Grisly find recalled, as German faces US court

19th January 2012, Comments 0 comments

A US court heard Wednesday how builders chance upon a human skeleton while digging a swimming pool in a California back yard, as an alleged German conman faces trial for murder.

Christian Gerhartsreiter, who passed himself off as a member of the wealthy Rockefeller family among other aliases, has pleaded not guilty of the February 1985 murder of his former landlord John Sohus.

At the start of a six- to eight-day preliminary hearing in Los Angeles, construction worker Jose Perez told how he was digging a hole for the pool in 1994 when his Bobcat machine struck something solid.

"We ran into what we thought was some garbage," he said, adding that on closer inspection it turned out to be a container with a bag inside containing the bones of Sohus, who had disappeared nine years previously.

Prosecutor Habib Balian asked Perez how long he thought it would have taken to dig a hole large enough to hold the container -- the builder estimated six or seven hours.

"It's extremely difficult... it would make you really sore," he said.

Fifty-year-old Christian Gerhartsreiter was charged with Sohus' murder last March, and was transferred from a Massachusetts prison to Los Angeles in July last year.

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, and an autopsy found he was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. His wife has never been found.

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

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.


© 2012 AFP

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