The Man in the Rockefeller Suit
June 7, 2010 7:23 AM   Subscribe

“Where you going, Clark?” asked the agent. “I’m going to get a turkey sandwich,” he said. It would be the last lie he told before 20 agents with assault rifles wrestled him to the ground. The 2008 kidnapping that capped one of the longest, most fantastic impersonation cons of the 20th century won't keep the Man in the Rockefeller Suit behind bars for long. But what about the discovery of his link to skeletal remains from a family that vanished twenty-five years ago and 2,500 miles away? Who was this guy?

In July 2008, the man calling himself Clark Rockefeller, a wealthy man-about-town and minor scion of the eponymous old American clan, tugged his non-custodial daughter away from a social worker in Boston and into a getaway limo so fast that he hit her head on the car doorframe. His ex-wife, Sandra Boss, told authorities that she had not a single piece of data that might record his existence as a real person.

In Berlin, Connecticut, Steve Savio told the press that he was "100 percent certain" that Rockefeller was Christian Reiter, a high school student who lived with his family in 1980. Over in Greenwich, people knew him as “this guy, Christopher Crowe,” who was fired from the brokerage firm S. N. Phelps and Co. after someone discovered that his Social Security number actually belonged to the serial killer Son of Sam. In New York, one former colleague at Nikko Securities International, Richard Barnett, said bluntly: "The man knew very little about corporate bonds."

In Wisconsin, Amy Jersild Palmer's husband became angry with Los Angeles County detectives after they insisted that back in 1981, she had married the film student who would be known as Chris Gerhart. "I just kept telling them, I don't recognize these pictures at all," Palmer said. "Finally they left." The woman who actually married [him], Amy Jersild Duhnke, 49, of Milwaukee, was unavailable for comment. ("We don't always make the best decisions when we're young," her sister told reporters.)

In San Marino, California, "when I see the picture, right away I knew it was the guy. The hair, the head — I worked on that head for years," said Jann Eldnor, who cut the hair of the bon vivant socialite 13th baronet of Chichester just before Sir Christopher left San Marino in 1985, after producing a cable television show, going on an odd date, doing a fine arts degree at USC, and digging a pit in his landlords' backyard.

Sir Christopher's landlords, John and Linda Sohus, seemed to have abruptly ditched town for Paris only months before he did. Linda had been telling people they were headed to New York for a job interview, but in April, Linda's boss got a postcard from the couple that looked like Linda had written it. Postmarked from France, it read, "Hi Lydia — Not quite New York, but not bad — See you later — Linda & John."

The Sohus couple never returned to San Marino. In 1994, human remains from a man of John Sohus' height and build were found in the backyard. A missing renter was a person of interest, police said. Despite some evidence that she may have been alive after her disappearance, Linda's whereabouts are still unknown.

Six days after the abduction, kidnapper and girl were found in Baltimore, where ship's captain Chip Smith from Chile and daughter Muffy had purchased a $432,000 home and Obsidian Realty owner Chip McLaughlin had paid $10,000 cash for a boat after letting himself and the boat's owner into the Obsidian offices after hours.

A week later, in a village near the German Alps, Alexander Gerhartsreiter stood in his family's tidy Bavarian home. A news reporter handed him a photograph of Clark Rockefeller. "It seems you found my brother," he gasped. "It's quite shocking. It's very shocking... I don't know what to say." Very simply, Irmgard Gerhartsreiter said after learning about her son's situation, "I am shocked. He should be dead to me." Said his brother, "I think Germany was too small for him."

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, born in 1961 in a small town in Bavaria, lost a sentencing appeal on May 19, 2010. He will be released from prison by 2013. In the meantime, Los Angeles County investigators have been refused permission to interview him on the disappearance of Linda and John Sohus.

