‘Clark Rockefeller’ confronts his past in California courtroom during hearing into 1985 murder of John Sohus of San Marino

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ALHAMBRA, Calif. — The man once known as Clark Rockefeller was forced today to confront some of the most gruesome evidence California prosecutors say they have against him: photos of the remains of the man he allegedly beat to death, then buried in a San Marino yard.

Looking pale and thin, Chrisitian Karl Gerhartsreiter appeared in Alhambra Superior Court, where a Los Angeles County prosecutor began laying out evidence in a preliminary hearing that is expected to last six to eight days. A judge will then decide if the charges of first-degree murder should go forward to trial.


Dressed in a blue prison jumpsuit, his hand handcuffed to a wooden chair, Gerhartsreiter, 50, watched — sometimes squinting through wire-rimmed glasses — as prosecutor Habib Balian showed photo after photo of the remains of John Sohus on an overhead projector.

The 27-year-old computer programmer and his wife, Linda, were last seen alive in February 1985. His remains were cut up, carefully wrapped in plastic, and placed in a fiberglass box and bags. His wife was never found, but investigators believe she is dead.

Sohus’s remains were found in 1994, by construction workers digging a pool behind the house where the victim once lived with his mother, Didi, and wife. Gerhartsreiter, who was using the alias Christopher Chichester at the time, was staying in the guesthouse.

The remains were not identified as Sohus’s until November 2008 when officials tracked down his half-sister, Lori Moltz, who had no idea she had another brother, prosecutors revealed today.

Sohus, who prosecutors said was born Phillip Robert Chapman, was adopted by Didi Sohus when he was a baby. The exact date of the adoption was not revealed in court today.

Moltz, 55, who was the first to testify, described how a police officer came to her home in Washington State and took a swab from the inside of her cheek. After her testimony, she and her brother, Jeffrey Latiolais, remained in the courtroom, looking at pictures of the remains of a brother they never knew.


“I’d like to see justice done,’’ Moltz said in a brief interview later. “I didn’t know him, but I wish I had.’’

Sohus’s remains were found by Jose Perez and his father, two ground excavators.

Perez, who also testified today, said he was operating a Bobcat compact tractor and had dug about three to five feet when he struck something hard.

At first, Perez and his father assumed it was old garbage. Then Perez’s father pulled a skull from the bag they had uncovered.

“He thought it was a dog,’’ Perez said. “But it didn’t look like a dog skull to me.’’

When authorities arrived they found limbs, a torso still wearing a shirt, and hands and feet individually wrapped in plastic, according to the testimony provided today.

Inside the box was the pelvic bone still sticking out of a pair of jeans, testified Judith Daye, a retired consultant with the coroner’s office who arrived at the scene that day.

She said she also found socks buried at the scene. When she touched them, Daye said, she felt what seemed to be the small bones of the feet.

“Did it appear to you that someone had made a great effort to wrap everything … in plastic?’’ Balian asked.


“There didn’t seem to be any exception,’’ Daye said, referring to all of the wrapped items.

On the front and right side of the skull were several fractures caused by three powerful blows to the head, said Dr. Frank Sheridan, chief medical examiner for San Bernandino County.

“The injuries we’re talking about here would very clearly have been fatal without the absence of medical care and even with medical care,’’ Sheridan said.

Sheridan said the blows were caused by an object that would have had a rounded curve.

Balian asked if that object could have been a baseball bat.

“Something like that,’’ Sheridan said, but he stressed that he did not know for sure what weapon was used. During cross-examination, he said the weapon could have been anything from a barbell to a hammer.

Gerhartsreiter’s lawyer, Jeffrey Denner, asked if it was possible a slight person, someone weighing 125 pounds, could have caused that kind of damage. Gerhartsreiter is 5-feet-6 and according to photos taken of him in the 1980s he was considerably slim.

Sheridan said with the right weapon, it would not take a significantly big person to deliver such blows.

Denner, and his co-counsel Brad Bailey, focused their questions on whether the excavator’s Bobcat caused the crime scene. They asked about the tracks left by the vehicle and the condition of the remains when authorities arrived.

“Did you consider the area a disturbed scene at this point?’’ Denner asked Daye.

“Oh yes,’’ she replied.

Sohus’s half-sister and brother left before the testimony of the forensic specialists, who described the grisliest evidence. But Mari Mountjoy, a 57-year-old friend of Linda Sohus, stayed throughout the six-hour hearing, fighting back sobs when Sheridan described John Sohus’s injuries.


“It just felt like I needed to be here,’’ she said. “I’m just so afraid he’ll go free.’’

Maria Cramer can be reached at [email protected]