For years, German-born Christian Gerhartsreiter masqueraded as Clark Rockefeller, a distant relative of the famed Rockefeller family – who never existed.
In 1995, a successful businesswoman named Sandra Boss married a man named Clark Rockefeller. As Rockefeller was proud of boasting, he was a descendant of the famous Rockefeller family. But in spite of his connection to one of the richest families in the world, Clark funded a lavish lifestyle completely on his wife’s income. He needed her money to buy his extensive art collection, antique cars, and hand-tailored suits because he didn’t actually have any money of his own.
Though he was fond of telling his neighbors that he had sold a business in Canada for a billion dollars, Rockefeller had never been able to hold down a steady job. He also didn’t seem to have any access to the Rockefeller family’s wealth. And as the lies he constantly told mounted up, Boss began to suspect that she didn’t actually know her husband at all.
As it turns out, she was right. Because her husband’s name wasn’t Clark Rockefeller. It was Christian Gerhartsreiter. And he was hiding a complicated– and murderous– past.
Christian Gerhartsreiter was born in Germany in 1961. At the age of 17, he left home and moved to the United States, telling the authorities that an American couple had offered to let him stay with them while he went to school in the US. This was a lie, but shortly after arriving in the country, Gerhartsreiter managed to convince another family, the Savios of Berlin, Connecticut, to let him stay with them as a foreign exchange student.
Gerhartsreiter told his adoptive family that he was the son of European aristocrats. And his refusal to do even basic work around the house– it was “beneath” him– quickly began to bother the Savios, and they asked Gerhartsreiter to leave. Rather than return to Germany, he then traveled to California where he hoped to become an actor.
By the time he reached California, he was calling himself Christopher Chichester and was fleeing a green card marriage he had managed to arrange in Wisconsin. In California, he managed to convince an elderly and reclusive woman named Didi Sohus to let him move in with her. Things were going well for Gerhartsreiter for a while. He even managed to convince a local TV station to give him a public access show.
But the situation quickly became more complicated when Sohus’s son Jonathan and his wife, Linda, moved in. Jonathan soon began asking questions about his mother’s guest and the way he seemed to be using her money to buy expensive clothing for himself.
In 1985, Jonathon and Linda suddenly disappeared. According to Gerhartsreiter, they had been called away on urgent business to Europe. Soon, Gerhartsreiter left as well. He eventually turned up in Connecticut, where he tried to sell Sohus’s car without registration. And he was now calling himself Christopher Crowe.
In Connecticut, Christian Gerhartsreiter talked his way into a position as an executive at a brokerage firm. But he was fired after the company discovered the social security number he gave them actually belonged to convicted serial killer David Berkowitz. He managed to secure two other highly paid jobs before the discovery of a corpse thought to be Sohus in California led to police to begin looking for Christopher Crowe in connection with the murders.
Now, he reinvented himself again, claiming to be James Frederick Mills Clark Rockefeller, from a lesser known branch of the Rockefeller family. Using this identity, Gerhartsreiter found that he was able to impress the wealthy, upper-class circles he moved in. And in 1995, he met Sandra Boss at a cocktail party. She quickly fell in love with the charming young Rockefeller.
But over a decade of marriage, Clark Rockefeller became increasingly controlling and occasionally violent. And many of the people closest to the couple began to question why none of his stories about his past seemed to add up. In 2006, Boss hired a private investigator to look into Rockefeller’s background. Discovering that he had been lying for years about who he was, Boss filed for divorce.
Gerhartsreiter settled for $800,000 and a chance to avoid anyone working for the court looking too hard into his real identity. But he also agreed to only three visitations with his daughter a year. And for all the lies, he really did love his daughter. So, in 2008, he decided to try and get her back.
After a court-supervised visit, Gerhartsreiter managed to shake off the social worker and abducted his daughter. Luckily, the FBI managed to capture him after a week-long manhunt, and his daughter was unharmed. Initially, he was given a seven-year prison sentence for the abduction. But shortly after the trial, police began building a case against him for the murder of Jonathon Sohus.
In 2013, Christian Gerhartsreiter was given a life sentence in prison for the murder, proving that not even a man with an incredible gift for deception like Gerhartsreiter can escape the truth forever.
Next, read about the BBC’s elaborate Spaghetti Tree hoax. Then, check out the story of Dolly Osterreich, who kept her secret lover living in her attic for years.