Gerhartsreiter Trial Update 3/29

The prosecution in the Gerhartsreiter murder trial spent the week leading jurors through Christian Gerhartsreiter’s transition from his “Chichester” to “Clark Rockefeller” identity.

Gerhartsreiter is charged with the 1985 bludgeoning death of LASFS member John Sohus, whose body was found in 1994 buried in the backyard of the property where John, his wife Linda, his mother Didi, and tenant “Christopher Chichester” (Gerhartsreiter) then lived. Linda has not been seen since that time. 

Gerhartsreiter, who also disappeared in 1985, soon resurfaced on the East Coast under the name Christopher Crowe. As Crowe, Gerhartsreiter gave a Connecticut acquaintance a white pickup truck registered to the Sohuses, prosecutors said. When authorities traced the vehicle to Connecticut they tried to contact Gerhartsreiter and question him about the couple’s disappearance.

Witness Mihoko Manabe 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. Eventually they began dating, and then lived together in her Manhattan apartment.

When a Greenwich, Connecticut detective tried to contact Gerhartsreiter about the Sohus case he changed his name, dyed his hair, and shredded his trash.

“He was always paranoid that someone would be rifling through our trash,” Manabe said. “He always shredded all of the addresses, shredded the garbage and we (always) threw (it) out in a public place. “

Manabe recalled when he began using the Rockefeller name.

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.

“Chichester” was fired from Nikko Securities after its HR department found out that his name wasn’t real. He told Mahabe his real name was “Christopher Chichester Mountbatten.” He got a new job at Kidder, Peabody and Co., another New York securities firm. But he walked away from that job shortly after the Greenwich police detective began trying to meet him at the office.

Ralph Boynton, who was his boss at Kidder, Peabody, testified that he tried on several occasions to arrange a meeting between the detective and Gerhartsreiter at his firm’s New York offices.

Boynton said he did not tell Gerhartsreiter that the detective was looking for him. However, each time the detective was waiting, Gerhartsreiter failed to show up, Boynton said. Finally, Boynton said that in a telephone conversation, Gerhartsreiter asked for an extended leave of absence from the firm, saying “his parents were in harm’s way and possibly being kidnapped by foreign elites.”

By 2000, Gerhartsreiter was living part-time in Cornish, New Hampshire under the name Clark Rockefeller. There he met Christopher Kuzma, who testified that the two remained friends until 2008. Rockefeller made a lot of claims to his friend, among them:

  • He raised bees and was a “microagronomist”;
  • He had a private jet, but the family thought he was using it too much and it was too expensive
  • He and other members of his family had personal chefs on Nantucket Island
  • He owned property in Montana and was neighbors with Kevin Costner in Wyoming
  • He was going to audition for a new version of “Star Wars” and once went on a trip with the movie’s theme composer, John Williams;
  • He was a member of a committee in New York charged with making sure the governor’s mansion there was kept “up to snuff “
  • He consulted with the Conservative Party in Great Britain, which he referred to as “Her Majesty’s opposition “
  • He was a member of the World Bank
  • He helped developed a theory of particle physics known as “The Casimir Effect” and was testing it onboard the International Space Station, before he sold his company to Boeing.

Kuzma said he never questioned Rockefeller’s truthfulness, even though others did.

Links to local reports:

Pasadena Star-News: Murder suspect changed name, hair color and stopped driving when cops sought him for questioning

LA Times: Ex-girlfriend recounts Rockefeller impostor’s paranoia

Pasadena Star-News: Fake Rockefeller trial: Murder suspect told friend outrageous lies

L A Times: Rockefeller impostor avoided East Coast detective, witness says

Pasadena Star-News: Murder suspect claimed to be Quaker, pacifist in TV interview

Gerhartsreiter Trial Update 3/26

The prosecution covered the Sohus missing persons investigation during the Gerhartsreiter trial on Friday, March 22.

A former San Marino police officer told jurors about taking a missing persons report on the couple in April 1985. But after a lengthy sidebar the judge did not permit him to be questioned about certain statements made by Didi Sohus, mother of murder victim John Sohus. In a preliminary hearing last year, the officer said Didi told him she was in contact with her son and daughter-in-law through a secret source, a source who told her not to worry, that John and Linda were on a “top secret” mission and would eventually get in contact with her.

Another San Marino detective contacted Gerhartsreiter as part of the 1985 investigation:

“He was nude. He just came to the door naked,” Yankovich testified. “I asked him to put some clothes on. He said, ‘No, I’m a nudist.’ “

A second missing persons report was taken from Didi Sohus in July 1985 by former San Marino police officer Lili Hadsell after Gerhartsreiter disappeared.

