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A new lead in old case

Man held in Boston is a 'person of interest' in the homicides of a San Marino couple who vanished in 1985.

August 06, 2008|Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

In the spring of 1985, a young couple vanished from their home in San Marino.

Jonathan Sohus, 26, and his wife Linda, 28, had talked of an extended trip to Europe, and Jonathan's mother received a postcard the pair purportedly sent from France.

The Sohuses never returned to the mansion-filled city of 13,000, and their story slowly faded from the neighborhood's memory -- until 1994. By then, the new owners of the house on Lorain Road were building a swimming pool. Workers digging in the backyard unearthed human remains.

Homicides detectives swarmed the street, and there was speculation that the body, identified by investigators as an adult male's, was that of Jonathan Sohus. But authorities never conclusively identified the remains. Again, the case went cold.

Until Tuesday.

That's when two Los Angeles County sheriff's homicide detectives arrived in Boston to interview a man who authorities hope can finally shed light on the disappearance.

Clark Rockefeller was arrested by FBI agents Saturday in connection with the alleged kidnapping of his daughter. Investigators in Boston matched Rockefeller's fingerprints with those on an out-of-state license application submitted under the name of a man whom California authorities have long wanted to question in the Sohuses' disappearance.

Rockefeller is not a suspect in the San Marino case. But Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore described him as a "person of interest in the John and Linda Sohus missing persons homicide case."

Whitmore said detectives are trying to determine whether Rockefeller is actually Christopher Chichester, once a well-known personality in San Marino who lived in the guest house of the Sohus home. Chichester disappeared from San Marino soon after the couple, and police had been unable to locate and question him.

Whitmore, who had seen photographs of Rockefeller and Chichester on Tuesday, said the two "certainly do" look alike. After Rockefeller was arrested and his image began appearing on the news, sheriff's cold case homicide Lt. Paul Becker said he began receiving inquiries from the public that lead him to believe the case was connected to the Sohus investigation.

Investigators who had met Chichester said he would be hard to forget.

"Chichester got in close to the San Marino community. He ingratiated himself with San Marino society; he joined all the right clubs," said former San Marino Police Chief Frank Wills, now chief of West Covina police.

Chichester claimed to be a wealthy investor and a descendant of British royalty, said Wills, who described him as "very smooth" and "clearly educated."

Berkeley Johnston, a former San Marino community leader, recalled seeing Chichester at Rotary Club meetings.

"I met him a few times. He came across as a very debonair guy. Chichester seemed very clever, and he had a bit of a Brit accent like some New Englanders," Johnston said. "It was the talk of the town for a while after the couple and then he disappeared."

At first, there was little concern that the couple were gone.

Didi Sohus, who owned the Lorain Road home, at first told investigators her son and daughter-in-law may have traveled to Europe, Wills said, because "she received a message that they were on a secret mission and then a postcard from France."

She later reported them missing, sold the house and moved to a trailer home, where she died a few years later.

Investigators later determined Chichester was using a fake name, and was also known as Mountbatten, among other aliases.

According to Wills, San Marino investigators also heard that a man fitting Chichester's description had been found in possession of the Sohus' truck in another state. Wills declined to provide details about the truck, citing the ongoing investigation, but said the driver had disappeared by the time authorities made the connection.

Wills said the mystery rocked sleepy San Marino, one of the state's wealthiest cities, with its large homes and police log full of minor crimes. After the bones were discovered, San Marino police classified the missing persons cases as homicides, and the couple were the subject of an episode of the "Unsolved Mysteries" television show.

San Marino Police Lt. Steve Johnson said investigators got involved again after they were contacted by FBI agents Saturday. Police called those who investigated the case years ago, including former San Marino Police Officer Lili Hadsell, now Baldwin Park police chief. Hadsell said she remembered Chichester as "elusive" and was never able to track him down.

Authorities said it's too early to know whether Rockefeller is Chichester.

But Boston police say Rockefeller is 48 years old, 5 feet 6 inches tall, 170 pounds and balding, which sheriff's investigators said fits Chichester's description.

Married in Nantucket, Rockefeller and Sandra Boss, his wife of 12 years, shared a brownstone in Boston's upscale Beacon Hill and a summer home in Cornish, N.H. until they divorced last year, records show.

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