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Accused killer tried to sell bloodstained rug, witnesses say

March 26, 2013|By Jack Leonard and Hailey Branson-Potts
  • Christian K. Gerhartsreiter, right, with attorney Brad Bailey during a recent court hearing in the ongoing murder trial.
Christian K. Gerhartsreiter, right, with attorney Brad Bailey during… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

A correction has been made to this story

A man charged with the cold-case murder of his San Marino landlady’s adult son in the mid-1980s tried to sell an Oriental rug that appeared to have bloodstains on it around the time the victim and his wife went missing, witnesses testified Tuesday.

Bettie Brown told the court that Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, whom she knew as Christopher Chichester, tried to sell the rug sometime in 1985 and that she told him there was a rust-colored spot about the size of a quarter that looked like blood.

“He just rolled it up, rolled up the rug and left,” Brown testified.

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Her husband, Robert, also testified that Gerhartsreiter did not deny the stain was blood.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Habib Balian has argued that the lack of denial was a tacit admission by Gerhartsreiter that the stain was blood. But a defense attorney noted that Gerhartsreiter never verbally identified the stain as blood.

“You don’t know that that was blood, do you?” attorney Brad Bailey asked Bettie Brown.

“Not absolutely,” she replied.

The prosecution contends that Gerhartsreiter murdered John Sohus, whose decomposed body was dug up in 1994, nearly a decade after John and Linda Sohus vanished. The victim’s body was found in pieces.

Soon after the remains were discovered, forensic experts identified blood on the concrete floor of a guest house on the property owned by John Sohus’ mother. Gerhartsreiter had been living in the guest house until he disappeared shortly after the Sohuses did in 1985. He surfaced soon afterward on the East Coast under a series of new names, including Clark Rockefeller.

Several witnesses testified Tuesday that the man they knew as Chichester claimed to be either a student or an instructor at USC’s film school and a relative of the famous English sailor Sir Francis Chichester, who sailed solo around the world in 1967.

A neighbor of the Sohuses’ on Lorain Road also testified that she smelled burning rubber and saw dark smoke coming from the chimney of the guest house next door. Mary Cologne told the court that she phoned Gerhartsreiter to ask what was going on.

“I’m burning carpet,” she said he told her. “I said, ‘You don’t burn carpet. You throw it away. Please stop! You’re reeking up the neighborhood.' "

She said that the smoke ended within 10 to 15 minutes of her call.

Cologne could not recall exactly when she saw the smoke and estimated it was in the fall of 1984 or early spring of 1985. Friends and relatives of the Sohuses last saw the couple in February 1985.

William Stewart, who made friends with Gerhartsreiter at church, testified that Gerhartsreiter borrowed a chain saw from him sometime in February 1985 or soon after. Stewart, now a Superior Court judge, said that his friend explained that he needed the tool to cut some tree branches that were scraping against the guest house where he was living.

[Correction: March 26, 5:11 p.m. An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that John Sohus' body had been cut up. The body was in separate pieces when it was discovered during excavation by construction workers in 1994 but it is unclear why.]

ALSO:

Was a flamboyant con artist capable of murder? 

Couple's relationship a focus in trial of Rockefeller impostor

Missing couple's relationship described in Rockefeller impostor case

jack.leonard@latimes.com

Twitter: @jackfleonard

hailey.branson@latimes.com

Twitter: @haileybranson

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