“She was a little agitated,” Hadsell recalled of John’s mother. “She was upset. She came out onto the porch. We talked a little bit. She seemed more agitated and upset than I’d seen her before. “

Detective Yankovich reopened the case in 1988 and learned that a Nissan pickup truck registered to John and Linda was in the possession of a Connecticut couple. He asked a Greenwich detective to follow up on the lead, but never caught up with Gerhartsreiter.

Didi Sohus’ grandson, Harry Sherwood IV, an Army major, and the sole heir to her estate, also testified. He visited the house in November 1985 and said it appeared as if Linda, an artist known as Cody, had left her supplies and completed paintings behind in a bedroom she shared with her husband.

When court resumed on Monday, March 25, a friend of the couple’s, Susan Coffman recalled visiting them in 1983 and asking why they didn’t live in the guest house on the property:

“(Linda) said, ‘Oh, there’s a renter that lives there,'” Coffman recalled. “And, ‘we don’t talk to him because he’s kind of creepy.’ “

Gerhartsreiter was the renter.

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.

Coffman last spoke to Linda in early February 1985. Linda told her John had gotten a job with the government and the couple would be going back East for a couple of weeks. Coffman later received a postcard marked “Paris, France” and signed “John and Linda” with the message, “Hi Sue – Kinda missed New York (oops) but this can be lived with – John + Linda ”

Defense attorneys challenged Coffman about her knowledge of the couple’s relationship. They argue that Linda may have killed her husband, noting that she has never been found.

Patrick Rayermann, a close childhood friend of John Sohus, also testified that he never saw the couple fight. “They seemed very much in love with each other,” Rayermann said.

Key testimony on Tuesday, March 26, came from two men who knew Gerhartsreiter – then going by the name “Christopher Chichester” – through the local Episcopal Church. One of them lent Gerhartsreiter his chainsaw around the time the couple disappeared. The other remembers Gerhartsreiter trying to sell him an Oriental rug, which his wife remarked had bloodstains on it.

“She said, ‘there’s spots,'” Brown recalled. “”There’s a blood spot on there.’ I don’t recall he said anything he just rolled the rug up.”

A neighbor also testified that she smelled burning rubber and saw dark smoke coming from the chimney of the guest house next door, and called to ask Gerhartsreiter 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.

She estimated that she saw the smoke in the fall of 1984 or early spring of 1985. The Sohuses were last seen in February 1985.

Links to local reports:

Pasadena Star-News: Murder suspect told San Marino cop he was a nudist, refused to put on clothes

Pasadena Star-News: How much dirty laundry will be aired? Accused killer’s ex-wife to testify

Pasadena Star-News: Missing woman, slain husband said murder suspect was ‘creepy’

LA Times: Couple’s relationship a focus in trial of Rockefeller impostor

Pasadena Star-News: Murder suspect borrowed chain saw about the time San Marino couple disappeared

LA Times: Accused killer tried to sell bloodstained rug, witnesses say

Gerhartsreiter Trial 3/21

Postcards ostensibly mailed by Linda Sohus from France were the focus of the Gerhartsreiter murder trial on Thursday, March 21.

Susan Mayfield, Linda Sohus’ mother explained how confusing it was to receive her daughter’s postcard mailed from France because she had never talked about leaving the country and lived “paycheck to paycheck.”

The prosecutor accused Gerhartsreiter of using someone to mail three postcards for him to create the illusion John and Linda Sohus were away.

Another witness, Elaine Siskoff, said she received an unexpected postcard years earlier from Gerhartsreiter. She dated him while both were students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the early 1980s. When he left Wisconsin, he told her he was moving to California to pursue an internship with director George Lucas.

The postcard, which was displayed for jurors, bore an image of the queen of England and was mailed from England, which, he wrote, “is just great!” He wrote that he was teaching a Sunday school class in England and would soon be traveling to Africa. Prosecutors have said Gerhartsreiter was in San Marino when the card was mailed.

The LA Times, in another article, caught up with additional testimony given March 19 by someone who knew Gerhartreiter the summer John Sohus was murdered.

Dana Glad Farrar, who knew the defendant as Christopher Chichester, asked him about the overturned dirt while playing Trivial Pursuit at the home months after the landlady’s son John Sohus and his wife went missing in 1985. “He said he had been having plumbing problems,” she testified.

Farrar testified Gerhartsreiter claimed to be descended from royalty, 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.

