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Man who called himself a Rockefeller due in court

AP News
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Posted: Jul 08, 2011 4:31 AM
Man who called himself a Rockefeller due in court

A German immigrant who masqueraded as a member of the famous Rockefeller family will appear in court on charges that he murdered his Southern California landlord more than a quarter century ago and then fled the state.

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter is scheduled to be arraigned Friday morning in Los Angeles Superior Court in Alhambra, east of Los Angeles.

Prosecutors believe he murdered Jonathan Sohus, who disappeared along with his wife Linda in 1985. Gerhartsreiter rented the couple's guesthouse in wealthy enclave of San Marino, northeast of Los Angeles, and left town soon after they vanished.

He plans to plead not guilty, his lawyers have said.

Gerhartsreiter was already serving a prison term in Massachusetts following a 2009 conviction in the kidnapping of his 7-year-old daughter.

At the time arrest in Baltimore in August 2008, Gerhartsreiter had been living under the Rockefeller name. He was convicted of snatching his daughter from a Boston street in an elaborately planned kidnapping in which he hired two people to drive them to New York.

Detectives in California had long considered Gerhartsreiter a person of interest in the death of 27-year-old Sohus, a former landlord who mysteriously disappeared with his wife, Linda, in 1985 at the same time a man using the name Christopher Chichester was staying in a guest house on their property.

The man who called himself Chichester had quickly ingratiated himself into the community and told people he was a British aristocrat. Over the years, Gerhartsreiter has morphed identities many times, telling people he was a physicist, an art collector, a ship captain and a financial adviser who renegotiated debt for small countries

At his kidnapping trial, prosecutors said Gerhartsreiter used aliases to move in wealthy circles in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. His strange story has become the subject of a TV movie.

Skeletal remains were found in the backyard of the Sohus's home in 1994 when new owners were excavating for a swimming pool. Those bones were thought to belong to Jonathan Sohus. His wife is still missing

Gerhartsreiter arrived in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Because of the notoriety of his case, he is being kept away from the general jail population.

Gerhartsreiter's lawyers claimed during the 2009 trial that he was suffering from a delusional disorder and was legally insane when he snatched his daughter during a supervised visit in Boston following a bitter divorce from his wife. Prosecutors portrayed him as a master manipulator who used multiple aliases and told elaborate lies about his past.