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Victims’ relatives testify in ‘Rockefeller’ trial

Christian Gerhartsreiter lived at the guest house of the home from which John and Linda Sohus disappeared.

ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Christian Gerhartsreiter lived at the guest house of the home from which John and Linda Sohus disappeared.

LOS ANGELES — Linda Sohus visited her mother and sister in February 1985, and then she was gone, forever.

“She said they were leaving town and would be gone approximately two weeks,’’ said Susan Mayfield, Linda Sohus’s mother, testifying Thursday in Superior Court here. “She said [her husband] John had an opportunity for a computer job.”

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Sohus has never been heard from or seen again, and authorities assume that she is dead and that she was probably killed by the same person who killed John Sohus. While Linda Sohus has never been located, the remains of John Sohus, who disappeared when his wife did, were discovered in 1994 in the backyard of 1920 Lorain Road in San Marino, Calif., where they lived.

German con man Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who lived in a guest house on the property in the 1980s, is charged with murder and is on trial in John Sohus’s death, in a case that has drawn inter­national attention.

Gerhartsreiter made headlines after his masquerade as “Clark Rockefeller” in Boston began to unravel in 2008, when he was ­arrested for abducting his 7-year-old daughter.

Gerhartsreiter lived in the guesthouse from 1981 to 1985 and left soon after the couple’s disappearance. California authorities charged him in 2011 in the unsolved slaying of John Sohus. He has not been charged in connection with Linda Sohus’s dis­appearance.

While Gerhartsreiter’s lawyers suggested in opening statements Monday that Linda Sohus probably killed her husband, prosecutor Habib Balian brought several witnesses Thursday in his strongest attempt to dispel that ­notion.

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Mayfield and Kathleen ­Jacoby, Linda Sohus’s younger sister, both testified that Sohus was never violent, and that they had never heard her argue with her husband.

Born on Sept. 17, 1956, Sohus dropped out of high school in the 10th grade and at the age of 16 went to live with her grandmother.

In early February 1985, Mayfield testified, Sohus stopped by Mayfield’s West Los Angeles home and asked if she could leave her new white pickup truck at her house when she traveled to Connecticut. ­Mayfield said no because she did not want the responsibility of moving the truck once a week for street cleaning.

Mayfield said she and her daughter made plans to see the play “Cats” when Linda ­returned, but Mayfield never saw her again.

According to her mother, Sohus had five cats that were like family, and she would not have abandoned them.

Adding to the mystery, a card with an April 1985 postmark from France later arrived at Mayfield’s house, appearing to be from Linda and John Sohus.

Mayfield was baffled, as she said Linda Sohus had never ­indicated she was going to ­Europe, never talked about it, did not have have the money to afford the trip, and did not possess a passport.

Mayfield acknowledged that she rarely had conversations with John Sohus, and that he stayed in the car whenever her daughter visited.

“It was puzzling,” Mayfield said, under cross-examination by defense lawyer Brad Bailey.

Katherine Jacoby, Linda Sohus’s younger sister, testified that she last saw Linda Sohus on Feb. 8, 1985, and filed a missing missing person report on April 8, 1985, after a kennel operator called and said Linda had not picked up her cats.

Jacoby said her sister was never violent and was interested in science fiction and unicorns. She was also proud of her artwork, which she carried around in a portfolio, Jacoby said. The portfolio was one of many items Linda and John Sohus had left behind at the Lorain Road house.

“It didn’t look at all like someone had packed up and left,” said Harry Sherwood, a relative of Didi Sohus, John’s mother, who owned the house.

Sherwood said he stayed at the house for two weeks in ­November 1985, at the age of 14, and found it odd that so many of John and Linda Sohus’s possessions were still lying around the bedroom and bathroom. “It seemed like all of their things were there.”

Earlier in the day, several former neighbors of the Suhoses testified.

Marianne Kent, 82, lived at 1960 Lorain Road and knew Didi Sohus. After John and ­Linda Sohus married, they lived in the same room John had occupied as a child. The couple did not live in the guesthouse because it was occupied by Gerhartsreiter, who was going by the name of Christopher Chichester, Kent said.

When the couple disappeared in early 1985, Didi Sohus assumed it was temporary, Kent said.

But when her son and daughter-in-law did not return, Didi started drinking heavily and became sullen, Kent told jurors. She moped around the empty house all day, not changing out of her night clothes, Kent said. In addition, Kent described how the house started to deteriorate and the yard became unkempt. Didi Sohus eventually sold the residence and moved to a trailer court, heartbroken that her son had disappeared.

Kathleen Romer, another neighbor, testified that she went out with Gerhartsreiter once or twice. She recalled growing tired of his embellishments and outright lies.

In summer 1984 she went job hunting in northern California, staying at a cousin’s house. She made a point before leaving to keep her whereabouts unknown to Chichester, but only two days later she received a package from him containing Godiva chocolates.

“I still have no idea how he figured out where I was,” Romer testified. “I kind of felt like I was being stalked.”

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

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