A notorious Rockefeller impostor whose bizarre life inspired a TV movie was found guilty Wednesday of first-degree murder in the death of a man whose bones were found buried in a backyard.
Christian Gerhartsreiter was tried in Los Angeles Superior Court 28 years after the disappearance of newlyweds John and Linda Sohus in a heavily circumstantial cold case.
Much of the prosecution’s evidence focused on the strange behavior of the man who adopted many names including Clark Rockefeller. He masqueraded as an heir to the fabled oil fortune for 20 years.
The case went to the jury late Tuesday morning and the verdict was reached shortly after the panel returned Wednesday.
Gerhartsreiter did not show any reaction when the court clerk read the decision convicting him of killing John Sohus.
“I don’t know if you can really have closure with something like this,” the victim’s sister, Ellen Sohus, said afterward. “What I have now are a lot of answers that I never believed I was ever going to have.”
Gerhartsreiter faces 28 years to life in prison at his sentencing.
Authorities said Gerhartsreiter was a German immigrant who lived another life long ago, occupying a guest cottage at the home of Sohus’s mother in the ritzy suburb of San Marino. He was known then as Chris Chichester and intimated he was of royal lineage. He joined the church, befriended residents and told some he was a film student.
Residents didn’t connect him with the disappearance of the Sohus couple in 1985, but shortly after they vanished, so did he.
No trace of Linda has been found but John’s bones were unearthed during excavation of a swimming pool at the San Marino property in 1994. With no clues, the mystery went cold again.
But across the country, a man variously known as Chris Crowe, Chip Smith and Clark Rockefeller was inventing new lives for himself.
This impostor wormed his way into high society and talked his way into important jobs. He married a wealthy woman and controlled her funds, but his identity unraveled when he kidnapped their daughter during a custody dispute. She testified that he became increasingly paranoid when police begin inquiring about him.
When he was unmasked, he became the subject of magazine articles, true crime books and a TV movie, in which he was portrayed by Eric McCormack.
The resulting publicity led California authorities to revisit the Sohus disappearance. They realized the man in custody in Boston was not an heir to the Rockefeller fortune but was the man who had lived in San Marino decades ago.