Sandra Boss and Clark Rockefeller had been very much in love when they first met. But their rushed marriage, hastily-conceived daughter, and Carl’s general unpleasantness ensured that the inevitable divorce was a messy one.
It was during a supervised visitation of Clark’s daughter one July morning that the squabbling and sniping between the two parties came to a head. Clark, his seven-year-old daughter, and a social worker were walking through the neighborhood when an SUV pulled up abruptly, Clark pushed the social worker, grabbed up his daughter, and jumped into the car…
Holding on Tight
The brave social worker did everything she could to stop the kidnapping, even going so far as to grab hold of the vehicle. She was dragged a short distance but eventually lost her grip and fell roughly to the road. Later that night, the police issued a warrant for the arrest of Clark Rockefeller and began the week-long search for both him and his daughter.
A week later, police discovered Clark Rockefeller in Baltimore living under the name Charles “Chip” Smith. He had purchased a $450,000 apartment and even kept a catamaran in the local marina. The police actually lured him out of his apartment by having the marina owner call and say his boat was taking on water. As soon as he stepped out the door, they cuffed him.
The police found the seven-year-old girl inside the apartment, safe and sound. The kidnapper was charged with kidnapping, assault, and battery. It was only when they began the process of booking Rockefeller that the police noticed something peculiar. Their initial fingerprint analysis had come up with some rather interesting results.
Before he could be transferred back to Boston, Rockafeller’s fingerprints were taken by FBI agents. The Feds compared the impressions to a number of latent prints from various sources, including one from a wine glass they’d examined early in their search for the kidnapper. Both the prints were inconclusive but led the investigators to a startling revelation.
As it turned out, the man who called himself James Frederick Mills Clark Rockefeller was not that person, nor was he even the slightest bit Rockefeller. He’d been living under the assumed identity for years, hoping it would gain him notoriety. It did a fair bit more than that. As to who he actually was, however, that would take police some time to suss out.
The Early Years
His real name was Christian Gerhartsreiter, son of Simon and Irmgard Gerhartsreiter, of Bavaria, Germany. Born in 1960, Gerhartsreiter moved to the United States after meeting an American couple in his native Germany. Once he learned their names, he was able to obtain permission to enter the US as the couple’s “guest.” This first trip to California set the tone for his whole deceitful life.
Gerhartsreiter arrived in New York and from there, headed to Berlin, Connecticut, where he met a friendly family willing to take him in. Of course, when the Savios agreed to let him live with them, it was because they believed him to be a foreign exchange student. Things were good for a while, but something about the young man unnerved the Savio family.
Gerhartsreiter liked to embellish certain aspects of his life. He told the Savios that he had come from a wealthy German family. Charming as he was, his lies were usually enough to ingratiate him into most people’s good graces; at least at first anyway. Eventually, the Savios got tired of his smugness and lying and cut him loose. Undaunted, Gerhartsreiter headed west.
Following his unceremonious exit from the Savio household, Gerhartsreiter decided to pursue the reason he’d come to the US in the first place. He wanted to make it big in Hollywood but knew that California was a long way off. On the way there, he settled in Milwaukee, changed his name to Christopher Kenneth Gerhart, and enrolled in a class at the University of Wisconsin.
Love and Lies
He was getting comfortable in his new country but knew that if he wanted to stay indefinitely, he needed a green card. He managed to persuade 22-year-old Amy Jersild Duhnke to marry him by explaining that if he was forced to go back to Germany, he’d be sent to fight in the Cold War on the Russian front line. A day after they were married, Gerhartsreiter left his wife and continued on to California.
Gerhartsreiter soon found himself in San Marino and decided to start the newest stage of his life with another new name. The newly-named Christopher Chichester moved into the guesthouse of a woman named Didi. Soon after moving in though, Didi’s son Jonathan Sohus went missing, and so did his wife.
Didi’s new tenant was a person of interest right from the start. Despite this, he seemed to offer a reasonable explanation for the family’s disappearance. Gerhartsreiter told police that Jon and Linda had traveled to Europe and their family even got a postcard from France soon after the story began circulating. Still, something about the situation sat poorly with police.
Gerhartsreiter had worn out his welcome in the west. Suspected of murder and coming off a sham marriage, he decided to relocate to the East Coast. Eventually, police picked him up in Greenwich, Connecticut. He had been driving a pickup that had previously belonged to Jonathan Sohus. Still, there was no proof that either of the Sohuses were dead, so they let him go.
Years later, police discovered what they believed to be the buried bones of Jonathan Sohus in his mother’s backyard. A cursory DNA test and forensic examination revealed that they were indeed Jon’s remains. He had been struck in the head by a blunt object, stabbed twice, and his body cut into three parts. His wife’s bones were not found. By that point though, Gerhartsreiter was long gone.
Gerhartsreiter settled in Greenwich and took on a new identity. Christopher C. Crowe, as he was now called, apparently worked as a television producer from Los Angeles who had worked on the 1980s remake of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Because Christopher Crowe was the name of one of the actual producers of the series, the lie was fairly ironclad.
Fired and Fleeing
“Mr. Crowe” soon found himself a job at the brokerage firm S.N. Phelps and Company. His job was to work with the firm’s computers but he was fired when the HR department discovered the social security number he had used actually belonged to serial killer David Berkowitz. Realizing the police were still looking for him in regards to the Sohuses, he fled further north.
In Boston, Gerhartsreiter became James Frederick Mills Clark Rockefeller. It was risky to use the name of such a wealthy, influential American family, but the gambit worked. Before long, he and Sandra Boss became involved. She was a successful businesswoman and he was a charming Rockefeller heir. It seemed like the perfect match.
The honeymoon period didn’t last long. Gerhartsreiter was emotionally abusive and very angry. He was paranoid, for obvious reasons, and it made him very guarded, especially when it came to their shared finances. At his constant urging, Boss eventually ceded control of their finances to her husband. He had to ensure she never learned his true identity.
He even went so far as to hire an “accountant” to do their taxes for them so that she could file single tax returns. Boss wasn’t a fool. She knew that something wasn’t right and eventually hired a private investigator to track down who Gerhartsreiter actually was. Once she’d discovered the truth, the two divorced and Boss got sole custody of their daughter.
Gerhartsreiter was convicted of kidnapping and while in prison, was also convicted of the murder of Jonathan Sohus. Over the years, he had lived under multiple aliases. He’d been an actor, director, art collector, physicist, a ship’s captain, and an English aristocrat. In the end, though, the only true thing he was, was a criminal.