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When a ‘Rockefeller’ almost got away with murder

Investigative journalist Aphrodite Jones takes on the case of a creepy ‘Rockefeller’ who killed a woman and kidnapped a child

-APHRODITE JONES

For some reason, we all have an obsession with wealth. We all know money isn’t everything, and yet we often find ourselves wondering things like, “who’s the richest person in the room,” or “who’s the richest actor in Hollywood?” Does it really matter to us? Does it change our lives in any way? Of course not – it’s just an obsessive curiosity that’s fed by a media machine that tends to focus on the lives of the rich and famous.

How about a person who was so obsessed with wealth, that he was willing to go to any length to portray himself as being from one the the richest families in America? This is what a man called Clark Rockefeller was able to do – and he passed his scheme off for many years, linking himself to American aristocracy, all the while being wanted for questioning in a double missing persons’ case that had been reported in California in 1985.

Why couldn’t police catch this imposter? How did Rockefeller live in the lap of luxury for over 25 years while the law continued to search for him? It’s hard to believe this kind of thing could happen today, with all the smartphones and cameras watching us like Big Brother. But back in the 1980s, “Rockefeller” was able to use a string of names and false identities to throw police off.

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter,center, originally from Germany and who calls himself Clark Rockefeller, appears in municipal court for a pre-trial hearing in Boston Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2008, flanked by his lawyer Stephen Hrones, left, and an unidentified court officer, right. Gerhartsreiter has been charged with kidnapping his 7-year-old daughter in late July. (AP Photo/Mark Garfinkel, Pool)

In times when we all worry about our identities being stolen by someone on the internet, when we worry about fraud charges on our bank cards and fake emails with viruses, it should come as no surprise that once upon a time – before things went cyber – it was even easier to be to steal someone’s identity, entirely.

The FBI chase to find “Rockefeller” became one of the longest chases in the history of the FBI. Turns out this con man was smart, he was lucky, and was always one step ahead of them. It was such a different world back then. We sometimes forget that there was no FaceBook, no Instagram, no Snapchat, nothing instantly connecting people at the time.

This mysterious man, who used the names Chrisopher Crowe, Chis Chichester, Chris Gerhard, Clark Rockefeller and other identities, had reached the pinnacle of New York society in the 1990’s, marrying a Harvard MBA graduate and becoming a New York stockbroker himself.

A house is photographed at 1920 Lorain Road in San Marino, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2008. The previous owners of the property, Jonathan and Linda Sohus, vanished without a trace in 1985. A man known as Clark Rockefeller accused of kidnapping his 7-year-old daughter during a visit in Boston, is a “person of interest” in the case of Jonathan and Linda Sohus. After his arrest in Baltimore, police realized Rockefeller’s fingerprints matched those on an old license application submitted by Christopher Chichester _ a man who lived in a guesthouse on the Sohus’ property and was a target of the initial investigation. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

But Rockefeller was hiding a secret, and that monstrous secret would be unearthed when the remains of a 27-year-old man were discovered in the backyard of a wealthy enclave in California, a place called San Marino, just outside of Los Angeles. The remains of John Sohus were the missing link needed to bring a murder charge against the man who called himself “Rockefeller.“ But incredibly, it would take another criminal event, a kidnapping that occurred years after the discovery of the body, before law enforcement could piece the puzzle together.

I went to San Marino to dig deeper into this story. What was “Rockefeller’s” motive?  The prosecutors at his murder trial never offered one. More importantly, I knew John’s remains were found, but what ever became of Linda Sohus?

Would justice ever be served for Linda?

A Man Called  Rockefeller is the subject my podcast SEX LOVE & MURDER, dropping this Saturday August 26th at 11PM. Tune in and give us your feedback on Twitter @slmpodcast, or on Facebook at Sex Love & Murder. I’d love to hear your comments on this extraordinary case.

 

 

[Feature Photo: AP/Ted Fitzgerald, Pool]