Rockefeller imposter capable of murder? Defense lawyer points to dead man's vanished wife

(CBS News) The man who once posed as a member of the Rockefeller family is on trial. He's charged in Los Angeles with a murder that happened nearly 30 years ago.

Christian Gerhartsreiter has lived most of his life conning others with fake names and fantastic tales. He's called himself a Rockefeller, a Mountbatten and a British baronet.

The prosecutor in the case said of Gerhartsreiter: "He passed out business cards saying he was Christopher Chichester - the 13th baronet, with his family crest."

Even his own defense attorney made a less-than-flattering remark: "Sometimes it is human nature to blame the drifter, or the grifter, or the con artist. Isn't it?"

Journalist and author Frank Girardot says, "His defense attorneys are going to want you to believe that he's a con man -- a lowlife that changes his name, mooches -- he's a lout. Prosecutors want you to believe that he's all those things -- and he killed John Sohus."

John Sohus and his wife Linda vanished in 1985. "Chris Chichester" had been living in John Sohus' mother's San Marino guest house.

Linda was never seen again. The bones of John Sohus were found buried in his backyard nine years later, his fractured skull wrapped in plastic bags from two universities the suspect had attended, one out in Wisconsin. Investigators wanted to talk to Chichester, but he was long gone, taking on a new life and a new wife on the East Coast.

Girardot wrote about the man who posed as Clark Rockefeller in his book "Name Dropper." Girardot says of Gerhartsreiter, "He's basically a guy who brought a lot of people into a con. He conned the upper echelons of American society. This is not the guy that you typically see in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom facing a murder charge."

He might never have been in court, if not for a bitter divorce after his wife discovered he was no Rockefeller. He was arrested and convicted in 2009 of kidnapping their daughter during a supervised visit. Investigators in Los Angeles made the match and charged him in the cold case murder.

But the defense is pointing the finger at someone else -- the still-missing Linda Sohus. The defense attorney said "it could well have been John Sohus' vanished wife, Linda."

In a story full of twists and turns, this one seems far from over.

For Bill Whitaker's full report, watch the video in the player above.

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