Fake Rockefeller murder trial: Key moments from the case

Defendant Christian Gerhartsreiter from Germany, listens to prosecutor during his murder trial at Los Angeles Superior Court on March 18, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. Gerhartsreiter, the alleged Rockefeller impostor is accused of killing his landllord, John Sohus in February 1985.
Defendant Christian Gerhartsreiter from Germany, listens to prosecutor during his murder trial at Los Angeles Superior Court on March 18, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. Gerhartsreiter, the alleged Rockefeller impostor is accused of killing his landllord, John Sohus in February 1985. AFP/AFP/Getty Images

The murder trial of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter — the German-born so-called "con man" who posed as a member of the wealthy Rockefeller clan before being charged with the 1985 murder of a San Marino man — is nearing resolution in Los Angeles, and KPCC takes a look back at the two weeks' worth of testimony.

Gerhartsreiter, 52, is accused of killing his landlord, 27 year-old John Sohus, and burying him in the backyard of the apartment Gerhartsreiter leased in San Marino. Sohus and his wife, Linda, disappeared in 1985. John Sohus' remains were discovered in 1994, near the guest house that Gerhartsreiter rented under an alias. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Gerhartsreiter was arrested in 2008 after he was convicted of abducting his daughter in a custody dispute. Prosecutors in that case traced his identity back through multiple aliases — including Christopher Chichester XIII, Chip Smith, Christopher Crowe and "Clark Rockefeller," scion of the Rockefeller family — back to his true identity as a German immigrant who came to the U.S. with dreams of making it as a movie producer. 

For the prosecution, it's a tough case to prove with no witnesses to the crime, little forensic evidence and no explanation why the German man masquerading as Clark Rockefeller would have killed his landlady's son.

Here's a run-down of some of the testimony heard so far: 

March 18

  • Prosecutors display grisly photos of the remains of John Sohus, discovered by a pool construction crew. 
  • Prosecutors detail the close relationship between Sohus' and his mother, who lived in the same house as John and his wife, Linda. Sohus' mother was devastated after her son disappeared in 1985, prosecutors say. She died in 1986. 
  • The defense says that Gerhartsreiter may be eccentric, but that say the case against him is based on circumstantial evidence and his personality, not evidence.
  • The defense points out that Sohus' wife Linda also disappeared and was never found. They say she too had exhibited strange behavior before she vanished.
  • They also say that at over 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, she might have posed a bigger threat than the shorter, slimmer Gerhartsreiter.
  • Prosecutors call Gerhartsreiter a "con man": Read more on KPCC.org

March 20

  • Friends from Gerhartsreiter's early years in the U.S. recall a man interested in experimenting with his identity by trying on different accents and clothes. Ed Savio, who Gerhartsreiter stayed with in 1978 when he was a German exchange student in Connecticut, remembered Gerhartsreiter's interest in American culture, and his ability to be "fawning and kind to one person and immediately dismissive of another." 
  • San Bernardino County Coroner Frank Sheridan says blows from a blunt, perhaps rounded object, were delivered to Sohus' skull very close to the time of his death. 
  • Criminologist Lynne Herrold tells the jury about the condition of Sohus' clothing and says he was stabbed six times around the time of his death. She describes the bookbags Sohus' trisected body were found in. His head, she said, was buried in a bookbag from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. 
  • Linda Hausladen, the University of Wisconsin's bookstore licensing manager, says those particular bags were used from 1979-1983. Gerhartsreiter was a student at the university at that time.
  • A friend of Gerhartsreiter while he was in San Marino says she remembers asking him about overturned dirt in front of the guest house he lived in. She recalls he told her he was having plumbing problems. Prosecutors note that there was no underground plumbing in that area.  
  • Read more: Pasadena Star-News: Witnesses recall fake Rockefeller as teen who loved America | Los Angeles Times: Friend says she asked Rockefeller impostor about dug-up backyard

March 21

  • Linda Sohus' mother says she received a strange postcard from her daughter that appeared to be from France shortly after her disappearance. Sohus' mother says that was very uncharacteristic of her daughter, who had had no passport and very little money, and who had told her previously that she was heading to New York. 
  • Linda's half-sister testifies that she filed a missing persons report after the person she had left her pet cats with said Linda had never returned to pick them up. 
  • Read more: Los Angeles Times: Postcard is key evidence in Rockefeller impostor murder trial

March 22

  • A police officer who took the initial missing person report from Didi Sohus says she appeared distraught and confused about the disappearence of her son and his wife. A second officer, who took a second missing person report months later, shortly after Gerhartsreiter had moved, says the same. 
  • A San Marino detective says Gerhartsreiter answered the door nude when he came to interview him about the disappearances. The detective said Gerhartsreiter refused to put on clothes, claiming he was a nudist. 
  • The same detective says that when the case was opened three years later, in 1988, he discovered that the missing couple's truck had resurfaced in Connecticut, where Gerhartsreiter was living at the time.
  • Read more: Pasadena Star-News: Murder suspect told San Marino cop he was a nudist, refused to put on clothes

March 25

  • The best friend of Linda Sohus, who disappeared around the same time her husband John was murdered, says Linda had told her that the couple avoided Gerhartsreiter while he lived there, finding him "creepy." She added that her best friend had called her and told her that she and her husband had found work in New York. Weeks later, she received a cryptic postcard from Linda that was addressed to her from France.
  • A LAPD DNA expert testifies that the air mail stamps on the postcard were licked by an unidentified male, though the DNA could not be linked to Gerhartsreiter.
  • Read more: Pasadena Star-News: Friend says couple avoided tenant

March 26

March 27

  • Gerhartsreiter's former fiancee, Mihoko Manabe, says she never knew her lover of seven years' true identity, believing him to be Christopher Chichester Mountbatten. She describes a period in 1987 when Gerhartsreiter was called by police for questioning. After the call, she says, he changed his hair color, grew a beard, regularly shredded their trash, quit his job and spoke of leaving the country.
  • Manabe testifies that she provided Gerhartsreiter with a credit card in the name of Clark Rockefeller.
  • Read more: Pasadena Star-News: Murder suspect changed name, hair color and stopped driving when cops sought him for questioning

March 28 

  • The jury hears a taped interview with Gerhartsreiter in which he denies remembering growing up in Germany and seems unsure of his own identity.
     

 

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