motive for the killing.

Attorney Brad Bailey pointed out that prosecutors was going on little more than the bizarre behavior of Gerhartsreiter, while it was Sohus' wife Linda who may have had a motive to kill her husband.

"It's just as reasonable to conclude that John Sohus was killed by someone else ... his still missing wife," said Bailey.

Testimony was to begin Tuesday.

A bizarre trail of lies

Since 2009, Gerhartsreiter has been serving time for the kidnapping of his young daughter in a Boston custody dispute.

Since coming to the United States as a teenager, Gerhartsreiter has led a bizarre and often baffling life. Moving all over the US, he wormed his way into high society and talked his way into important jobs and organizations. He even married a wealthy woman but his identity unravelled around the time of his divorce.

He has used aliases such as Christopher Crowe, Chip Smith and, most notoriously, Clark Rockefeller, a fictional member of the fabled oil fortune family.

During his preliminary hearing last year, he asked to be called Clark Rockefeller in court, but the judge refused.

When his identity was uncovered he became the subject of magazine articles, true crime books and television movies that sought to explore his colorful story.

The subsequent publicity led California authorities to revisit the Sohus cold case.

If found guilty of murdering Sohus, Gerhartsreiter faces a possible prison sentence of 26 years to life.

hc,rg/lw (AFP, AP)

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