The German national who went by the name Clark Rockefeller and conned his way into high-society circles from California to Boston will be tried next month in the 1985 killing of a computer programmer in California.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge set the trial date for Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter for March 11, paving the way for what is expected to be a highly publicized proceeding. Dozens of people who knew Gerhartsreiter under his myriad aliases could testify during the trial, which is expected to last five weeks, said Brad Bailey, one of Gerhartsreiter’s attorneys.
In the early 1980s, Gerhartsreiter was living under the name of Christopher Chichester in San Marino, Calif., in the guest house of Didi Sohus. Her son, John Sohus, 27, a computer programmer, and his wife, Linda, lived in the main house with Didi Sohus.
The couple vanished in 1985, and Gerhartsreiter left San Marino shortly afterward, moving to New York, New Hampshire, and finally to Boston, where he lived under the alias Clark Rockefeller.
In 1994, the remains of John Sohus were found in plastic bags by pool excavators digging in the backyard of the San Marino house.
Police say they connected Gerhartsreiter to the killing after his 2008 arrest in the kidnapping of his 7-year-old daughter in Boston.
There is no known DNA or blood evidence linking Gerhartsreiter to the homicide. Save for Sohus’s skull, his remains were inexplicably cremated or lost by the coroner’s office, which could make it difficult to prove to a jury that he was assaulted. Prosecutor Habib Balian has said that Gerhartsreiter used a knife to attack Sohus.
Balian, however, is expected to call on several witnesses to testify about Gerhartsreiter’s strange behavior after the couple’s disappearance. And one of the two bags that held Sohus’s remains featured a logo from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee that was used only from 1979 to 1982. Gerhartsreiter was a student there in 1981.
Gerhartsreiter’s lawyers have tried to cast suspicion on Linda Sohus, who has not been seen since 1985 and who police believe is dead.
Gerhartsreiter has never talked about the couple to police or reporters, but Bailey and Gerhartsreiter’s other lawyer, Jeffrey Denner, had asked that statements Gerhartsreiter made in 2008 to the FBI and the press, including the Boston Globe, not be allowed in his upcoming trial.
On Wednesday, Judge George Lomeli ruled to suppress his comments to the FBI, agreeing with the defense that agents continued to interrogate Gerhartsreiter after he told them he no longer wanted to speak.
But the judge declined to suppress statements that Gerhartsreiter made to reporters, in part because the statements might have been a tactic by Gerhartsreiter’s attorney at the time to gain public sympathy before the kidnapping trial.
In 2009, a Suffolk jury convicted Gerhartsreiter of kidnapping his child during a visit, and he was sentenced to four to five years.
He has served that time and is now being held in California on $10 million cash bail on the murder charges.
His lawyers said he has not seen his daughter since his 2008 arrest.