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Trial Begins for Alleged Rockefeller Wannabe

May 27, 2009 06:00 PM
by Shannon Firth
The wild tale of the conman accused of kidnapping his own daughter and adopting a number of aliases goes before the court this week.

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter Faces Kidnapping, Assault Charges

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He called himself Clark Rockefeller, but authorities say his name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, and he has been fooling the world for years with a number of false personas.

But in July, reports Agence France-Presse, his carefully constructed web of lies all came tumbling down. The German-born Gerhartsreiter, who had been telling people he was related to the famed and wealthy Rockefeller family, was arrested on charges of kidnapping his seven-year-old daughter, Reigh Boss on July 27. Reigh was then safely returned to her mother, Sandra Boss.

Now Gerhartsreiter's fate is up to the judge and jury in Boston, Mass., where the trial will take place. He faces charges of parental kidnapping, assault and giving police a fake name. Jury selection began Tuesday and the trial is expected to begin in the next few days. Defense attorneys say their client is clinically insane.

The man's confusing identity could be a problem at trial, The Boston Globe reports. The accused man still swears he is 48-year-old Clark Rockefeller. Judge Frank Gaziano says he will do his best to simply refer to him as "the defendant." 

Witnesses will use the name the man has gone by since 1981, said defense attorney Timothy Bradl. "Every one of them is going to say that's Clark Rockefeller," he told the Globe.

Background: Tracing the mystery of ‘Clark Rockefeller’

Determining the identity of the man who called himself Rockefeller was a tricky and involved affair.

After Rockefeller (whose real identity was then unknown) was captured in an apartment in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore, his fingerprints were matched to a driver’s license application in another state. The name on that application, Christopher Chichester, was a suspect in the long-ago murder of a newlywed couple, Jonathan and Linda Sohus, in California.

Rockefeller’s attorney at the time denied any connection to the murder, as well as the proposition that Rockefeller could be guilty of kidnapping with respect to his own daughter. Rockefeller had been caught after allegedly taking the girl during a supervised visit on July 27; he had been divorced from his wife (and the child's mother) for several months.

Rockefeller had been the primary caregiver since Reigh's birth, yet in their divorce settlement, he reportedly gave Sandra Boss custody of Reigh in exchange for their $1.5 million estate. Authorities suspect he took the settlement to avoid surrendering his birth certificate. Following the decision in December, Boss took Reigh with her to London.

Another confusing story about the man known as Rockefeller had surfaced earlier that summer, the Baltimore Sun reported at the time. Bruce Boswell, a Baltimore resident, said he met with Rockefeller and sold him a catamaran. The sale was completed after hours at an Obsidian Realty office Rockefeller falsely claimed to own. According to the newspaper, Rockefeller “punched in an alarm code, entered the office and wrote up a bill of sale.”

Rockefeller told Boswell about his plans to buy and renovate a historic theater in West Baltimore, spoke as though he operated in posh circles in New York, and “said negative things about women.”

Police caught Rockefeller following a tip from Obsidian employees. Thomas Lee, Boston Police Superintendent said, “The way he operates, I’m sure he would have started a new life in high-society circles, and probably become an upstanding Baltimore citizen.”

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