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At ‘Rockefeller’ trial, police say they saw mother’s fear for son grow

LOS ANGELES — On the initial visits to her house by police, Ruth “Didi” Sohus was confident that her missing son would return, but as the months went by, her demeanor changed ­dramatically.

“She was a little agitated; she was crying; she was upset,” recalled Lili Hadsell, a former San Marino, Calif., ­patrol officer, testifying during the fifth day of the Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter murder trial in Superior Court in Los Angeles. “She just seemed more agitated and upset than I had ever seen her ­before,” said Hadsell, who had visited 1920 Lorian Road in San Marino several times before a tear-soaked encounter on July 8, 1985, five months after Sohus’s son, John, and his wife, Linda, were last seen.

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The trial of Gerhartsreiter, also known as Clark Rockefeller, is expected to last about a month. With one week ­already complete, 20 witnesses from a list of 50 have testified, and 100 exhibits have been entered as evidence.

The remains of John Sohus were found in May 1994 in the backyard of the San Marino home, where ­Gerhartsreiter had lived in a guesthouse on the property. He is charged with killing John Sohus. Linda Sohus has not be seen or heard from since the couple disappeared and is presumed dead.

Gerhartsreiter created an inter­national sensation in 2008 after authorities, prosecuting him for abducting his 7-year-old daughter, Reigh, in Boston, ­exposed his past as mostly a fabrication. By then, he had used about a half-dozen aliases, including the name Clark ­Rockefeller in Boston.

“It was certainly a productive week in terms of the number of witness who testified, but no case is about quantity,” Brad Bailey, Gerhartsreiter’s attorney, said of the first week.

“Instead, cases are about quality and substance and holding the prosecution to their burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt from start to finish.”

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Hadsell and two other former San Marino police officers testified Friday about their visits 28 years ago to 1920 Lorian Road to investigate the disappearance of the Sohuses.

Thomas LeVeque, then a rookie patrol officer, told jurors he helped Kathleen Jacoby fill out a missing person report on her half-sister, Linda Sohus, on April 8, 1985. After finishing the report, LeVeque went to the Lorian Road residence and spoke with Didi Sohus, who owned the home.

But unlike his testimony in a pretrial hearing in Alhambra Superior Court last year, LeVeque did not talk about his conversation with Didi Sohus, nor was he questioned about it.

In January 2012, he testified that Didi Sohus told him the missing couple were OK and had taken off on a secret mission at the behest of a shadowy government agent.

‘‘She said she could get in touch, but would not furnish infor­mation,’’ said LeVeque, now with the Arcadia, Calif., ­Police Department. ‘‘She said she had written to them and could contact them and the unknown source could reach them.’’

But when her son and daughter-in-law did not return, Didi started drinking heavily and became sullen, according to a neighbor’s testimony on Thursday.

Both the prosecution and defense declined to comment on why LeVeque’s earlier statements were not brought up Friday.

Gerhartsreiter moved to San Marino around 1981 and began renting the guest quarters of the house. John and Linda Sohus moved into the main house after their marriage in October 1983.

Gerhartsreiter left California in 1985 and moved to New York, then New Hampshire, and eventually to Boston. He was able to ease into wealthy circles and move among the elite of high society, using the name Clark Rockefeller and passing himself off as a relative of the famous industrialist.

He married Sandra Boss, a Harvard Business School graduate and partner at a consulting firm with a $2 million annual salary, in 1995. They had Reigh in 2001 before they ­divorced in December 2006. Boss is expected to testify in about a week at the earliest, prosecution and defense say.

Boss said she spent most of her 12-year marriage with no idea that her husband, whom she knew as Clark Rockefeller, was a Bavarian-born impostor.

In June 2009, Boss testified during her former husband’s abduction trial that during their marriage, she never saw him with identification cards, never viewed pictures of him from childhood, never knew his Social Security number, and never met his supposed business partners from a jet propulsion start-up company.

Gerhartsreiter received a five-year Massachusetts sentence in the kidnapping, but by that time had caught the attention of California authorities seeking to solve the John Sohus homicide.

Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.

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