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Friend says she asked Rockefeller impostor about dug-up backyard

Christian Gerhartsreiter, who is accused of killing and burying his landlady's son in San Marino in 1985, replied that he'd been having plumbing problems.

March 19, 2013|By Hailey Branson-Potts and Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times
  • Christian K. Gerhartsreiter, right, with attorney Bradford Bailey, is accused of killing the son of his landlady in San Marino and burying his body in the backyard.
Christian K. Gerhartsreiter, right, with attorney Bradford Bailey, is… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

A friend of a man accused of killing and burying his landlady's adult son in the mid-1980s testified Tuesday that she questioned him about a freshly dug patch of dirt in the backyard of the San Marino home.

Dana Glad Farrar, who knew Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter as Christopher Chichester, told jurors she asked about the overturned dirt while playing Trivial Pursuit at the home months after the landlady's son and his wife went missing in 1985.

"He said he had been having plumbing problems," she testified.

Prosecutors say there was no plumbing in that area of the yard and that Gerhartsreiter bludgeoned John Sohus to death before burying him in the yard of the Lorain Road home. The victim's remains were discovered by construction workers building a pool for a new owner of the home in 1994, according to prosecutors.

Shortly before vanishing in early 1985, Sohus and his wife, Linda, had been living in the main house on the property with Sohus' mother while Gerhartsreiter lived in a guest house. Gerhartsreiter later also disappeared, surfacing on the East Coast under a series of new names, including Clark Rockefeller, masquerading as a member of the wealthy family.

Farrar, a special education teacher, testified that she was studying at USC around the time she met Gerhartsreiter, who had befriended her aunt in San Marino and often visited the USC film school. He claimed to be descended from royalty, she said, and passed out cards with a family crest.

She testified that Gerhartsreiter hosted a gathering in the summer of 1985 and that she saw him go into the main house on the property, bringing out spoons, ice and sugar for the iced tea his guests were drinking. Farrar asked him why he went into the house.

"They are away; they will not mind," she recalled him saying.

Farrar said she called authorities after the bones were discovered. She did not recall whether she told detectives in 1994 about seeing the dug-up portion of the yard. Defense attorney R. Bradford Bailey noted that a police report from her interview then did not include any reference to the account. Farrar, however, insisted that she did recall seeing the overturned dirt.

Also Tuesday, a construction worker told jurors how he and his father unearthed Sohus' remains while digging a pool behind the guesthouse for the new owners of the property. The soil behind the home was rocky and hard, "more difficult to dig than your average dirt," Jose Perez Jr. said.

Perez, a large man, said it would have taken him several hours to dig the 3-foot-deep hole where the bones were buried. The digger's hands, he said, would probably have been covered in blisters.

A defense attorney hinted that Linda Sohus — about 6 feet tall and 200 pounds — would have been more physically capable of digging the hole than Gerhartsreiter, who is about five inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter. Linda has never been found.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

jack.leonard@latimes.com

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