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Rockefeller impostor, Christian Gerhartsreiter, due in Calif. court in murder case

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter AP File Photo/Sarah Reingewirtz

(CBS/AP) LOS ANGELES - A German immigrant and con man who masqueraded as "Clark Rockefeller" - claiming to be heir to the Rockefeller fortune - will appear in a Los Angeles court Wednesday for a preliminary hearing in a 26-year-old murder cold case.

Christian Gerhartsreiter is accused of murdering 27-year-old John Sohus, a computer engineer who disappeared in 1985. Sohus was the son of Gerhartsreiter's former landlady, when the con man lived in California under one of his many pseudonyms.

Much of the prosecution's case against Gerhartsreiter relies on three plastic bags of human bones found during the excavation for a swimming pool at a San Marino, Calif. home in 1994. Through extensive testing, they were linked to Sohus, who an investigation determined was killed by blunt force trauma to the head.

Sohus' wife, Linda, also disappeared in 1985. No trace of her was found, though postcards purportedly written by her were sent to friends and relatives after she disappeared. The postcards were supposedly mailed from France, but the handwriting was never authenticated. Authorities presume she is dead, but they have not charged Gerhartsreiter with her death.

Gerhartsreiter, who was then going by the name Chris Chichester, disappeared from San Marino shortly after Sohus went missing.

Gerhartsreiter eluded authorities for years, moving to New York and then Boston, where he claimed to be an heir to the fabled Rockefeller oil fortune, marrying a woman with whom he had a daughter. She divorced him when she found out he had duped her.

Last year he was convicted of kidnapping his daughter in Boston during a bitter custody dispute. After his arrest in 2008, Los Angeles authorities quickly named him a person of interest in the disappearance and presumed slayings of the Sohus couple. District Attorney's spokeswoman Jane Robinson said he has been tied to the disposal of a pickup truck owned by the couple.

Gerhartsreiter is serving a four- to five-year prison sentence for the kidnapping. He would be eligible for parole this year if he was not awaiting trial in California on a murder charge that could bring him 26 years to life in prison if he's convicted.

One of Gerhartsreiter's lawyers, Jeffrey Denner, has said his client is not a violent man, and prosecutors have not yet offered a motive that might have led him to murder. The motive and other details of the case could be disclosed at the preliminary hearing.

Complete Coverage of the Christian Gerhartsreiter case on Crimesider

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