How a German Boy Became America’s Biggest Con Man

He was born Christian Gerhartsreiter in Bavaria, Germany, in 1961, the son of a carpenter and a housewife. He was a smart kid, sometimes a troublemaker, and he knew that one day he would escape his small, hopeless hometown. The boy honed his con skills early on, and by 18, he produced a ticket to America.

Christian Gerhartsreiter / Christian Gerhartsreiter / Linda, John Sohus / Christian Gerhartsreiter.
Source: Getty Images

He told his parents he was going to New York, where a radio station hired him as a DJ. But he ended up in Connecticut, as an exchange student, hoping from one host family to the next. He was cute, charming, but also arrogant and a bit odd.

As Soon as He Set Foot in America

His next move was to Wisconsin, where he was offered a space in a remote campus of the state university. It was there that he changed his name for the first time. He would go on to have many aliases, but his first anglicized name was Chris Gerhart.

A portrait of Chris Gerhart as Christopher Chichester.
Chris Gerhart. Source: CBS News

With his new identity, he managed to persuade a local woman to marry him for a green card. 20-year-old Chris married the young woman in 1981, with a college acquaintance as his best man. But Chris never saw his wife again… that is, not until his trial in 2009 for kidnapping.

The Sky Was the Limit

The man who came to be known to most people as “Clark Rockefeller” was a man who succeeded in duping people ever since he set foot in the country. To the police, he was a man on the run for a murder he committed back in 1985.

A headshot of Clark Rockefeller during an interview.
Clark Rockefeller. Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Chris was not an easy man to track down, and that’s because he was a master of disguise. The German kid always knew America was the land of opportunity, so when he found himself in San Marino, California, in 1982, the sky was the limit.

New Town, New Identity

He was “legal” now with his green card, so he started aiming higher with his scams. New place, new identity. Every town he went to, he was a different person. He went from being cardiologist Dr. Christopher Rider to movie producer and aristocrat Christopher Mountbatten Chichester.

An image of the many faces of Chris Gerhart.
Chris Gerhart. Source: CBS News

He would drive through town in his beat-up Plymouth. His clothes were regular, nothing noteworthy, which meant he blended in just fine. And he had no problem wooing the rich, older women who filled the pews in San Marino’s churches and social clubs. He was even written about in local newspapers as a “man about town.”

The Man About Town

Part of his shtick was his made-up family members and VIP connections to famous aristocrats. He soon changed his mind about his goals. He no longer wanted the typical American dream of a white picket fence-home.

An image inside the property of Ruth “Didi” Sohus.
Source: YouTube

No, he wanted to belong to the ruling class. But his destination would take some time. For a real con man like Chris, it’s all about the journey. Chris found himself a low-cost housing situation with a woman named Ruth “Didi” Sohus. The 65-year-old widow had a drinking problem, but plenty of money and a guest house.

Chris and Didi’s Little Secret

It was the perfect set up. He met her through his friends at church (the gullible women who believed him when he said he was the “Thirteenth Baronet of Chichester”). Legally, Didi wasn’t allowed to rent out the guest house in the backyard of her San Marino property, but she needed the extra cash.

An exterior shot of Didi’s home.
Source: YouTube

So, when she let Chris (whom she knew as Christopher Chichester) move in, it was their little secret. Something to keep on the down low? That wouldn’t be a problem for Chris.

Enter John and Linda, the Obstacles

“No one ever knew what house he lived in,” one of the ladies at the church later said. He told each one of them a different story. The truth was he was holing up in Didi’s guest house, the place where police believe he went from con man to killer.

A dated portrait of Linda and John Sohus.
Linda, John Sohus. Source: Pinterest

It all began when John, Didi’s son, and his fiancé Linda moved into Didi’s home while they were going through some financial problems. This wasn’t part of Chris’ plan – and he always had a plan. John became an obstacle.

The Computer Nerd and the Artist

It’s only natural to assume that he had something to do with the fact that John and Linda went missing in 1985, over two years after Chris moved into the guest house. John was the stereotypical “computer nerd” – a Star Trek fanatic. Linda was a tall, blonde artist who loved horses and painting unicorns.

A photo of Linda and John inside a car after their wedding.
Linda, John Sohus. Source: Pinterest

While living at Didi’s, the couple got married and started planning to move into their own place. For over two years, Didi, John, Linda, and Chichester – the tenant – seemed to coexist without any problems.

