Saturday, 2:15 PM
German man identifies Rockefeller as his brother
(David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
The Gerhartsreiter home in Bergen, Germany.
By Maria Cramer, Michael Levenson, John R. Ellement, Eric Moskowitz, Shelley Murphy, Maria Sacchetti, and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff, and Marion Schmidt, Globe Correspondent
BERGEN, Germany -- A man in this picturesque village in Upper Bavaria identified Clark Rockefeller in photographs as his older brother, saying in an interview today that he left home at age 17 in 1978 and had not contacted the family in more than 20 years.
Clark Rockefeller (Boston Police Department photo)
Standing in the family's ancestral home on the edge of the Alps, Alexander Gerhartsreiter said he did not know until today that his brother had made international headlines.
"It's quite shocking. It's very shocking," said Alexander Gerhartsreiter, 34, a husky, baby-faced man who bears some resemblance to his brother. "I don't know what to say."
His brother -- Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter -- left their home to be an exchange student in Connecticut and never returned. He initially kept in occasional touch with his family, but has not made contact since he called his parents in 1985.
"I think Germany was too small for him," Alexander Gerhartsreiter said. "He wanted to live in the big country and maybe get famous. Now that I see all this, he's really famous."
The Foreign Ministry in Berlin confirmed today that US law enforcement agents have asked German authorities to help determine Rockefeller's true identity.
"We are now checking if he could be the German citizen Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter," a spokeswoman said today in a telephone interview in German.
The German federal criminal police, an agency similar to the FBI, said today that Gerhartsreiter does not have a criminal record. "In Germany, up to now, he has not been conspicuous. We know nothing about him," a spokesman said.
Rockefeller is facing charges for allegedly kidnapping his 7-year-old daughter from a street in Boston's Back Bay in late July and spiriting her to Baltimore, where he was arrested six days later. Investigators are also probing whether he is involved in the disappearance of a couple in California in the mid-1980s. His mysterious case has drawn international attention.
The Globe has reported that Rockefeller lived under aliases in Connecticut, California, Wisconsin, and Boston. At times, he has claimed to be a descendant of European royal lineages, including the Battenbergs of Germany and the Mountbatten family of England. When he was a bond trader living in Connecticut in the 1980s, he told colleagues he was the former head of the Battenberg-Crowe-von-Wettin Family Foundation.
"I don’t think so," said Alexander Gerhartsreiter, who sighed and smiled ruefully.
He said today that he knew his brother had used the name Christopher Chichester in the United States because Gerhartsreiter was too difficult for Americans to pronounce. Despite the massive effort by law enforcement to determine Rockefeller's identity, Alexander Gerhartsreiter said he has not been contacted by investigators.
Alexander Gerhartsreiter spoke in the quaint but rustic cream-color home with blue shutters that was built by his grandfather in 1926. Gerhartsreiter is caring for his ill, elderly mother, Irmengard, a heavyset homemaker with white blond hair who declined today to speak to a reporter. His father, Simon, died a few years ago of natural causes, he said.
Christopher Chichester (Pasadena Star-News/File/1994)
That contradicts the story Rockefeller told during his divorce proceedings from Sandra L. Boss, the mother of 7-year-old Reigh Storrow Mills Boss, the daughter he allegedly kidnapped. He claimed both his parents were killed in a car crash and that he was so overcome by grief he became a mute for 10 years during his childhood and suffered significant memory loss because of it, a person with knowledge of his case told the Globe.
Rockefeller's different identities came to light after he allegedly kidnapped his daughter on July 27. He was arrested on Saturday in Baltimore after an international manhunt and his daughter was found safe.
After visiting his client at the Suffolk County jail today, Rockefeller's attorney, Stephen Hrones, brushed aside questions about his client's identity, saying, "He tells me he's Clark Rockefeller. I believe him. I haven't been shown any hard evidence that he's something other than what he tells me he is."
Alexander Gerhartsreiter described his brother as a smart and never violent teen who attended a private business high school in nearby Traunstein, but he acknowledged it had been a long time. "My memories are very few," he said.
He once used the Internet to try to track down his brother with the only alias he had and found a Christopher Chichester working as a spokesman for New York Governor George Pataki.
"I don't know if it was him," Alexander Gerhartsreiter said.
At the Edelweiss pub, several men drinking glasses of amber beer said they had been schoolmates of Gerhartsreiter in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the men said Gerhartsreiter was a mischievous child who once used an air rifle to shoot out the windows of the local parish center.
“He was like the flu,” said the 50-year-old man, who did not want his name printed. Another chimed in: “In every place, there are troublemakers. Some stay like that and others change.”
The Globe reported in today's editions that investigators have matched Rockefeller's fingerprints to a thumbprint included on immigration records submitted by Gerhartsreiter in the late 1970s when he was entering the United States as an exchange student.
Those prints have also been matched to a stockbroker license application filed under the name Christopher Crowe.
Crowe was a bond salesman on Wall Street in the late 1980s who spun extravagant tales but rarely closed deals. One former colleague at Nikko Securities International, Richard Barnett, said bluntly: "The man knew very little about corporate bonds."
Noreen Gleason, an assistant special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, said she thought authorities were getting close, "but I wouldn't want to come out and say definitively who this person is."
Said Warren Bamford, special agent in charge of the Boston office: "We're probably not going to confirm this person's identity until we have a birth certificate in our hands."
Authorities were able to sketch a trail yesterday that began with Gerhartsreiter arriving in Connecticut as a German exchange student, moving to Wisconsin to marry a young woman in 1981, heading to California in the mid-1980s as Chichester, before returning East to work on Wall Street as Crowe, and eventually marrying Sandra L. Boss on Nantucket in 1995 as Clark Rockefeller.