I wrote this post after rereading Other reading: Audio/video:
posted by hat (42 comments total) 160 users marked this as a favorite
Just a bit more proof that a spoonful of charm/smarm and the right outfit can can get you into anywhere and pose as anyone. A week of reading here, cheers!
posted by filthy light thief at 7:31 AM on June 7, 2010

This guy is a Patricia Highsmith character.
posted by R. Mutt at 7:35 AM on June 7, 2010

Wow. Regarding the murder:
One of Clark Rockefeller's former friends said yesterday that she saw a freshly dug pit in the backyard of his house in San Marino, Calif., in the summer of 1985, but that he casually dismissed the gaping hole, telling her he was "having plumbing problems."

Nine years later, workers digging a pool for the property's new owners found human remains in the backyard, believed to be those of one of Rockefeller's landlords, John Sohus, who had gone missing with his wife, Linda, in spring 1985.
Someone reported the Sohus's missing, right? And the police went around and Clark and the neighbors about it, right? And she told them about the pit, right? Or they saw the fresh dirt during one of their trips to the house of the missing couple? Right?
posted by DU at 7:39 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

God I miss Dominick Dunne
posted by spicynuts at 7:42 AM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Um...WOW, hat. Nice fucking post.
posted by mosk at 7:44 AM on June 7, 2010

So I guess he won't be the villain on the next season of Dexter, then.
posted by Bromius at 7:51 AM on June 7, 2010

his Social Security number actually belonged to the serial killer Son of Sam

The word chutzpah just rolled into a ball under the bed and is crying itself to sleep, I think. Daaaamn.
posted by Iosephus at 8:06 AM on June 7, 2010 [18 favorites]

Yup, we Bostonians have been fascinated by this whole mess since the beginning. And just think, he might've gotten away with it if he hadn't tried to abduct his daughter.
posted by Melismata at 8:09 AM on June 7, 2010

And just think, he might've gotten away with it if he hadn't tried to abduct his daughter.

It's always the meddling kids.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:15 AM on June 7, 2010 [9 favorites]

Thanks for posting all these links. I remember this story but couldn't remember what the whole outcome was (and will be).
posted by Calzephyr at 8:16 AM on June 7, 2010

I was coming home from Fenway when I heard the Amber Alert about this. It still blows my mind how weird the story that unraveled from it is. Thanks for the post!
posted by Ruki at 8:20 AM on June 7, 2010

Wow... What an extraordinary tale. The kind of thing that you would be hard pressed to believe if a movie tried to pass it off as fact.
posted by antifuse at 8:22 AM on June 7, 2010

I am amazed that he wore khakis/chinos. I would've thought he would need bespoke tailoring to have pants accommodate those enormous balls.
posted by beelzbubba at 8:25 AM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

*secures movie rights*

Once again, real life is wilder than fiction.
posted by dabitch at 8:26 AM on June 7, 2010

Social camouflage: act like you belong and your surroundings will match to you.
posted by chambers at 8:30 AM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I look forward to a day when I have time to sink my teeth into all this--what a great story! Thanks hat for the well researched post.
posted by fyrebelley at 8:33 AM on June 7, 2010

Just to chime in, holy fuck on the post linkage. Nice job.
posted by rmmcclay at 8:35 AM on June 7, 2010

Key pullquote: “He was fascinated with Gilligan’s Island and the character Thurston Howell III.”
posted by Sys Rq at 8:40 AM on June 7, 2010

Don't we see a lot of these "catch me if you can" reinvention type things around here, especially from the long-form slicks like VF, Esquire and GQ? I love stuff like this and I suspect so does pretty much everybody else, especially in this age of cameras and databases everywhere. Sucks there's no more going west to escape your past.

Although normally I'm rooting for the fraud to escape at the end, this time I read to the end just to see him get caught.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:41 AM on June 7, 2010

This is a really impressive post!
posted by halonine at 9:06 AM on June 7, 2010

Although normally I'm rooting for the fraud to escape at the end, this time I read to the end just to see him get caught.

The first few days after this broke, I was half-rooting for the guy because of the way he played all those old money twits. "Half-rooting" in that I was consciously trying not to embrace him because of the highly inappropriate route that he took to resolving the custody dispute.

