German con man denies murder charges in California

9th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

A German man who passed himself off as an heir to the wealthy Rockefeller family pleaded not guilty on Friday to a 1985 murder.

Fifty-year-old Christian Gerhartsreiter was charged last March in the February 1985 murder of his former landlord John Sohus, and was transferred to LA this week from a Massachusetts prison.

On Friday Judge Carlos A. Uranga ordered him to be held without bail until August 16, when a a date will be set for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to require him to stand trial.

The victim and his wife were last seen in 1985. A short time after they disappeared, a man calling himself Christopher Chichester, who lived in a home behind the victim's in San Marino, northeast of Los Angeles, also vanished.

Investigators discovered that Christopher Chichester was one of many aliases used by Gerhartsreiter, who also passed himself off as a member of the wealthy Rockefeller family.

The body of John Sohus was finally discovered in 1994 in the Sohus garden. His wife has never been found.

"An investigation determined he was killed by blunt force trauma to the head," said Jane Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

If found guilty, Gerhartsreiter faces a possible prison sentence of 26 years to life, according to the prosecution.

"Finally we believe justice will be served. This man will be brought to justice and face the full extent available under the law," said Los Angeles Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.

"It's taken a long time to get here, but we are finally here," he added.

US authorities say Gerhartsreiter is a con man who entered the United States more than three decades ago and lived under a series of assumed identities, the latest being Rockefeller, a supposedly brilliant member of the wealthy clan.

Gerhartsreiter was found guilty in 2009 of kidnapping his seven-year-old daughter, and was sent to prison for five years.

© 2011 AFP

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