Sohus Murder Described For Court

On the second day of testimony in the Gerhartsreiter muder trial, the jury heard a description of John Sohus’ death based on physical evidence.

Dr. Frank Sheridan, the San Bernardino County Coroner, reviewed the fractures in Sohus’ skull and said they “occurred at or about the time of death.”

“When they happened the victim was still alive, but died very soon after,” he said. “That’s what I determined from these fractures. ”

Sheridan, who has performed nearly 9,000 autopsies, said the fatal blows were delivered to Sohus’ skull with a blunt, perhaps rounded, object and rendered with a force as high as 1,000 pounds per square inch.

Sheriff’s criminologist Lynne Herrold testified about the plastic book bags that held John Sohus’ head, the condition of Sohus’ clothing, and blood evidence in the guest house where Gerhartsreiter lived when he was Chichester in San Marino.

The plastic bag containing Sohus’ head came from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. That style was only used from 1979 to 1983, testified a university bookstore manager. Gerhartsreiter was a student at the university in during that period.

Herrold stated that in June 1994 investigators using luminol detected four blood spots in the guest house. One of the stains was 25 inches wide. It is still unknown how long the blood had been there, who it belonged to and whether it is human blood, she said.

She testified that based on the small cuts in the shirt Sohus had on when buried it appeared he had been stabbed six times, and discoloration of those cuts indicated they occurred about the time he died. The cuts, she said, were to the left shoulder of the shirt and the left elbow, suggesting Sohus’ arm was raised when the cuts were inflicted or that he was cut from behind.

Two acquaintances of Gerhartsreiter also testified about his life history, Ed Savio, a San Francisco screenwriter whose family hosted Gerhartsreiter in 1978 and early 1979, and Elmer Kelln, a Loma Linda man who first met Gerhartsreiter in Bavaria in 1978.

Here are links to local news reports.

Pasadena Star News
Witnesses recall fake Rockefeller as teen who loved America

Los Angeles Times
Fatal blows described in Rockefeller impostor case

Gerhartsreiter Murder Trial 3/19

Witnesses described for the court the 1994 discovery of John Sohus’ remains on the first full day of testimony at the Christian Gerhartsreiter murder trial.

Jose Perez Jr., who with his father dug nearly 9,000 pools in the San Gabriel Valley, was driving a Bobcat and digging about three feet below the surface when he struck something.

“We thought it was bags of garbage,” Perez, now a cement truck driver, recalled.  “After my father dragged that bag off to the side, he pulled out one of the bags and started digging through it. He grabbed a piece of rebar and pulled out a skull. At that point we were all freaked out.  He sat the skull down and called the cops.”

Joe Lucero, a former San Marino police officer, testified he was called to the scene because a human skeleton had been unearthed.

 “San Marino is a very exclusive neighborhood,” he said. “Something like that just doesn’t happen.”

John Sohus’ mother, Didi, owned the property until she sold it in 1986.

Gerhartsreiter Murder Trial, Day 1

Attorneys made their opening statements in the trial of murder suspect Christian Gerhartsreiter on Monday, March 18.

Prosecutor Habib Balian told about John and Linda Sohus who, “without explanation, without any apparent reason, in early February of 1985, just vanished… and left their family and friends behind.” John’s body was discovered buried in his mother’s backyard in 1994, near a guest house where the defendant lived until shortly after the couple disappeared.

Balian acknowledged that some postcards sent to friends of Linda Sohus in April of 1985 were likely written by the missing woman —

But, “The experts will tell you that Linda did not write these postcards under normal circumstances,” Balian said. “The evidence will show you she did not send these from Paris, France. ”

“Besides,” Balian noted, Linda had no desire to go abroad. She had no passport, no money and no connections in Europe. “

Balian did not discuss any motive Gerhartsreiter had for the murder, or any physical evidence, like DNA, that would link him to the crime.

The defense’s opening statement by Gerhartsreiter’s attorney Brad Bailey pointed to John Sohus’ wife, Linda, as his murder.

“There isn’t going to be much more than that in terms of solid evidence to this quite old, once quite cold and still untold case,” he said…

Although Linda Sohus was never found, authorities have said they presume her to be dead.

Bailey told jurors it was possible that Linda Sohus, whom he described as “just as odd” as his client, killed her husband.

“There are just as reasonable inferences for you to assume that John Sohus’ murderer might have been … the missing Linda Sohus,” Bailey said.