Then it emerged that he's a suspect in a murder case and it was absolutely not funny anymore.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:06 AM on June 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

This was a local story for me, and I certainly paid more attention for that reason. After his daughter was found safe, and before the California connection came out, he seemed an odd, if mostly harmless (I don't want to downplay the gravity of abducting someone, but so often that scenario ends SO differently) example of an interesting news story in the sea of exploitative sadness and drivel that folks like Nancy Grace swim in. Now I'm not so sure, and I hope if he was involved in the death/disappearance of his old landlords, he's punished for that crime.
posted by jalexei at 9:08 AM on June 7, 2010

When my girlfriend and I were first looking for housing in Baltimore we walked into an open house. We looked at the carriage house which, the realtor told me, had just been redone. After we'd taken a look the person showing the house gave me his card and said "I can't tell you now, but something pretty big happened here. NATIONAL NEWS.". Yep, it was this place in Mt. Vernon.
posted by josher71 at 10:37 AM on June 7, 2010

Kidnapping and murder are one thing, but khakis are unforgivable.
posted by atrazine at 10:37 AM on June 7, 2010

I guess I should tell you guys that I'm not really a Rockefeller, either.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:01 AM on June 7, 2010

Awesome post hat!

I find this kind of person fascinating - so much energy and work to create these fake lives I always wonder what they could have achieved with directing the cleverness and energy into a real and positive path?
posted by gomichild at 11:12 AM on June 7, 2010

You know who else fled to another country and assumed a false identity?

William Avery Rockefeller, Sr. (He had two wives! At the same time! And a mistress! And two bastard children! And six legitimate children, whom he abandoned! One of them turned out to be the richest man in the world! Whoops!)
posted by Sys Rq at 11:21 AM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

All this got me thinking about Andrea Parker. Has she been in anything recently?
posted by maxwelton at 11:34 AM on June 7, 2010

Wow. Great post; you do the name of "hat" proud.
posted by languagehat at 11:53 AM on June 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

dabitch: *secures movie rights*

Too late, as seen on Lifetime channel.
posted by AzraelBrown at 12:50 PM on June 7, 2010

aaargh! Who cast Eric McCormack? Love him, but in this part? *rips ups screenplay*
posted by dabitch at 2:08 PM on June 7, 2010

How annoying that I can't see the youtube video of the Lifetime movie, blocked in my country. ack!
posted by dabitch at 2:11 PM on June 7, 2010

I guess I should tell you guys that I'm not really a Rockefeller, either.
posted by shakespeherian

Ah, gotcha....Francis.<>
posted by DU at 2:15 PM on June 7, 2010

How annoying that I can't see the youtube video of the Lifetime movie, blocked in my country. ack!

I can't even see it in Eric McCormack's home and native land!

posted by Sys Rq at 2:27 PM on June 7, 2010

Not to dismiss the batshitinsane aspects of the rest of the story, but on a more human level, the story about his wife Sandra Boss, and her willful blindness despite her obvious intelligence, is really what makes my jaw drop. From the amazing Vanity Fair article, linked above:
"Back in Boston, in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel, Rockefeller’s ex-wife, Sandra Boss—a Harvard Business School graduate earning an estimated $1.4 million a year as a senior partner at McKinsey & Company, the global management-consulting firm—was informed that her ex-husband had disappeared with their daughter. At the same time Boston police were entering Rockefeller’s name into national databases and finding … nothing.

“Can you please give us his driver’s-license number?” an officer asked Boss.

She said he didn’t have one.

“Do you know if Clark has a Social Security number?”


“Is he on your tax returns?”


His credit cards were on her accounts. His cell-phone number was under the name of a friend. To each of the investigators’ questions about her ex-husband’s identification papers, Boss responded in the negative. He didn’t have any identification at all...