A “Top Secret” Mission

Linda’s best friend, Sue Coffman, later noted how the tenant in the guest house was “creepy.” She said he was “just unsavory,” and that Linda “didn’t want anything to do with him.” By February 1985, John and Linda Sohus were nowhere to be found. But it wasn’t any cause for worry at first…

An aerial view of Didi’s house as police come to search the backyard.
Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Days before they vanished, John and Linda told people that they were being sent to New York on a top-secret government project. When her friends asked questions, Linda said she couldn’t give any more information (hence “top secret”).

Well, That’s Strange…

At first, friends and family received postcards from the newlyweds. But eventually the postcards stopped, and Didi started to worry. She called the police to report her son and daughter-in-law missing. She told the police what she knew, while also mentioning that her tenant – her “go-between at the federal level” by the name of Christopher Chichester – was also missing.

A photo of John Sohus / A headshot of Chris Gerhart.
John Sohus, Chris Gerhart. Source: YouTube

But Chris wasn’t missing; he was on his way back to Connecticut… This was around May 1985, four months after Linda and John vanished, and Chris was back in Connecticut.

Becoming Christopher Crowe

This time, he settled in Greenwich, the swanky southwestern coast, and was now going by Christopher Crowe. Now, he was going around town telling people he was a film producer in between careers. With all the money flowing around Greenwich, Chris had a lot to take advantage of.

A photo of Chris Gerhart as Christopher Crowe.
Chris Gerhart. Source: Pinterest

Not only the preppy people at the posh parties, and their guest houses, but also their connections in the banking world. The man had no proven qualifications, yet he managed to land three jobs in the securities field.

Enter Bishop, the Minister’s Son

He played the part: he wore the right clothes, told the right story, and pretended to trade the right bonds. He once gave an employer a fake Social Security number (but it wasn’t fake; it just belonged to David Berkowitz, the notorious Son of Sam killer).

A photo of a church where Christ Gerhart grew up.
Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Like he had before as Chichester, Crowe made his rounds at church. It was clever of him, of course, since people at churches tend to believe. It was at church that Crowe met the minister’s son, a man named Chris Bishop.

Big Mistake, Chris

Bishop was an aspiring filmmaker, so he and the “former film producer” became fast friends. While in Connecticut, Crowe made a mistake; he tried to sell the 1985 Nissan pickup that had once belonged to John and Linda Sohus. And the person he sold it to was Bishop.

Police and investigators search the San Marino area.
Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Back in San Marino, Didi was heartbroken. She had already lost her husband – now her son? What she never expected was that her ex-tenant Chichester was connected to John and Linda’s disappearance.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents…

As Bishop later testified in court, “He said – ‘Hey, I’ve got this pickup truck. It was a production vehicle on a movie that I made. I can’t use it. I don’t want it. Would you like it?’” It was the Sohus’ Nissan pickup that Bishop bought off Crowe.

Clark Rockefeller stands with his attorney in court.
Attorney Stephen Hrones, Clark Rockefeller. Photo by Essdras M Suarez/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

When Bishop went to register it at the DMV, it showed that the truck belonged to the missing couple. Bishop believed that Crowe was the “executive producer of the new Alfred Hitchcock Presents series,” he later testified.

The Producer Turned Wall Street Trader

Funnily enough, the series had a Christopher Crowe in the credits. Obviously, it wasn’t con man Crowe, but no one questioned the 24-year-old’s story. Nobody questioned him two years later, in New York, when the 26-year-old past producer evolved into a bond trader on Wall Street.

A mugshot of Chris Gerhart.
Chris Gerhart. Photo by Boston Police/Getty Images

He was hired simply because of his name, which he said was Christopher Crowe Mountbatten (the Mountbattens, you might know, are related to the Queen of England). But his Wall Street co-workers noticed how inexperienced this Crowe guy actually was.

Meanwhile, in San Marino

“He didn’t understand the basic elements of what a corporate bond was all about,” a co-worker later testified. After about a year, Crowe was fired from the firm. Meanwhile, in California, the San Marino police wanted answers, so they joined forces with the Greenwich police.

An image of the many faces of Chris Gerhart.
Chris Gerhart. Source: YouTube

It was late 1988 and by this point, the Sohus case was still open, after three years, with no leads. Within days, Greenwich detective Dan Allen discovered that Chris Crowe was also Chris Chichester. The detective went to look for Crowe/Chichester at his workplace, but he was already gone.

Becoming Clark Rockefeller

Crowe went off the radar and didn’t resurface until 1992, when he started going by the name Clark Rockefeller. By then, he was living in New York City and had talked his way into a large brokerage house job. He also had a live-in girlfriend, Mihoko Manabe, who was hoping to marry him someday.

