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Rockefeller impostor charged with murder in LA

March 15, 2011

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LOS ANGELES—A mystery man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller was charged Tuesday with murder in the disappearance of a Southern California man more than 25 years ago, the Los Angeles District Attorney's office said.

Christian Gerhartsreiter became notorious after his arrest several years ago in Baltimore when he spun elaborate tales about his past and claimed to be a member of the storied Rockefeller family. He was charged Tuesday with killing 27-year-old John Sohus in 1985 when he was living at the home of Sohus' mother in San Marino, a wealthy Los Angeles suburb, the district attorney's office said.

Sohus' body was unearthed from the backyard of the house in 1994. An investigation determined he was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. Sohus' wife, Linda, is still missing.

Gerhartsreiter, a German national, has used several aliases, including Christopher Chichester during his time in San Marino. He vanished shortly after Sohus disappeared, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors in his 2009 trial said Gerhartsreiter moved to the United States in the 1970s when he was a teenager. They said he used multiple aliases to move in wealthy circles in Boston, New York and Los Angeles, and led his wife and others to believe he was an heir to the Rockefeller fortune.

The trial featured testimony from friends and acquaintances who said that he claimed at various times to be a physicist, an art collector, a ship captain and a financial adviser who renegotiated debt for small countries. His strange story became the subject of a TV movie.

Gerhartsreiter was convicted in the kidnapping of his 7-year-old daughter. He's serving a four- to five-year sentence in a Massachusetts prison.

Los Angeles authorities quickly named Gerhartsreiter a person of interest in the disappearance and presumed slayings of the Sohus couple after his 2008 arrest. District Attorney's spokeswoman Jane Robison said he has been tied to the disposal of a pickup truck owned by the Sohus couple, but she wouldn't say whether new evidence had been uncovered leading prosecutors to file the charge on Tuesday.

"They looked at the totality of the evidence and they believe it is enough to file on," she said.

Robison said it could take as long as two months to extradite him to Los Angeles to face the murder charge. He faces 26 years to life in prison if convicted.

Gerhartsreiter's attorney said he was surprised by the development.

"Based on all the information that I have, I believe in his innocence," attorney Jeffrey Denner said in Boston. "I'm very interested in seeing what new evidence that the government has come up with that prompted them to the point of actually charging him."

He said he planned to meet with his client Wednesday to discuss the matter.

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