Dateline   |  April 17, 2013

April 17: 'Behind Closed Doors', Part 1

John Sohus and his wife Linda go missing in 1985.  Police find conflicting an confusing accounts on their whereabouts from friends and family.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> it was a brutal crime, buried over the years by dirt and lies, but there he was finally in a los angeles county courtroom to stand trial for it all.

>> he came here with nothing, and then he ended up as a fake rockefeller.

>> the world first came to know him as a phony rockefeller, who made headlines for duping a string of bright, if gullible women.

>> they couldn't tell me who i was married to.

>> as followers of his story came to know, he used his awed audacious talent for lying to live the good life. but was he something else, something darker, something evil?

>> adds up to the picture of a guy who's probably committed a brutal homicide.

>> those inside the investigation reveal how they assembled a case for murder from shards of evidence scattered over 28 years and thousands of miles.

>> there really isn't a smoking gun. it's a lot of pieces to the puzzle.

>> would the pieces come together to form a portrait of a killer ?

>> if you're looking for a setting for a mystery, san marino wasn't the place, and the house since rebuilt hardly the ideal stage. that's where quiet john sohus lived.

>> he was probably reasonably shy and reserved.

>> patrick was john's childhood friend . he remembers john as a bit of a momma's boy, and as he was, a bit of a nerd.

>> john and i shared a love of star trek .

>> i have not been able to gather sufficient data for that.

>> we would try to outtrivia the other individual, compare theories about warp speed travel.

>> you guys are middle school kids and talking about warp speed failures.

>> well, without advanced mathematics, but yes.

>> eventually, john's enthusiasm for science fiction morphed into a passion for another galaxy that was suddenly accessible in the '80s, computers. the nerd became the prototype for today's tech geek, a digital explorer living happily at home with his mom well into his 20s, and then he discovered love.

>> did you sense a connection between the two of them?

>> i certainly had the sense that they were soul mates .

>> her name was linda . like john, she loved science fiction and fantasy .

>> linda 's pal sue coffman said they complimented each other, as opposites often do. he was shy, she was outgoing. he was short, she was tall and towered over them. a quirky couple who just clicked, laughingly choosing halloween as their wedding day in 1983 . with money tight, they started their life together living in the house on lorraine road. sue remembers linda complaining about john's mom didi , who liked her cocktails early and often on many days.

>> his mom is a drunk and a smoker, and i really don't like being around her and the smoke and everything. she's a cool old lady, but i just try and avoid her like crazy.

>> but linda and john couldn't avoid didi because the guest house on the property where they might have set up house had a tenant.

>> she goes, we can't live there because that's where the renter is. i'm like, oh, renter's paying money. you guys can't. renter gets the better place .

>> with the renter in no hurry to leave and a newlywed stuck in the main house, john and linda focused on their careers. they proudly made their first major purchase, a new truck.

>> they were so happy when they showed up at my house. i don't even remember if they called first or actually just drove up one day and said, look, we're in a car.

>> with a new ride and a bit of money, they planned a first road trip with sue, to a big sci-fi convention in phoenix. in early 1985 , weeks before the event, linda called sue with a puzzling announcement.

>> first thing was we're going to new york. i'm going, what are you going to new york for? well, john looks like he has an interview with a government job or something.

>> she says, we're going to be back in two weeks.

>> yeah, we're going to be back in a couple of weeks in time for us to get our stuff together and get this trip on the way.

>> except they didn't make it back in time. when the weeks rolled on with no word from her friend, sue naturally began to worry. she called john's mother, didi .

>> she was like, i don't know, they're in paris . and i'm thinking paris , california. and he goes, i don't know, paris , france. she's just three or four sheets to the wind. and i'm just kind of like right.

>> and something else made no sense at all. you see, linda had abandoned her beloved cats at a pet hotel.

>> her cats were her absolute love of her life. she would not have left her cats of her own free will.

>> linda 's family was along too and filed a missing persons report. when san marino police followed up by visiting john's mother didi , she told them the same strange story.

>> didi said they weren't missing. they were on a job interview that was secret.

>> jim miley and delores scott are detectives with the los angeles county sheriff 's department.

>> kind of weird on its own that didi said my son and his wife are on this secret job interview ?

>> i mean, she truly believed that he was off on a secret mission job, and that's what she had been told.

>> it was so odd, were the young couple missing or not? an officer knocked on the door to the guest house where didi 's tenant lived.

>> so he went back there to get some more information as to what he might have known about linda and john. in fact, he came to the door naked.

>> buck naked ?

>> buck naked .

>> the tenant in his birthday suit said his name was christopher chichester but had nothing to say about john and linda . there was nowhere to go with the missing persons case, not then, but something was about to change with the question that hung in the area and wouldn't go away. where exactly were john and linda ?