A photo of Mihoko testifying in court.
Mihoko Manabe. Photo by Walt Mancini

Mihoko heard her boyfriend use the name Rockefeller for the first time when they went out to a restaurant one evening. They weren’t able to get a reservation, so he just said, “Rockefeller. My name’s Clark Rockefeller.” And just like that, a table was ready.

Hello, Is Crowe There? How About Chichester?

We know by now that the man was clever; he knew the name Rockefeller held power. And it worked like a charm. Detective Allen was still on the hunt, however. He got hold of a phone number said to belong to Crowe. When he called, Mihoko picked up.

An ex-wife of Chris Gerhart, testifies during the trial.
Sandra Boss, ex-wife. Photo by Bill Greene/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

She told him that her boyfriend wasn’t there, but she could leave a message for him. But for the following week, Mihoko helped Rockefeller dodge the detective. Soon after that first alarming phone call, Mihoko and Clark moved to another apartment.

His New, Elitist Cover Story

He grew a beard, Mihoko dyed his hair, and the two never walked out of the building at the same time. With every new place and every new identity, Chris evolved in his conning. In NYC, he didn’t bother trying to keep up a steady job, he just told people he was a freelance central banker whose focus was Third World debt.

A photo of an art piece from the Dadaist movement.
Photo by Heritage Images/Getty Images

His story was extravagant as always. This time, he was living off “family money” in an apartment filled with modern art that he had inherited. He realized that his previous aliases were too relatable; too familiar. He was now into Dadaism (mocking the elite).

The Wheels Were in Motion

But it wouldn’t be long until his most outrageous identity would be revealed. Back in San Marino, the wheels were in motion. When the new owners of Didi’s house decided to put in a swimming pool, the excavation unearthed human remains, which were located directly behind the guest house.

A photo of Chris Gerhart in court.
Photo by Ted Fitzgerald/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

John’s body was found inside a fiberglass container, with his limbs wrapped in Saran Wrap. In early 1993, NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries aired a segment on the Sohus case. The show talked about Didi’s delusions, and John’s “top secret” job offer, and even the weirdo who lived in the guest house.

Exposed by NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries

The episode concluded with a photo of Christopher Chichester, stating that he also goes by the names Christopher Crowe, Christopher Mountbatten, and Christian Gerhartsreiter, “a native of Germany.” His face was out there, the hunt was on, but the police never expected the search to reach so far, so wide, or so deep.

A former classmate of Chris Gerhart, speaks during an interview.
Chris’ former classmate. Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

After the Unsolved Mystery episode aired, there was hope that a lead would come in. But no one called in with a tip. With no leads, the case went cold again. Chris, on the other hand, was one hot tamale, at least in the churchgoers’ eyes.

Professor Plum and Miss Scarlet

At some point in 1992, the congregation at Saint Thomas Church on New York’s Fifth Avenue met “Clark Rockefeller.” He told the church that he carried around a security device that was connected to the Rockefeller offices since his family was paranoid about him being kidnapped.

A photo of Sandra Boss testifying in court.
Sandra Boss. Photo by Bill Greene/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

In the summer of 1993, Clark met a young Harvard business school student named Sandra Boss at the church. One day, they chatted while playing a game of – get this – Clue (she played Miss Scarlet; he played Professor Plum).

Goodbye Mihoko, Hello Sandra

From there, the pair became an item and later moved in together (goodbye Mihoko). Later on, Sandra admitted that she just accepted his odd behavior. By 1995, they were married. The marriage wasn’t the most conventional as Sandra was the breadwinner, whereas Clark controlled the finances.

A picture of Sandra and Reigh.
Sandra Boss, Reigh Storrow. Source: YouTube

While Sandra was working, Clark was wining and dining at yacht clubs yet never picked up the check. Even though the Rockefeller marriage was on the rocks, they stayed together and even had a child in 2001: a girl they named Reigh Storrow Rockefeller.

A Child, a Divorce, and a Discovery

Five years later, Sandra filed for divorce, and when things got ugly, Clark’s years-long con started to unravel. “I found out in August of 2007 that he was not Clark Rockefeller,” Sandra testified.

A picture of Rockefeller participating in a kid’s play.
Source: Pinterest

She hired a private detective only to hear him say, “We can find absolutely nothing on this individual. We don’t know who he is.” She didn’t realize that Chris was hiding in plain sight as Rockefeller, who was busy telling everyone about a multimillion-dollar art collection he was about to inherit.