Authorities do not know precisely how or when Gerhartsreiter came to the United States, but he apparently arrived in the late 1970s and lived for a time with the Roccapriore family in Meriden, Conn. Peter Roccapriore, 49, recalled a slightly built, blond teenager who was surprised by the shortness of the American school day.
"He went to school with us," Roccapriore said yesterday. "He was like, 'Guys, you aren't even going to school that much. We usually go back for another two or three hours in our country.' "
Roccapriore wasn't certain how long the German student stayed or what may have been his reason for leaving, but he thinks the time limit for the exchange program had expired.
In August 1980, Gwen Savio, a retired librarian in Berlin, answered a newspaper ad for a German student seeking room and board and agreed to take in Gerhartsreiter, who walked several miles to her house.
Savio told the Globe yesterday that the teen, who enrolled at Berlin High School, refused to eat her family's Italian cooking and once locked her daughter out of the house in the winter.
"I didn't get a creepy feeling; I just thought that he was a spoiled brat," said Savio, who said she was interviewed by the FBI this week. "He wanted what he wanted, when he wanted it."
In January 1981, Savio kicked Gerhartsreiter out of her house, after he declared "that we were peasants and his father had told him not to talk to peasants." She believes he moved in with another family in Berlin.
On Feb. 20, 1981, Gerhartsreiter, 19, moved almost 1,000 miles west to Elm Grove, Wis., where he married a US citizen, Amy Jersild, 22, in a civil ceremony at the Dane County courthouse in Madison, records show. After that point, he obtained a green card, granting him legal residency in the United States.
Gerhartsreiter lived in a tiny brick cottage with flowing drapes, china, candles, and a fancy rug, recalled Beth Litza, Amy's older sister, in an interview yesterday.
"He had a kind of a rich-person, kind of distance thing going on," Litza said. As quickly as Gerhartsreiter appeared in Amy's life, he disappeared, she said, but she could not remember when and how they divorced.
"They met, they married, and then he was gone,” Litza said.
Amy Jersild Duhnke, who is remarried and still living in Wisconsin, could not be reached yesterday.
In about 1983, Christopher Chichester showed up in San Marino, where he rented a converted garage, joined an Episcopal church, the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, and said he was the descendant of royalty. Residents recall being initially intrigued and later put off by Chichester's pretensions.
In 1985, Chichester's landlords, a young couple named John and Linda Sohus, were reported missing. Authorities wanted to question Chichester, but he had left the city and could not be located.
About the same time, a man named Christopher Chichester Crowe began mingling with members at the exclusive Indian Harbor Yacht Club in Greenwich, Conn. Using contacts from the club, he was hired as a sales representative at S.N. Phelps and Co., a brokerage firm in Greenwich, said two former employees. They said they remember Crowe as a strange young man who said he had graduated from the University of Southern California and had worked as a producer for the television show "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."
"He's a chameleon; he can fit in," said one of the employees, speaking on condition he not be named. "He can be funny at times, witty, laughs at your jokes . . . He walked into the yacht club, pretending like he owned the place."
One of the employees said he saw Crowe's apartment, a converted garage on a large estate in Greenwich that was beautiful, but empty, except for a cot and some magazines. "He might have been a little embarrassed about it," the employee said. "He claimed he'd ordered some furniture that hadn't arrived yet." The employees say Crowe quit for reasons they cannot recall.
In 1987, Crowe was hired as vice president of the corporate bond department at Nikko Securities International in Manhattan, after professing to be former head of the apparently bogus Battenberg-Crowe-von-Wettin Family Foundation, with a collection of Rolls-Royce automobiles and Italian sports cars. He told tales of owning castles in Europe, and his hiring was covered in the trade publication The Bond Buyer, which quoted Crowe's market analysis in July 1987: "Customers like industrials. They've been oversaturated with banks and finance."
But colleagues recalled yesterday that Crowe was not what he professed to be. He drove a beat-up 1965 Chevy, grew angry easily with others in the office, and made very few sales. He was terminated sometime around 1989, they said.
"He was a sales manager and never made a sale, so eventually he was fired," said Barnett. "He just didn't do anything."
Another former colleague recalled Crowe telling a customer who accidentally sat at his desk, "If anybody touches my stuff, I'll bring my German Luger."
"It started to become very apparent that whatever he said was a story; it was made up," another former colleague said. "At most places, but especially Wall Street, your word is your bond. And whenever you get someone like this, you're sitting on a liability, and so it was that, more than anything, that prompted the firm to decide that we'd be better of without him."
Just before he was fired, in 1988, Crowe attracted the attention of police in Greenwich, Conn., when he tried to sell a truck belonging to John Sohus, according to a 1995 episode of the television show "Unsolved Mysteries." The potential buyer, a minister's son, alerted police after Crowe lacked the proper paperwork, the show said.
Crowe's next job, sometime around 1989, was at Kidder Peabody in Manhattan, the former Nikko employees said. But he quit abruptly, telling colleagues his parents had been kidnapped abroad, those former colleagues said.
The next day, Connecticut state troopers showed up Crowe's office, asking about Sohus's truck, but Crowe was gone. Connecticut State Police declined to comment.
About a year before he married Boss, in May 1994, workers digging a pool for the new owners of the Sohus home in San Marino discovered human remains wrapped in three plastic bags and buried in the backyard. Police presumed but never definitively identified them as those of John Sohus. DNA tests are currently being conducted on those remains. Neither Linda Sohus nor her remains have been located.
San Marino Police Lieutenant Steve Johnson said investigators plan to conduct a search next week of the property where the Sohuses were living when they disappeared in an effort to determine whether any additional human remains are buried on the property. Equipment that can X-ray through concrete will be used, he said.
"They'll survey the whole property," Johnson said.
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