A married couple who disappeared nine years before the husband’s body was discovered buried in his San Marino home’s backyard had struggled financially but were otherwise happy, a friend testified Monday.
Susan Coffman, who described herself as a best friend of the missing Linda Sohus, said she asked her friend one day in the mid-1980s why she and her husband, John, lived with her mother-in-law in the main house, instead of the guest house on the property.
“There’s a renter who lives there and we don’t talk to him because he’s kind of creepy,” Linda told her, Coffman recalled in court.
Prosecutors contend that the renter, Christian K. Gerhartsreiter, murdered John Sohus, whose decomposed body was dug up in 1994, nearly a decade after John and Linda Sohus vanished. Gerhartsreiter – then known as Christopher Chichester – disappeared shortly after the Sohuses in 1985, surfacing on the East Coast under a series of new names, including Clark Rockefeller.
The relationship between John and Linda Sohus has become a crucial theme of the trial, which entered its second week Monday. Deputy Dist. Atty. Habib Balian has tried to paint a portrait of a young couple in love, while Gerhartsreiter’s attorneys have argued that Linda may have killed her husband, noting that she has never been found.
During her testimony, Coffman described the Sohuses as “two contented puppies” who were “happy to be in each other’s presence.” Coffman was the maid of honor in the Sohuses’ Halloween 1983 wedding, which was at her house, she said.
Defense attorneys questioned how much Coffman – who said she saw the couple only a few times in the year before their disappearance – knew about their relationship.
In early 1985, Linda made plans to attend a science fiction convention in Phoenix in March with Coffman, Coffman testified. Shortly after they made the plans, Coffman said she received a strange call from her friend.
Linda said she and John were going to take a two-week trip to New York because he'd gotten a job with the government that she couldn’t say much about, Coffman recalled. Linda, though, said they would be back in time for the convention.
They didn’t come back.
Coffman received an unexpected postcard from Linda and John around April 1985 with a photo of the Eiffel Tower. Its message was short: “Hi Sue – Kinda missed New York (oops) – but this can be lived with – John & Linda.”
The postcard was one of three from the couple that appears to have been written by Linda and mailed to family and friends from France. Balian has accused Gerhartsreiter of using someone to mail the postcards to throw off police investigating the couple’s disappearance, while defense attorneys say Linda could indeed have sent them from abroad.
Coffman said Linda Sohus had never talked about going abroad.
Defense attorneys have said Linda Sohus acted suspiciously before the couple’s disappearance. Though she told Coffman the couple was going on a two-week trip to New York, she told her mother, Susan Mayfield, they were going to Connecticut, Mayfield testified last week.