Sir, There’s Been a Kidnapping

Then, one day in July of 2008, FBI Agent Tammy Harty got a call from headquarters: a Boston man named Rockefeller had kidnapped his 7-year-old daughter during a routine, supervised visitation. “The social worker tried to prevent it,” Agent Harty reported.

An image of Rockefeller and Reigh during the kidnapping period.
Clark Rockefeller, Reigh Storrow. Source: YouTube

“And he was dragged by the vehicle and was injured during the course of the abduction.” Rockefeller managed to evade the FBI for six days, changing his identity once more. His final identity was in Baltimore, as Chip Smith, a “high sea ship captain who has a daughter named Muffy.”

Christopher in Cuffs

It was clear that the abduction of his daughter was thoroughly planned. But once a real estate agent in Baltimore saw Rockefeller on the news, the jig was up. She stared dumbfounded at the screen, looking at the face of the man she had just sold a house to.

A still of Chris Gerhart at the interrogation room.
Chris Gerhart. Source: 48 Hours

Soon enough, FBI surrounded that house, and after ensuring the little girl was safe, they raided the property and arrested her father. The con man was finally in cuffs. It was only in trial that the world got to meet the man behind the personas…

From Kidnapping Convict to Murder Suspect

The courtroom met Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a young German immigrant who came to America with nothing but a pocket full of lies. In early 2013, while Chris was serving a four-to-five-year sentence for the kidnapping of his daughter, he was suddenly moved.

A shot of the apartment’s front door where Chris was found.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

He was hauled from a prison in Massachusetts to a California jail, where he was about to face charges for the murder of John Sohus. LA County sheriff’s detectives Tim Miley and Delores Scott had to determine exactly how John died. All they had was his skull, and it was in pieces.

No Fingerprints, No Proof

A special lab in Hawaii had to reconstruct it, and then forensic pathologist Dr. Frank Sheridan determined how the murder happened. John had been bludgeoned to death. Now, they had to prove it was Chris who did the deed. But how?

A picture of Chris Gerhart during the trial.
Photo by Ted Fitzgerald/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

Well, John’s body was found wrapped in cellophane and then inserted into plastic bookstore bags, which were then traced to colleges that Chris had attended. But there was no DNA, no fingerprints. By the time the body was found, nine years had already passed.

It Wasn’t Me

“Dirt just decomposes everything,” Detective Scott explained. In March 2013, Chris went on trial for the murder of John Sohus and the case went to the jury. Chris was, unsurprisingly, feeling confident. “I believe it because I know for a fact that I did not do this. I know that for an absolute fact,” Chris said.

A still of Chris Gerhart during an interview.
Source: 48 Hours

Justice was finally served: he was found guilty of first-degree murder. Still, he maintains that he didn’t kill John or Linda. He says Linda is “around somewhere.” His defense was that Linda killed her husband – not him.

Who’s Gonna Trust a Con Man?

His proof were the postcards from Europe with Linda’s handwriting. The problem: who’s going to believe a master swindler? It’s been over three decades, and Linda (or her body) has yet to be found. When asked how well he knew the Sohuses, Chris said, “I mean, I knew them sort of. But not really.”

An image of Judge Frank Gaziano listening to testimonies.
Photo by Ted Fitzgerald/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

When reminded that they were practically neighbors for two years, he replied, “Yeah, yeah, they – they didn’t talk to me.” Chris was ultimately sentenced to 25 years to life for the murder of John Sohus.

His Latest Identity: Inmate 2800458

His defense team tried their best to argue that he was truly delusional and actually believed he was a Rockefeller. Thankfully, no one was buying it. Now, Chris has a new identity: inmate number 2800458. CBS’s 48 Hours interviewed the man who still calls himself Rockefeller.

A guard escorts Chris Gerhart inside the prison.
Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

When correspondent Erin Moriarty got a little too close to him, he frantically tried to get the show’s producer, Judy Rybak, to stop her. “Judy. Judy, we gotta stop this. You know, you gotta stop that, Erin. It’s too adversarial, Erin. Judy, let’s – let’s discuss that.”

Stop It, Judy

He even tried to walk out of the interview. But Moriarty managed to keep the killer in his chair long enough to ask: “Did you kill John Sohus?” He answered “no.” When Moriarty asked him which persona he liked the most – if it was Clark Rockefeller, he interrupted her again.

A photo of Chris Gerhart during an interview.
Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

“Umm, no. No, no, no, no. Let, let’s not get into that again. Erin, Erin, Erin.” When Moriarty interviewed the detectives in the case, they made it clear that there was no way Linda was still alive.

