Old lives coming back to Rockefeller

Suspect recalls Calif. days, names

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By Michael Levenson and John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / August 12, 2008

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Clark Rockefeller's lawyer acknowledged for the first time yesterday that his client used the alias Christopher Chichester while living in San Marino, Calif., in the mid-1980s and that he remembers the disappearance of his landlords, who are presumed slain in a case in which Rockefeller has been declared a "person of interest."

Stephen B. Hrones emerged from an hourlong meeting with his client at the Suffolk County Jail on Nashua Street and said Rockefeller recalls living in a guesthouse that he rented from John and Linda Sohus, a young married couple, and John's mother, Didi, in the early 1980s. He said Rockefeller also recalls when John and Linda Sohus went missing in 1985.

"The mother was there. He was still there, but they left," Hrones said. "He wasn't that close to them, so he just said, 'They left.' "

The comments marked a turnaround from last week, when Hrones said his client could not recall anything before 1993.

Los Angeles County authorities say that Rockefeller left San Marino in 1985 before they could question him about the Sohuses' disappearance. Nine years later, in 1994, workers digging a backyard pool for the new owners of the house discovered human remains believed to be those of John Sohus. Neither Linda Sohus nor her remains have been found.

Hrones said his client denies any involvement with the presumed slaying. He said Rockefeller, however, was using the Chichester alias in San Marino, a prosperous Los Angeles suburb.

"He was aspiring to be an actor out there . . . and he thought it a more appropriate name," Hrones said.

He also said Rockefeller used the alias Christopher Crowe during a brief career as a corporate bond salesman on Wall Street in the late 1980s. He said his client does not recall growing up in Germany with the birth name Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, which Los Angeles authorities say is Rockefeller's true identity.

Hrones said his client, who is charged with kidnapping his 7-year-old daughter in Boston July 27, maintains that "Rockefeller is his real name."

"He's used aliases," Hrones said, "but there's nothing wrong with using aliases, as long as you don't use them to defraud."

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office said yesterday that investigators have confirmed that Gerhartsreiter is Rockefeller's true identity. Through "numerous interviews back East and here" and "other investigative tools," investigators also confirmed that Gerhartsreiter used the Chichester alias in San Marino, said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the office.

The official confirmation buttressed the account of Alexander Gerhartsreiter, who was shown a photo of Rockefeller on Friday in Germany and identified him as his older brother, who left the Bavarian hamlet of Bergen at age 17 in 1978 to find fame and fortune in the United States.

Whitmore said the sheriff's office, which has declared Rockefeller "a person of interest" in the Sohus case, is asking anyone who knew Rockefeller between 1985 and 1988 to contact police.

Boston investigators said yesterday that they have concluded that Rockefeller is not the suspect's real name but have not determined that Gerhartsreiter is his true identity.

"To our mind, the efforts undertaken by this defendant to avoid conclusive identification are simply too extensive for us to take anything at face value," said Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley. "Any identification we make must be checked, double-checked, supported, and verified by every means possible."

A law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity said yesterday that authorities are planning to take DNA samples from Gerhartsreiter's relatives in Germany in hopes of conclusively identifying the suspect.

Maureen Robinson, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Boston, declined to comment on any potential DNA tests and said the bureau is working to verify Rockefeller's identity.

Two Los Angeles County homicide detectives traveled to Boston last week to question Rockefeller about the Sohuses, but he turned them away.

Hrones offered Rockefeller's explanation of why Rockefeller turned up with John Sohus's white pickup truck in Greenwich, Conn., in 1988, three years after Sohus went missing. Hrones said that Rockefeller had bought the truck from John's mother and that she failed to send him the truck's registration after he paid for it.

According to a 1995 episode of the television show "Unsolved Mysteries," Rockefeller attracted the attention of police when he tried to sell the truck in Greenwich in 1988 and the potential buyer notified officers about the lack of proper registration.

Shelley Murphy of the Globe staff contributed to this report.