US 'Rockefeller' conman murder trial starts

18th March 2013, Comments 0 comments

A German man managed to pass himself off as a member of the Rockefeller family, "hiding in plain sight" for more than a decade after an alleged murder, US prosecutors said Monday.

Christian Gerhartsreiter, who was only arrested 23 years after allegedly killing his ex-landlady's son John Sohus in 1985, took extensive notes as the murder trial began in a Los Angeles courtroom.

Born in Bergen, Germany in 1961, he arrived in America in 1978 and changed his name to Christopher Chichester, variously pretending to be a Hollywood producer and a baronet.

After the alleged murder he changed his name to Christopher Crowe, moved to the East Coast and became a well-paid bond trader, then changed his name again to Clark Rockefeller, a member of the storied US family, and got married.

"For 12 years the evidence will tell you he was hiding in plain sight," prosecutor Habib Balian told jurors in an opening statement in the trial, which is expected to last three to four weeks.

Sohus and his wife Linda were last seen in 1985, living in the home of his mother in San Marino, northeast of Los Angeles -- where Gerhartsreiter was a tenant in a back yard guest house, using the Chichester alias.

Sohus's remains were only found nine years later in 1994 -- his wife's body has never been discovered. The victim's body parts were wrapped in plastic bags and buried three feet down, unearthed when the home's new owners were digging a swimming pool in the back yard.

By this time Gerhartsreiter was living in New York as Christopher Crowe, making over $100,000 a year as a trader -- but he changed his name to Rockefeller when he got wind that police were looking for him.

After leaving his live-in Japanese girlfriend, he went to ground again before resurfacing as Rockefeller -- under which alias he met and married Sandra Boss, telling her he was born in New York and educated at Yale.

For over a decade he lived without a driver's license, bank account, and never signing a lease or flying for fear of being identified, but he was eventually tracked down in 2008.

Gerhartsreiter has been in custody since, pending the trial.

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

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

© 2013 AFP

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