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Ex-girlfriend recounts Rockefeller impostor's paranoia

Christian Gerhartsreiter threw out his trash in public bins and made her walk on the opposite side of the street, the ex-girlfriend testifies. He is on trial in the 1985 slaying of a San Marino man.

March 27, 2013|By Jack Leonard and Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times
  • Mihoko Manabe, a former girlfriend of murder suspect Christian Gerhartsreiter, appears in court Wednesday. Gerhertsreiter started acting oddly after a Connecticut police detective left a phone message for him, Manabe testified.
Mihoko Manabe, a former girlfriend of murder suspect Christian Gerhartsreiter,… (Walt Mancini / San Gabriel…)

When Christian Gerhartsreiter learned a detective was searching for him, he became paranoid and started living a more clandestine life, a former girlfriend testified Wednesday.

He dyed his dark hair and eyebrows blond. He disposed of his garbage in public trash bins. He had his live-in girlfriend, Mihoko Manabe, walk on the opposite side of the street and refused to exit buildings with her at the same time, Manabe said.

Gerhartsreiter's odd behavior began in 1988 shortly after Greenwich, Conn., police Det. Daniel Allen left a phone message seeking to meet with him, Manabe said. Allen was assisting San Marino police with an investigation into a young couple's disappearance three years earlier.

Prosecutors contend that Gerhartsreiter avoided Allen because he killed his San Marino landlady's son and buried his body in her backyard. John Sohus' body was dug up in 1994, nearly a decade after he and his wife, Linda, vanished. Gerhartsreiter, now on trial for Sohus' murder, was known as Christopher Chichester when he also disappeared from San Marino in 1985. He later resurfaced on the East Coast as Christopher Crowe and, later, Clark Rockefeller.

As Christopher Crowe, Gerhartsreiter had given a Connecticut acquaintance a white pickup truck registered to the Sohuses, prosecutors said. When authorities learned of the truck's whereabouts, they sought to interview Gerhartsreiter about the couple's disappearance.

Manabe said she met Gerhartsreiter in 1987 at Nikko Securities, a Japanese brokerage firm with a New York City office. Manabe worked there as a translator, and Gerhartsreiter, whom she knew as Crowe, was the head of a bond trading department, she said. Within a few months, they began dating, and Gerhartsreiter moved into her Manhattan apartment.

He was fired from Nikko Securities, Manabe said, because "human resources found out that his name wasn't real." He told her his real name was Christopher Chichester Mountbatten. He then took a job with Kidder, Peabody and Co., another New York securities firm, she said.

When Manabe told her boyfriend that Det. Allen had called, Gerhartsreiter said Allen wasn't with the police, that "he was [himself] in danger and that there were people coming to get him and his family," Manabe recalled.

Gerhartsreiter "was an unusual person, but after the call, it was markedly different," she said.

Defense attorney Brad Bailey last week said that his client may have been evasive and tried to avoid Allen, but that did not prove he was a killer.

Shortly after Allen's call, Gerhartsreiter proposed to Manabe, she said. She accepted, though Gerhartsreiter "wanted me to break ties with my family and friends so we could go into hiding," she said. "We were going to go to Europe."

Prosecutors said records show Gerhartsreiter, who was born in Germany, renewed his passport three days after Allen's call.

The couple never went to Europe, Manabe said.

They had their mail sent to post office boxes instead of their address, she said, and Gerhartsreiter shredded their garbage because "he was always paranoid that somebody would be rifling through our trash."

Gerhartsreiter also got rid of his car, telling Manabe he left it on the side of a street because something was wrong with it, and he never drove again, she said. He left his job at Kidder, Peabody "because of his family and his own safety," and never worked again, she said.

"He had no job; he had no ID; he had left society," Manabe said.

In 1989, Manabe and Gerhartsreiter took a trip to Camden, Maine, to look for wedding venues. Gerhartsreiter made a reservation at a restaurant using the name Clark Rockefeller. It was the first time he used the name, she said.

He continued to use it, she said, because "he liked the attention that he got."

Manabe, who spoke quietly on the witness stand, said she was embarrassed to answer questions about the couple's relationship, which lasted until 1994, when she broke up with him.

"It's not part of my life I like to talk about or remember," she said.

jack.leonard@latimes.com

hailey.branson@latimes.com

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