The attorneys previewed one conflict over DNA evidence – Balian said a DNA analysis of stamps on three postcards sent by Linda Sohus indicated none were licked by Gerhartsreiter or either of the missing couple. In response, Bailey said the defense would produce a witness who will say Linda cannot be ruled out as a source of DNA on those postcards.

Here are links to first day coverage by local reporters.

Pasadena Star-News:

Jurors hear arguments in fake Rockefeller murder trial

Exclusive: Fake Rockefeller attorneys plan to pin murder on missing wife

Los Angeles Times:

Rockefeller impostor deceived and murdered, prosecutors claim

Rockefeller impostor acted odd but isn’t a killer, his lawyers say

Gerhartsreiter Murder Trial Starts Today

Linda and John Sohus

Linda and John Sohus. Photo by Lydia Marano, taken at her Dangerous Visions Bookstore.

“Only his lawyers still call him ‘Mr. Rockefeller,’” begins Christiane Heil’s trial preview for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. (It’s in German, so I resorted to Google Translate.)

Heil sent me some questions over the weekend and I responded by explaining my interest in the Sohuses and why I’ve pursued the case through File 770. Here’s the essence —

At its peak in the 1980s, LASFS’ weekly club meetings attracted 150 attendees. That’s when John Sohus and Linda Mayfield Sohus were active. John assisted in the club library for awhile.

I was acquainted with both of them, but wasn’t among the friends who socialized with them outside of club meetings.

A lot of people passed through the club, and when members marry that often leads them in another direction. After John and Linda married, eventually I stopped seeing them around. I didn’t attach any significance to it. Initially I didn’t consider it a “disappearance.” However, in time, some of their closer friends wondered what happened to them and asked around the club for information. Nothing was known until John’s body was discovered almost a decade later.

I didn’t meet or hear about Gerhartsreiter (under that name or his alias) in those days.

I started following the story once Gerhartsreiter was named as a suspect because the victims were fans I had once known. I feel outrage against what we now know happened to them. Beyond that, I feel the same sadness as when I hear another club member has passed away (from health reasons), who died alone and is discovered later — that it’s somehow unfair to go alone. In John’s case, he met a terrifying end, which also makes me want to follow this case because the person who did it (if Gerhartsreiter is that person) should not get away with it.

Having written so often about the case I’ve certainly thought about attending the trial, unfortunately, my hearing (even with hearing aids) is so bad I probably wouldn’t be able to follow what’s going on. However, Frank Girardot’s coverage for the Pasadena Star-News has been excellent and I’m relying on him for the daily details.

Gerhartsreiter Trial Preparations

Juror screening in the Gerhartsreiter case began on Monday, March 11. Court resumed on Tuesday as attorneys made motions about evidence to be considered at trial.

Gerhartsreiter is accused of killing LASFS member John Sohus with a dangerous weapon, Judge George Lomelli told potential jurors. Sohus and his wife Linda Sohus disappeared in February 1985 from their home on Lorain Road in San Marino.

The accused is being held in Men’s Central Jail in lieu of $10 million bail. His defense team includes Brad Bailey and Jeffrey Denner, of Boston, and Danielle Menard of Providence. The prosecutor is Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian.

Attorneys may call as many as 93 witnesses, among them Rockefeller’s former wife, Sandra Boss, 15 law enforcement officers, 15 experts, and several residents or former residents ofSan Marino, the town where the murder occurred and Gerhartsreiter once lived under the name Christopher Chichester, the XIII baronet of Chichester.

On Tuesday, Gerhartsreiter’s attorneys Denner and Bailey acknowledged that he’s unlikely to testify in his own defense, but if he does Judge Lomeli will allow his 2009 conviction in Massachussets for child abduction to be admitted. Prosecutor Habib Balian argued the conviciton is evidence of “moral turpitude.”

Defense attorneys reportedly will be allowed to argue to jurors that a third party may have killed John Sohus.

The potential jurors return to the courtroom Friday morning. If the panel is completed in time, trial is set to begin Monday March 18, 2013.

Gerhartsreiter Trial Preliminaries

Jury selection has begun in the trial of Christian Gerhartsreither, accused of murdering LASFS member John Sohus in 1985, reports the LA Times.

Like the Wizard of Oz, a man born in a German village was a master of illusion, taking on many names before becoming the self-proclaimed Boston socialite Clark Rockefeller with a lifestyle to match.

But Christian Gerhartsreiter’s illusions came at a deadly price, Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Habib Balian said. With jury selection starting Monday in the three-decade-old slaying of John Sohus, the man of many names will mostly be referred to as “the defendant.”