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'Rockefeller' impersonator to face murder charge in California

By Michael Martinez and Irving Last, CNN
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, 50, is accused of killing John Sohus in 1985.
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, 50, is accused of killing John Sohus in 1985.
  • Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter once claimed to be a Rockefeller
  • He has been serving a Massachusetts prison sentence for kidnapping his daughter
  • He is charged in the death of John Sohus, whose remains were found in 1994

Los Angeles (CNN) -- A German-born man who gained notoriety for impersonating a Rockefeller and later being convicted of kidnapping his daughter was being transferred Wednesday from a Massachusetts prison to Los Angeles to finally face murder charges, authorities said.

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, 50, is accused of killing John Sohus, who was 27 when he vanished with his wife, Linda, in 1985. His dismembered remains were found nine years later as workers dug a backyard pool at a home his mother used to own in San Marino, California.

Gerhartsreiter, who has led a life of multiple identities, has denied any involvement in the Sohus case.

Linda Sohus, then 28, has never been found. Except for a few postcards that appeared to have been mailed by the couple from Paris in 1985, her friends and family have not heard from her.

Gerhartsreiter has been serving a four- to five-year sentence in Massachusetts for kidnapping his 7-year-old daughter in 2008.

He was scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles on Wednesday evening, but authorities weren't releasing details due to security precautions, said spokesman Steve Whitmore of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Gerhartsreiter's bail has been set at $10 million, Whitmore said.

The murder charge bears upon Gerhartsreiter's life before he assumed the identity of Clark Rockefeller, a cultured poseur who never seemed to have a job.

A Boston tabloid dubbed him "Crockefeller."

Gerhartsreiter came to the United States from Germany in 1978, according to testimony at his trial for kidnapping. After spending a few years in Connecticut, he moved to Wisconsin, where he married in a green card arrangement using his true name.

Gerhartsreiter then relocated to California, where he began living a life of lies, according to numerous media accounts.

He settled in San Marino, a wealthy community near Pasadena, 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, according to the Pasadena Star-News.

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 reported 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.

In late 1988, "Crowe" tried to sell Sohus' pickup truck to a man in Connecticut. When he couldn't produce the proper paperwork for the truck, the prospective buyer reported him to police.

Connecticut police soon learned that "Chichester" and "Crowe" were the same person, although at that time, no one knew that his true name was Gerhartsreiter.

"Crowe" disappeared before police could question him.

He resurfaced in Manhattan in 1993 as Clark Rockefeller.

On May 5, 1994, workers digging in the new owners' backyard to install a swimming pool discovered three plastic bags containing the skeletal remains of a man who wouldn't be identified until 2010.

The investigation heated up again when authorities learned shortly after the 2008 kidnapping that Gerhartsreiter was not Clark Rockefeller. He was arrested in Baltimore, where he was hiding out with his daughter. He had already assumed a new identity: a ship's captain named Chip Smith who, with his daughter Muffy, was relocating to Chile.

His second wife, Harvard-educated financial executive Sandra Boss, testified that she spent more than a dozen years with him before growing suspicious that "Clark Rockefeller" was not who he said he was.

They met in New York City and were married in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Their daughter, Reigh, was born on May 24, 2001, and her father nicknamed her "Snooks."

The couple divorced in 2007 after Boss hired a private investigator to conduct a background check, according to testimony at the kidnapping trial.