As Sandra moved through increasingly impressive jobs—an elite private-equity program that attracted the best and brightest to a Dallas real-estate giant; a position in debt markets with Merrill Lynch—people found her sharp but shy, eager for success but socially, according to one observer, “on the outside looking in.” Then she met the enigmatic young man with the famous name and fell in love with him. He was, she told friends, the brightest man she’d ever met. He knew the works of the obscure 20th-century novelists she loved, and spoke several languages fluently, including Klingon, the language of the Star Trek warrior race. He was charming, witty, and worldly, and had once been rich, he said, before his late father’s fortune was wiped out by a lawsuit. She loved the fact that he wasn’t concerned about material wealth; he not only shared her altruistic passion for setting up nonprofits for international poverty relief and development but also worked in debt re-structuring for emerging nations...

Sandra had signed all the necessary marriage documents, entrusting the task of filing them to her husband; he never did. “Not only didn’t they have a license, I don’t believe they have a marriage certificate,” says Rockefeller’s lawyer, who insists the marriage wasn’t valid.

They settled into married life in New York and Nantucket. Rockefeller ran Asterisk, L.L.P., advising Third World countries on their finances. He didn’t make any money in the job, he explained, because the nations were dirt-poor; charging them a consulting fee would be unconscionable. While it’s now clear that his job was a sham, Sandra actually had a real career going. After graduating from Harvard Business School, she accepted a position with McKinsey & Company, the ultra-discreet consulting firm which advises the world’s leading businesses, governments, and institutions, and whose staff has included former C.I.A. operatives and future Enron executives...

She is the youngest woman ever to be elected to being a director of McKinsey & Company...
The thing that finally made her divorce Clark, or whatever his name is, was disagreements over how to raise their daughter, once she started school. Only then did her father find out that part of Clark's story was a lie -- by checking Wikipedia and noticing the child actress who was supposedly Clark's deceased mother was in fact still alive and not his mother. She could pull in millions of dollars a year at a very high-flying job with a very impressive resume and educational background, but not check out the simplest facts nor notice the most obvious red flags.

Perhaps these details stick with me because I know far too many people like this...
posted by Asparagirl at 4:40 PM on June 7, 2010 [6 favorites]

Well, she was busy. They only saw each other for half an hour every other Thursday night, and that was for "une petite vite".
posted by sneebler at 5:18 PM on June 7, 2010

My ex-roommate B. used to shop regularly at the Dangerous Visions bookstore, had met Linda Mayfield Sohus, and was a fan of her artwork. (They were both heavily involved in the local sci-fi/fantasy scene, and went to a lot of the same conventions.)

When I first heard about Clark Rockefeller's potential involvement in her disappearance, I was fascinated and appalled. I lived in Pasadena for a while, I'd often been to San Marino-- I knew people who knew her-- the entire case just felt too close to home for me. Some people have wondered if Linda is still alive, but I doubt it-- it really looks like he killed both of them (especially since Rockefeller was found driving Linda's car). What happened to her and her husband is a tragedy, and I am confused to why LA county investigators are not being allowed to interview Rockefeller. Linda's friends and family deserve some answers.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 6:47 PM on June 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is a fantastic post.
posted by uaudio at 1:21 PM on June 8, 2010

She could pull in millions of dollars a year at a very high-flying job with a very impressive resume and educational background, but not check out the simplest facts nor notice the most obvious red flags.

To be fair, I haven't looked up my wife's mother on Wikipedia either.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:41 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dorthy Smith wife of Benedict Barnham and mother of Alice Barnham, wife of Francis Bacon.

Incidently, Francis Bacon's mother was Anne Cooke Bacon.
posted by garlic at 3:26 PM on June 8, 2010

She could pull in millions of dollars a year at a very high-flying job with a very impressive resume and educational background, but not check out the simplest facts nor notice the most obvious red flags.

Well, to be fair, she was an MBA.
posted by Electrius at 8:50 PM on June 8, 2010

Great post. That Vanity Fair article is a must-read.
posted by Locative at 9:03 AM on June 9, 2010

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