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Rockefeller impostor's defense may focus on victim's wife

Attorneys representing a man accused in a three-decade-old death ask witnesses about the relationship and size difference between the victim and his missing wife.

January 21, 2012|By Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times
  • Christian Gerhartsreiter appears in court earlier this week.
Christian Gerhartsreiter appears in court earlier this week. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated…)

Attorneys representing a one-time Rockefeller impostor accused in a three-decade-old San Marino slaying gave the first indications of their defense strategy Wednesday, hinting that they may be poised to blame the victim's missing wife.

Details of the relationship between John Sohus, whose decaying remains were found in the backyard of a San Marino home, and his wife, Linda, emerged in witness testimony Wednesday at the preliminary hearing of Christian Gerhartsreiter. Authorities say Gerhartsreiter is a con man who used numerous identities to leave a trail of deception across the country. He was a tenant of Sohus' mother at the time of Sohus' 1985 disappearance, then living under the name Christopher Chichester.

The hearing will determine whether there is enough evidence for Gerhartsreiter, 50, to stand trial in Sohus' slaying.

Brad Bailey, a lawyer for Gerhartsreiter, on Friday questioned witnesses about tension between Sohus and his wife, who friends said were newlyweds who shared a love of science fiction and fantasy but struggled with money and over moving out of Sohus' mother's home. Although Linda Sohus' remains were never found, authorities have said they presume her dead.

Patrick Rayermann, a former Army colonel who said he had known Sohus since the sixth grade, testified that he last saw John and Linda Sohus in January 1985, when the three met for dinner. Bailey asked Rayermann about the difference in stature between the newlywed couple.

"She was the larger of the couple," Rayermann replied, saying she was 6 or 7 inches taller and about 50 pounds heavier. "It was noticeable," he said.

Rayermann said Linda appeared to have had disagreements with Sohus' mother, Ruth "Didi" Sohus, who he said was difficult to get along with. He said the mother was likely an alcoholic who was often in pajamas and a bathrobe with a drink in her hand. The couple both felt they should move out of her home and start their own household, the witness recalled, but Sohus appeared divided between his mother and wife.

"John was torn between his loyalty to his mother and his desire to continue to help her in her more older years, and his desire to establish his own independent household with Linda," Rayermann said.

During questioning by a prosecutor, Rayermann said Sohus and his wife were "upbeat, positive, very much in love." He said the two made no negative comments or any threats to each other, and that there was no indication of violence.

Bailey asked Lydia Marano, who Linda worked for at a Sherman Oaks bookstore, about her grand jury testimony, in which she said of the couple: "They were always complaining about not having money." Marano said she did not recall the testimony, but said she did remember Linda complaining about John's mother.

A criminalist also testified Friday that four bloodstains were found in the guesthouse on Didi Sohus' property, where Gerhartsreiter lived as a tenant.

Forensic scientist Lynne Herold testified that at the time of the 1994 discovery of Sohus' remains she used chemical tests to identify four distinct blood stains on the concrete floor underneath carpeting and foam. Whose blood it was may never be definitively known — Herold testified she did not collect a sample because with the technology available at the time, a stain not visible to the naked eye could not be tested for DNA analysis.

Herold also testified that a T-shirt found with the skeleton had several cuts that appeared to have been made by a sharp object. A medical examiner earlier in the week said the victim, who was 26 when he disappeared, appeared to have been bludgeoned at least three times on the head, based on skull fractures.

victoria.kim@latimes.com

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