Dateline   |  April 17, 2013

April 17: 'Behind Closed Doors', Part 4

Detectives find their mystery man posing as a Rockefeller, caught in the center of a tense family drama.

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

>>> the news out of boston was crazy. a head scratcher that screamed front page .

>> a bitter divorce, a bizarre kidnapping, a famous last name.

>> it all seemed worlds away from the decades old murder case in california , john sohus, who had gone missing with his wife linda . but for some the link in boston was related to the long forgotten murder.

>> some at the party recognized him, and so did his old neighbors in san marino .

>> what the fbi's wanted poster did was set off these sparks of recognition. people knew that clark was chris.

>> clark rockefeller -- yes, he said, one of those rockefellers -- appeared to be the latest and boldest reinvention yet of the guest house tenant who's slipped under the radar ten years ago. it was an audacious lie now unraveling nightly on the 6:00 news. the story line was this clark rockefeller had been divorced after 12 years of marriage to a big money business consultant named sandra boss, and in a bitter custody battle after his quiet life of privilege, he kidnapped their little daughter, nicknamed snooks, and gone on the lam. for the love of his daughter, the narrative went, he risked everything.

>> the sympathetic mother pleaded on national television for her daughter's return.

>> i ask you now, please, please bring snooks back.

>> she wasn't much help to the fbi because, like the public, she said, she had no idea who her husband really was. the conman had been passing himself off as a rockefeller in high society circles for well over a decade.

>> is then i said, clark rockefeller and put his picture up there, and i almost fell off the elliptical machine.

>> socialite roxanne remembered meeting clark rockefeller at a manhattan art gallery .

>> he had been very polite and a gentleman.

>> rockefeller , her new gentleman friend, liked to send weird and provocative text messages , one sent, he claimed, while he was giving a private tour of the metropolitan museum of art . this one, "in a submarine, crowded, strange. thought of you just a minute ago."

>> the texts were so wild and so farfetched, i would just giggle and go where does he come up with this stuff?

>> there was something odd about him, but his name --

>> one of my friends could have sworn he was definitely a rockefeller because of his bone structure.

>> it was a convincing cover that had lasted years. but by the time he was caught, six days into his flight with snooks, the fraud was exposed, and his real name , christian karl gerhartsreiter, in every front page top of the news cast story. in california , investigators immediately reopened the john sohus homicide case, and the leads started pouring in.

>> we got a lot of phone calls. a lot of people that did not come forward in '94 came forward in 2008 . so there were some new pieces of information that we got as a result of the publicity.

>> for sue coffman, best friend of the still missing linda sohus, it was reason to hope after all these years.

>> oh, my god, this is really an answer. it may not be definitive, but this guy knows something.

>> if he did, he certainly wasn't telling the police, but he did have plenty to say to nbc's natalie morales in his only televised interview.

>> are you a mystery man?

>> i'd like to be known as a good man, if anything. i like to be known as a quiet man living a quiet life .

>> he admitted using a string of fake names, chris chichester one of them.

>> you assumed different identities?

>> yes, but for a specific purpose, much like a writer to take a pen name .

>> but what about the murder of john sohus? did he have anything to say about that?

>> did you kill john and linda sohus?

>> my entire life, i've always been a pacifist. i'm a quaker. and i believe in nonviolence. and i can fairly certainly say that i've never hurt anyone.

>> when i saw that, i thought that was the closest thing to a confession i had ever seen or heard. what do you say, did you kill john and linda sohus?

>> i think you say no.

>> but you don't say, i'm a quaker.

>> even as clark rockefeller 's kidnapping case played out in boston , the california investigators were quietly at work building a case for murder.

>> so we basically had to do cpr on this case and just get it up and running.

>> to resuscitate the case, they went back to find those folks who had known the suspect when he was calling himself the 13th baronet, christopher chichester , to the episcopal church , where he'd worked his charms after sunday services. one man remembered chichester asking to borrow a chain saw . and now dana ferrare told the detectives something that seemed like key evidence. during one of chichester 's backyard trivial pursuit parties, she noticed a part of the lawn looked like it had been freshly dug up.

>> i said to him, what's with your yard? what's happened to your yard? and he just said, well, i'm having plumbing problems.

>> detectives were astounded at the implications.

>> at that point, he's taking ownership of the grave because that's exactly where john's body was found.

>> and detectives poring over the evidence from the washington kidnapping case found this. reason to believe their prime suspect had totally rebooted hids identity after san marino .

>> in boston , we found some documents and computer hard drives. his life begins roughly in 1988 .

>> what does that tell you?

>> i would say it's some evidence of a consciousness of guilt, of trying to erase part of one's life.

>> but detectives couldn't erase the nagging questions about linda , the victim's wife. was she still alive? remember those postcards from paris? she had apparently sent them all after the couple had disappeared.

>> you also couldn't eliminate the wife who's also missing and whose remains or body had themselves not been found?

>> yes. that obviously is something that we had to look at. however, the more we dug into linda sohus, we just couldn't find anything sinister or any plausible reason why she would do this or that she had the means to disappear and start a new life.

>> was the case trial ready? the answer was at hand, with christian gerhartsreiter extradited from boston to california , now officially a defendant in a case of murder.