The Evidence Speaks for Itself

Detective Miley remarked that Linda couldn’t have sent those postcards as the DNA taken from the stamp doesn’t match Linda’s. Strangely, it didn’t match Chris’ either. “That proves that he has the ability to have someone send a postcard from Europe when he is not there,” Miley explained.

A photo inside the courtroom during the trial.
Defense Attorney Timothy Bradl. Photo by Matthew West/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

John Sohus’ younger sister, Ellen, asserted that her sister-in-law would never have killed her brother. Ellen says the evidence against Chris is much stronger. “All the things I learned about how he changed identities,” Ellen said, “trying to sell my brother’s truck, covering up all those things…”

The Whole Truck Thing

Also, although Chris claims Didi gave him John and Linda’s truck, Ellen begs to differ. “She didn’t touch the bedroom that they slept in. All of his stuff and Linda’s stuff was left untouched. She wouldn’t have done that and given the truck away.”

A closeup on Chris's facial expressions as he speaks.
Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Chris had his own comment on the truck: “This truck was in my possession for three-and-a-half years with its license plates attached, unaltered, unchanged, in excellent condition. Why would a person who is aware of criminal liability preserve evidence?” he hypothetically asked Moriarty.

He Tried to Sound Sincere

Greenwich’s Lieutenant Dan Allen had an answer for that. “It wasn’t out in the open as far as I could determine. No one ever saw that white pickup truck.” Ellen and her other brother Chris Sohus believe Chris also killed Linda, but they’ll have to wait for his confession to get closure on that.

A dated portrait of John Sohus and Linda.
John Sohus, Linda. Source: Pinterest

During his sentencing, Chris addressed the judge: “Your Honor, I can only say once again, that I, I want to assert my innocence and that I firmly believe that the victim’s wife killed the victim.”

Just a Minor Inconvenience

He met with Moriarty for the 48 Hours interview on the day he got sentenced to life. “I can’t speak for the jurors’ decision,” he began. “Half of them were probably too stupid to understand reasonable doubt. The other half were probably too lazy to even think about what’s been presented and just wanted to get out of here.”

A still of Chris Gerhart during the interview.
Source: 48 Hours

He told Moriarty that this was all a “minor inconvenience… that’s all it is.” After the sentencing, he fired his lawyers and tried his luck by filing a motion for a new trial. It was denied.

Dear Old Friend…

As for his daughter – the one he abducted – she’s said to be living abroad with her mother, Sandra. She has no contact with her father. An author by the name of Walter Kirn wrote a book about this case, which only makes sense considering he was actually friends with the con man.

A still of Walter Kirn during an interview.
Walter Kirn. Source: 48 Hours

Kirn said that Chris sent him a letter from jail one day… In the letter to his old journalist friend, Chris told Kirn about the thing that inspired him to live a life of lies.

All Thanks to The Great Gatsby

He said his whole career in America was based on a book he read when he was ten years old – about “somebody who came up in society through fraudulence,” he wrote. He didn’t name the book, but Kirn believes it was The Great Gatsby.

A still from the film The Great Gatsby.
Photo by Paramount Pictures/Getty Images

In the interview with Moriarty, she asked Chris if while growing up, he got most of his ideas about America from movies and books. “Books,” he told her. “I’m a big reader.” “You once mentioned The Great Gatsby,” she brought up.

Gilligan and the Seven Deadly Sins

“Uh-huh. Yeah, that’s one of them,” he reluctantly confirmed. He also said that Gilligan’s Island used to be his favorite show, “Because it’s actually a religious show,” he noted, “and the characters represent the seven deadly sins.”

A photo of a credit card / A headshot of Chris Gerhart.
Chris Gerhart. Source: CBS News

He explained how Gilligan is sloth, the Skipper is anger, the Professor is pride, Mary Ann is envy, Ginger is lust, and the millionaire’s wife is gluttony. What about the millionaire? Well, he’s greed, of course. Moriarty then asked him about his accent. She wondered if his accent was modeled after Thurston Howell III (the millionaire in Gilligan’s Island).

Vanity, Vanity, Vanity

“Yeah. I picked it up unconsciously,” he responded. Was it his idea of what a “blue-blooded American would sound like?” He answered, “Perhaps unconsciously.” The funny (sad) thing about con men is that when their schemes work, it says a lot more about the victims than the swindlers themselves.

A headshot of Chris Gerhart in prison.
Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

In an interview, writer Kirn asked his convicted friend what he looked for in the people he manipulated. “Vanity, vanity, vanity,” Chris revealed. But before he answered the question, Kirn couldn’t help but notice the murderer hold in his laughter.