On Wednesday, Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, AKA Clark Rockefeller, learned that he will face a murder trial for the death of his landlord’s son in California. A preliminary hearing took place over five days last week and the week before in Alhambra Superior Court, CA, during which prosecutors presented their case and successfully convinced a judge that there was enough evidence to send Rockefeller to trial.
The young German immigrant, whose legal name was Christian Gerhartsreiter but who at the time went by Christopher Chichester, lived in a guesthouse owned by an older lady named Didi Sohus in San Marino, CA. Her son, John Sohus, and his wife, Linda Sohus, went missing in 1985. His remains were discovered on the property in 1994, cut up wrapped in plastic bags, and stuffed in a box; hers have yet to be found. Meanwhile, Chichester moved from place to place, taking on new names, creating increasingly elaborate and prestigious background stories for himself, and getting by either on the generosity of others or by doing the best he could at various jobs, given that he possessed few of the qualifications he claimed to have. This life unraveled in 2008, when, known as Clark Rockefeller and living in Boston, he was arrested for kidnapping his 7-year-old daughter, Reigh, after a bitter custody dispute with his ex-wife, Sandra Boss. After being convicted of kidnapping and beginning his sentence in a Massachusetts jail, he was indicted in the old murder case and sent to California.
Confused yet? Here is a recap of what we learned during the preliminary hearing:
Wednesday, January 18: Jose Perez, who was digging a pool at the former Sohus property in 1994, testified that his father uncovered a bag of bones, which he initially thought was the remains of a dog. Judith Day of the coroner’s office described how the bones, still clothed, were all separately wrapped in plastic. And Medical examiner Dr. Frank Sheridan said that Sohus’s death was caused by fractures on the right and front sides of the head, made by three blows with a rounded object such as a baseball bat.
Thursday, January 19: San Marino patrolman Thomas LeVeque testified that Didi Sohus believed her son and daughter-in-law were in Paris on a top-secret mission and would not tell investigators anything more, saying that doing so could put them in danger. As time went on and Chichester mysteriously moved away, Didi became more worried and even began drinking, according to her friend, Marianne Kent. She received a postcard that was supposed to be from Linda in Paris, but Lili Hasdell, another former police officer, testified that the handwriting did not match. And Judge William Stewart, who was an attorney and friend of Chichester, testified that he lent him a chainsaw. However, defense lawyers raised the possibility of another suspect, a real estate agent who helped Didi Sohus to sell her house and also did grocery shopping for her, drove her around, and spent a lot of time with her.
Friday, January 20: According to forensic scientist Lynne Herold, four bloodstains were found on the floor of the guesthouse where Chichester lived. The blood showed “wiping patterns,” but it was impossible to determine, with the technology available at the time, whose it was. Additionally, a t-shirt found with John Sohus’s remains had cuts that appeared to have been made by a sharp object.
Monday, January 23: John’s friend, Patrick Rayermann, testified that during a conversation shortly before his disappearance, John spoke of tensions with his mother, and feeling torn between staying with her and moving out with Linda. He also described John as “faultlessly reliable and said that neither he or Linda spoke of any definite plans to go off on their own. Lydia Marano, the owner of the bookstore where Linda worked, said that their relationship “made the rest of us smile” and called her “the most trustworthy person I had working for me.” Harry Sherwood, Didi Sohus’s grandson, said that he found John and Linda’s belongings strewn about, not consistent with a couple who were making a planned, long-term move. An acquaintance, Robert Brown, said that Gerhartsreiter asked him where to dispose of drums of toxic chemicals, saying he used them for his job at USC film school. And other witnesses said that he tried to sell them an oriental rug with a bloodstain on it.
Tuesday, January 24: Mihoko Manabe, who was Rockefeller’s girlfriend for 7 years in New York, when he went by the name Christopher Crowe, testified that he became paranoid after a detective called in 1988, looking for him. He grew a beard, had her die his hair, insisted on not walking with her in public, and planned to leave the country with her, telling her to stop communicating with friends and family and to receive mail at P.O. boxes. He began to use the name Clark Rockefeller after discovering how respectfully he was treated when he used it. After he lost his job as a bond salesman due to his fake identity being discovered, Manabe supported him and got him a credit card under his new name. She described him as someone with “a temper, but not in a physically violent way…He could be very mean.” On the same day, his next-door neighbor in San Marino, Mary Cologne, said that she saw black smoke coming from his chimney one day, which smelled “terrible.” He said he was burning carpet.
The Boston Globe also has an interesting account of Rockefeller’s interview with the FBI after he was arrested in the kidnapping case.
With Sohus’s death taking place so long ago, some witnesses seem to have fuzzy memories, and it is doubtful there will be a lot of forensic evidence in this case. It will be interesting to see whether the circumstantial evidence, which was determined to be enough to establish probable cause, will be enough to convince a jury of his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.