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'Rockefeller' remembers couple who vanished

The man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller has repeatedly denied any link to a Southern California couple who disappeared 23 years ago.  Now he says he's starting to remember.
Image: Clark Rockefeller
The man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller, right, stands with his attorney, Stephen Hrones, during his arraignment in Boston on Tuesday.Essdras M. Suarez / Pool via Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Blaming a faulty memory, the man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller has repeatedly denied allegations of an alias-filled past and any link to a Southern California couple who disappeared 23 years ago.

Now he says he's starting to remember.

More than a week after being charged with kidnapping his daughter from Boston, the man has admitted using aliases and knowing the newlyweds who went missing in 1985.

His attorney said his client remembers only "bits and pieces" of his life before 1993, but authorities said they have figured out much of the man's past and have deemed him a "person of interest" in the couple's disappearance.

On Monday, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said the suspect is a German who lived in the guesthouse of the young couple.

Spokesman Steve Whitmore said investigators “positively identified” Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter as the man being held in Boston and wanted for questioning in the disappearance of Jonathan and Linda Sohus.

Police: Planned kidnappingGerhartsreiter had been living under the name Clark Rockefeller. Police have said he snatched his daughter from a Boston street on July 27 in an elaborately planned kidnapping in which he hired two people to drive them to New York.

He was caught Aug. 2 in Baltimore, where he had bought a home and boat.

Gerhartsreiter went by the name Christopher Chichester when he was a guest at the San Marino home of the couple now presumed dead. Chichester has long been suspected in their disappearances.

The alleged aliases appear to reflect a twisted life of multiple identities that unraveled last week. If authorities and reports are to be believed, Gerhartsreiter was many things besides the suspect in the California disappearances:

  • As Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, he lived with families in Connecticut until he wore their hospitality thin.
  • A teen husband who left his wife in Wisconsin a day after they wed.
  • A Wall Street bond salesman named Christopher Crowe, who talked a good game but rarely closed a deal.
  • A stay-at-home dad who lived in a $2 million brownstone in Boston's tony Beacon Hill neighborhood until his wealthy wife divorced him when she grew suspicious of his background.

Rockefeller’s Boston attorney, Stephen Hrones, said at a news conference Monday that his client has acknowledged using the name Christopher Chichester while living in California, and that he remembers the Sohuses.

Hrones said Rockefeller told him that he barely knew the couple and that they left while he was still in California.

“He was aspiring to be an actor out there. He was trying to get into the acting business and he thought it was a more appropriate name,” Hrones said.

“There is nothing wrong with using aliases as long as you don’t use it to defraud,” said the attorney, who said Rockefeller also remembers using the alias Christopher Crowe while he worked on Wall Street.

Hrones said his client remembers little of his past, believes his real name is Clark Rockefeller and has no memory of being Christian Gerhartsreiter.

'Doesn’t remember anything'
When told that Los Angeles County investigators had identified Rockefeller as Gerhartsreiter and Chichester, Hrones said, “They can do what they want with it, but he doesn’t remember anything. He remembers nothing before 1993, except for little bits and pieces.” 

"There are certain things you know you didn't do," Hrones said.

Los Angeles police said Rockefeller's prints matched those on an old license application submitted by Chichester, who has long been a suspect in the disappearance of Jonathan and Linda Sohus.

Rockefeller's prints also match those on a stockbroker license application filed under the name Christopher Crowe, The Boston Globe reported Friday, citing unnamed law enforcement sources.

The district attorney’s office and FBI in Boston said Monday they were not ready to declare that Rockefeller and Gerhartsreiter are the same person.

In the San Marino case, skeletal remains were unearthed at the Sohus property in 1994 when new owners were putting in a swimming pool. Investigators at the time were unable to identify the bones but believed they probably belonged to Jonathan Sohus. Investigators have requested a new round of forensic tests, Whitmore said.

'You found my brother'
The strongest word on his true identity came Friday, when a man in Germany told reporters Rockefeller was his brother, Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, the son of an artist and homemaker in Upper Bavaria who felt like he was better than his modest upbringing.

"It seems you found my brother," Alexander Gerhartsreiter said upon being handed a photograph of Rockefeller by a Boston Herald reporter who visited his home. "It is really a shock."

He said his older brother was born Feb. 21, 1961, in Siegsdorf, Germany, and was raised until 1978 in the same house where his family still lives today. Gerhartsreiter said his brother moved to Connecticut as a student and never returned, initially keeping in contact but out of touch since he called his parents in 1985 — the year the couple in California and their tenant Chichester disappeared.

Hrones said Rockefeller speaks German but does not remember living in the country or having a German brother. He said Rockefeller remembers only "tidbits" of his childhood — including going to Mount Rushmore in a station wagon and having a Scottish nanny.

Gerhartsreiter said his brother had told his family he had taken the name Christopher Chichester because his given name was too difficult for Americans.

"I think Germany was too small for him," Gerhartsreiter told a Boston Globe reporter who also visited him at his home Friday. "He wanted to live in the big country and maybe get famous. Now that I see all this, he's really famous."

Hrones said Rockefeller's memories begin around 1993. In 1995, he married Sandra Boss, a senior partner in the London office of the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. She has not responded to requests for comment left with her employer.

At least two families in Connecticut said Rockefeller is certainly the same young man who came to live with them when he was a teenager.

'Better than the rest of us'
Steve Savio, 39, of Berlin, Conn., said his family met him after answering an advertisement in a newspaper from a visiting German teen looking for a place to live.

"I recall him thinking he's better than the rest of us," Savio said. "I recall him telling stories about having servants growing up and like that."

Savio said he last saw the man he knew as Christian Reiter in 1981 but said he kept in contact with his mother, telling her he was using the name Christopher Crowe to open a production company. Savio said the FBI interviewed his mother in 1988 after a man identifying himself as Christopher Crowe tried to sell a pickup truck in Connecticut belonging to the missing Californians, Jonathan and Linda Sohus. He apparently fled before authorities could track him down.

Crowe is also the name on the stockbroker license application with fingerprints linked to Rockefeller, according to the Globe. A former colleague at Nikko Securities International, Richard Barnett, told the newspaper, "The man knew very little about corporate bonds."

Records reviewed by The Associated Press show that after Gerhartsreiter left Connecticut, he went to Wisconsin, where he married 22-year-old Amy Jersild on Feb. 20, 1981, at the Dane County courthouse in Madison. He was 19 at the time — and the marriage enabled him to get a green card.

He left the next day, according to divorce records Jersild filed 11 years later. On them, she listed his address as "unknown."