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Longtime suspect charged in 1985 San Marino killing

Man who used the alias Clark Rockefeller is to be extradited in the death of Jonathan Sohus. He is now serving time in a Massachusetts prison.

March 16, 2011|By Andrew Blankstein, Richard Winton and Margot Roosevelt, Los Angeles Times
  • Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, left, alias Clark Rockefeller, appears in court in 2008.
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, left, alias Clark Rockefeller, appears… (Ted Fitzgerald / Associated…)

In the early 1980s, he was known as Chris Chichester, a would-be film producer who lived in a San Marino guest house, claiming to be a relative of Lord Mountbatten and ingratiating himself with local matrons.

A few years later, he was called Christopher Crowe, a bond salesman in Greenwich, Conn.

And by the early 1990s, he had turned up as Clark Rockefeller, living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in an apartment full of Mondrians and Rothkos.


FOR THE RECORD:
San Marino killing: In the March 16 LATExtra section, an article about Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter being charged in a 1985 killing said he had lived in a home once owned by Learned Hand. Hand was incorrectly described as a Supreme Court justice; he was a judge on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. —

On Tuesday, Los Angeles County prosecutors opened yet another chapter in the saga of the German-born con man Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter — alias Chris Chichester, Christopher Crowe and Clark Rockefeller — charging him with the 1985 murder of his 26-year-old San Marino landlord.

The skeleton of Jonathan Sohus, a computer programmer who had mysteriously disappeared with his wife, Linda, was discovered in the backyard of the San Marino home in 1994. But Los Angeles area authorities had been unable to locate Gerhartsreiter, who left town shortly after the Sohuses' disappearance, until he was arrested in Baltimore in 2008.

Six days earlier, still using the Rockefeller name, Gerhartsreiter kidnapped his 7-year-old daughter during a supervised visit in the wake of a bitter divorce. He has been serving a five-year sentence for kidnapping and assault in a Massachusetts state prison and was scheduled to be released next year.

It was Massachusetts authorities who discovered Gerhartsreiter's real name, along with a dozen aliases, during their investigation. That enabled Los Angeles County detectives to reopen the Sohus case.

In the single-count indictment, Los Angeles prosecutors allege Gerhartsreiter, now 50, used a "blunt object" to kill Jonathan Sohus. The body of Linda Sohus still has not been found, said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore.

Los Angeles County authorities will begin extradition proceedings immediately, he said.

Detectives were able to put the case together 26 years later, said Sheriff's homicide Lt. Wes Sutton, because of "additional evidence gathered using modern technology. We were able to link all the pieces together and present a case to the district attorney's office."

Not only had Los Angeles County authorities lost track of the tenant they knew as Chichester, but Sohus' body wasn't unearthed until nine years after his disappearance, when a new owner of the home was excavating for a swimming pool.

And once the skeleton was discovered, DNA technology was too primitive to definitively identify it as the remains of Sohus until last year. Complicating the investigation was the fact that Sohus was adopted.

"Overwhelming circumstantial evidence" led to the murder charge against Gerhartsreiter, Whitmore said.

When a neighbor noticed new turf at the Sohus family home on Lorian Road, Gerhartsreiter attributed it to a plumbing problem.

Additionally, officials said, Gerhartsreiter — using the name Christopher Crowe — tried to sell a truck in Connecticut that had belonged to Sohus shortly after Sohus disappeared. The deal fell through when the would-be buyer became suspicious that Gerhartsreiter could not produce any paperwork and called police. But police were unable to prove that Gerhartsreiter had not purchased the truck legally.

Later, it was discovered that fingerprints on an application for a stockbroker's license that a man using the name Christopher Crowe filed in Connecticut two decades ago matched Gerhartsreiter's.

Gerhartsreiter was born in the small Bavarian town of Bergen, the son of a seamstress and a landscape painter, according to news reports. He came to the U.S. as an exchange student at age 17, went to high school in Berlin, Conn., and married a Wisconsin woman, thereby obtaining legal residence. They separated soon afterward.

As Clark Rockefeller, he married a Stanford and Harvard Business School graduate, Sandra Boss, after meeting her at a Manhattan party. She later became a partner in the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. After their daughter was born, the couple moved to Cornish, N.H., living in a home once owned by Supreme Court Justice Learned Hand.

They later moved to Beacon Hill in Boston, divorcing after 13 years of marriage.

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

margot.roosevelt@latimes.com

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