Saturday, 2:15 PM
'Clark Rockefeller': Con man or victim of fractured identity?
(John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Martin Finucane, Globe Staff
He has used different names and told people different stories about himself. He has had difficulty remembering extensive pieces of his past.
Is the man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller a con artist with a penchant for telling glamorous, self-aggrandizing lies and convenient forgetfulness? Or is he mentally ill, suffering a condition that has fractured his identity and memory?
That's something that jurors may have to decide in his upcoming trial on parental kidnapping charges.
In a document filed in court last week, the lawyers for Rockefeller, whose real name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, disclosed defense psychiatric experts' preliminary diagnosis of his condition as they laid the groundwork for his insanity defense.
The document said the experts had found that Gerhartsreiter had major depression and bipolar disorder. It also listed the intriguing diagnosis -- considering Gerhartsreiter's alleged past -- of "Dissociative Disorder implicating issues of 'identity' and with aspects of delusion and grandiosity."
The essential feature of the dissociative disorders is a "disruption in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity or perception," according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association, which is the bible of American psychiatry. The various dissociative disorders involve things like amnesia, being confused about your identity, or assuming new ones.
Jeffrey Denner, the attorney representing Gerhartsreiter, said Gerhartsreiter is still being examined by the defense's experts.
"We are examining all the diagnostic categories [among the dissociative disorders], as well as in other areas … and the experts will come up with what they believe is the picture that most accurately represents Mr. Rockefeller at the time of the offense," he said.
He wouldn't say exactly what condition or combination of conditions his client might be suffering from but pointed to the description of the dissociative disorders in the psychiatric manual. "Take a look at what the dissociative disorders are," he said. "There's usually memory issues, there's usually identity issues. … There's usually a situation where there's -- either simultaneously or successively -- there's different identities that arise."
Dr. Richard P. Kluft, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Temple University School of Medicine, said the defense experts were "most likely saying this person has difficulty with memory and identity, that the person's identity is somewhat fractured or fragmented … And there's also a lack of reality testing associated with it."
Kluft, who has testified as an expert in legal cases himself, said the language in the court document didn't seem to suggest that Gerhartsreiter had dissociative identity disorder, the condition formerly known as "multiple personality disorder" that was popularized in the book and movie "Sybil" and that is currently featured in the Showtime TV show "The United States of Tara."
But he said it was clear the defense psychiatrists suspected "he has some problem with his identity so it's not coherent and not cohesive."
Jake Wark, a spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney's office said, "We have not had an opportunity to have the defendant examined by a mental health expert, though we have asked for the chance to do so. Absent that examination, we'll have to reserve comment on his mental illness or lack thereof."
Gerhartsreiter, 48, is heading toward a May 11 trial on charges of kidnapping his daughter, Reigh Storrow Mills Boss, last summer and fleeing with her to Baltimore. The case drew international headlines because of revelations that Gerhartsreiter had used several aliases over the years, had traveled in high society, and was labeled as a person of interest in the disappearance of a California couple.
In addition to his use of aliases and the varying stories he reportedly told people about himself, Gerhartsreiter, who was born in Germany, told his former lawyer this summer that he can remember little before 1993.
"He remembers bits and pieces," attorney Stephen Hrones said in an August news conference. "Silly sorts of things like visiting Mt. Rushmore and he had a Scottish nanny."