Produced by Judy Rybak
Christian Gerhartsreiter was a man of many identities - but to most he was "Clark Rockefeller"-- a con man who duped people across the country. To police, he was a suspected killer on the run from a 1985 murder. "48 Hours" correspondent Erin Moriarty confronts Gerhartsreiter, pressing him to reveal his secrets.
"I'd never been to a murder trial before. You know, imagine me. One of my best friends is the defendant at the first murder trial I get to go to ... somebody who's fooled me for years. ... I'm a journalist and a novelist. And so you'd think that I was the kinda guy who would see through someone like him. And the fact was I never did," Walter Kirn told Moriarty.
Writer Kirn was a friend of "Clark Rockefeller" - or the man he who knew by that name.
"But now, witness after witness was coming up and giving evidence about what was really going on and that the person I knew was actually hiding from a murder the whole time and that a lot of what I thought were his eccentricities, his concerns about privacy, his concerns about security ... all of these things suddenly took on a whole new meaning," he continued.
America has long been the land of opportunity, and in 1982, there were few places more inviting than San Marino, Calif., an opulent suburb of Los Angeles that felt like a small town.
"It was a -- sort of an Andy Hardy existence," described one San Marino socialite.
"Like, a wealthy Mayberry?" Moriarty asked. "Well, that could be," the woman replied.
It was the perfect setting for English royalty.
"You knew him by what name?" Moriarty asked the trio of women.
"Christopher Chichester the 13th -- the 13th Baronet (laughs) of England," the same woman replied.
The 21-year-old baronet had a posh accent and old-world charm and made sure that he was properly introduced.
"He was at Church of Our Savior a lot," the woman explained. "It's the oldest church in the area."
And the church was the most prestigious -- the perfect place to charm his way into San Marino high society.
"And he was passing out hymnals ... going to the free lunches and joining the city club and meeting all the regulars," said Vanity Fair reporter and "48 Hours" consultant Mark Seal, author of "The Man in the Rockefeller Suit".
"He was handing out business cards that said, 'Thirteenth Baronet of Chichester' and it had the -- the crest, and he would hand out a business card and kiss the ladies' hands," Seal explained. "... and pretty soon he's a member of the community."
So much so that he started making elaborate plans for the city, none of it setting off any alarms among the trusting folk.
"I remember Chris coming over and saying, 'I can get a chapel. We have a chapel on our property in Europe, and I'll have it sent over -- " the woman explained.
" -- the Chichester Cathedral, no less," a second woman added with a laugh.
"Did you believe it at the time?" Moriarty wondered.
"I thought, 'Fabulous. That will look so perfect right here,'" the first woman said.
"Police say that you are a con artist, a con man. What do you -- call yourself?" Moriarty asked "Clark Rockefeller".
"Did I con? Who did I con?" he asked defiantly.
"If not a con artist, what would you call yourself?" Moriarty continued.
"Steve Badrowski ... is an absolute literary genius. He came up with the word - confabulator," "Rockefeller explained. "Confabulations -- harmless inventions of fun that don't really hurt anyone," he explained dramatically.
"So you don't believe you hurt anyone," said Moriarty.
"I don't think so," he replied.
It was through friends at church that "Chris Chichester" reportedly met wealthy divorcee Ruth Sohus, better known as Didi. Didi had a small guesthouse in the backyard of her San Marino home. Legally, she wasn't allowed to rent it out, but the 65-year-old had been running out of money. So when she let "Chichester" move in, it had to be their secret. That suited her new tenant just fine.
"No one ever knew what house he lived in," one of the ladies told Moriarty. "He told me he was living in the second house from the corner on Lorain and West," said another. "He told me he lived on the corner," said a third woman.
But all the while, he lived in the guesthouse where authorities believe he turned from con man to killer.
"John Sohus, Didi's adopted son ... and Linda, his soon-to-be bride ... were low on money, they moved into Didi's house," Seal explained.
"Christopher Chichester's living in the back ... in the guest house. ...John is a computer nerd, a 'Star Trek' fanatic. Linda's six feet tall, a strawberry blonde artist who loved horses and painted fanciful unicorns."
While the young con man was living in their backyard, John and Linda got married and made plans to move out on their own. For more than two years Didi, John, Linda and "Chichester" seem to have coexisted without a peep.
"Did she ever express any concern about the tenant?" Moriarty asked Linda's best friend, Sue Coffman.
"Nothing," she replied.
"But your memory is that she thought he was creepy?" Moriarty asked.
"Yeah. Or just kind of like -- just unsavory. Like she didn't want anything to do with him," said Coffman.
Asked how well he knew John and Linda Sohus, "Rockefeller" said "I mean, I -- I knew them sort of. But not really."
"Well, you were living in that guest house for almost two years while they were living with - John's mother," Moriarty reasoned.
"Yeah -- yeah, they-- they didn't talk to me," he replied.
It was early February 1985 when something very strange happened: John and Linda Sohus disappeared. At first, no one was really worried. Just days before they vanished, Linda told several people that she and John were going off on a secret government mission to New York.
"Did Linda tell you what government agency was hiring her husband?" Moriarty asked Coffman.
"She just said, 'the government and it's top secret and I can't tell you anymore,'" Coffman replied.
"At any point did Linda seem worried about this trip to New York or -- about this job that her husband was - offered? And she didn't say how he got offered the job?" Moriarty continued.
"No. That's -- that's what's -- you know, in hindsight it's like, 'Why didn't I ask more questions?' But I didn't know she was gonna disappear," said Coffman.
The real story wouldn't come out until 28 years later, when the State of California put "Chris Chichester," also known as "Clark Rockefeller," on trial for the murder of John Sohus. The prosecutor believes he also killed John's wife, Linda.
"I don't think it was murder he was interested in. It was getting away with murder," Kirn said. "You know, he was a fan of Hitchcock and film noir ... he was steeped in the literature and the cinema of murder.
"And a lot of these movies he saw have a plot in which somebody who thinks they're very smart commits the perfect crime," Kirn continued.
"And it makes fools of everybody else, because they get to go forth with this secret that no one else will know..."
Efforts to get to that secret are met with resistance. During their interview, whenever Moriarty got a little too close to the man who calls himself "Rockefeller," he frantically tries to get "48 Hours" producer Judy Rybak to stop her.
"Judy. Judy ... we gotta stop this," "Rockefeller" called out. "You know, you gotta stop that Erin. It's too adversarial, Erin. Judy, let's -- let's-- let's discuss that."
"Rockefeller" even tries to walk out of the interview. "Unfortunately, Erin, we gotta stop it. It's not going the way I had hoped," he said.
But Moriarty kept him in his chair long enough to ask: "Did you kill John Sohus?"