An interview with Clark Rockefeller

'I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to remember. I don't lose much thought over it.'

In a jailhouse talk, an alleged kidnapper with multiple aliases spoke of a Brahmin life, a father's love, but tiptoed around his past

Get Adobe Flash player
August 24, 2008

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

This story was reported by Maria Cramer, John R. Ellement, and Michael Levenson of the Globe staff and was written by Levenson.

He burst into the room smiling, with the cheerful demeanor of a host welcoming guests to a party. "Clark Rockefeller," he said, fixing his gaze on a visitor and extending a hand. His nails were manicured. He wore tasseled loafers with his gray, jail-issued scrubs. He turned to another visitor and another, bowing slightly to each.

"Clark Rockefeller, Clark Rockefeller," he said in a Brahmin accent. "Nice to see you. How are you, everyone?"

Settling into a wooden chair in a drab classroom in Nashua Street Jail last week, the man authorities have identified as Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, the German-born son of a modest Bavarian couple who has lived in the United States under a dozen aliases, wanted one thing to be clear, saying, "I am Clark Rockefeller."

Speaking to reporters for the first time since he allegedly whisked his 7-year-old daughter off a Boston street and led authorities on an international manhunt, Rockefeller amicably spun stories of the last 15 years.

Peppering his speech with verbal filigrees such as "quite so" and "rather," he rambled on about the "five or six or seven" languages that he speaks, the historical novel about the roots of Israeli statehood he is writing, and his work as a researcher of "anything from physics to social sciences." He painted himself as a devoted father who read the Tennyson poem "The Daisy" to his daughter 25 times in a single evening and who taught her to read newspapers and scientific journals before she was 3.

His 45 minutes of musings provided the closest glimpse yet of a man who authorities say has spent most of his life happily duping people. His accounts of the past often wandered from the plausible to the far-fetched and showed the lengths he will go to buttress the identity he has cultivated as an erudite aristocrat. Throughout, he was unashamed and unapologetic, even rhapsodizing about the "six glorious and wonderful days" he spent with his daughter evading authorities.

"We had such a wonderful time," he said. "It was my six days of being - well, it was like a trance. It was so wonderful. It was so great to be with my daughter again."

Rockefeller insisted that he had decided to take his daughter only the day before he picked her up, though authorities say he had been planning a kidnapping for months. And he said he had bought a house in Baltimore under an assumed name months ago because he wanted to "live quietly."

Questioned repeatedly about the alleged kidnapping, he said: "Well, there's nothing I have to say about that. I love my daughter very much. But, you know, I lost, and I lost big time in Boston."

Rockefeller spoke to three Globe reporters and a Globe photographer. His lawyer, Stephen B. Hrones, sat at his side throughout the interview and interjected each time a reporter asked Rockefeller about his life before 1993, a time when authorities say he lived under another alias and his landlords went missing and were presumed killed. Rockefeller also cut short certain questions about his past.

Pressed about why he refused to show proof of his identity during his divorce proceedings in December, for example, he shook his head emphatically.

"I couldn't. I couldn't," he said.

Pressed again, he said, "But here we go into an area that we can't."

At other times he professed not to remember large chapters of his life. "I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to remember," he said. "I don't lose much thought over it."

Authorities say Rockefeller came to the United States when he was 17 seeking fame and wealth and lived with a series of host families in Berlin, Conn., before moving to Wisconsin, where he married a 22-year-old woman and obtained legal residency. Over the course of the next decade, he used at least two aliases and lived in San Marino, Calif., where he claimed to be a European aristocrat, and in Greenwich, Conn., and Manhattan, where he worked as a bond salesman.

Los Angeles County homicide detectives want to question him in connection with the 1985 disappearance and presumed slaying of his San Marino landlords, John and Linda Sohus.

The Globe asked Rockefeller about his memories of Germany and of John and Linda Sohus. Each time, Rockefeller fell silent and smiled tightly, as Hrones told reporters to "move on to something else."

Rockefeller willingly discussed his courtship of Sandra L. Boss, then a student at Harvard Business School, and described how he fell in love with her "aura, I suppose," and her "cheerful speech."

He said he met her at his East 57th Street apartment in Manhattan in 1993 during one of his "Clue parties," in which friends came as characters from the board game. She came as Miss Scarlett, he said. He was Professor Plum.

He said he saw her across the room and was immediately smitten. "Yes, that's the way to put it," he said. "Quite so, quite so."

The two dated, shuttling between Boston and New York. He said Boss never met his family. "I don't have much family," he said. "I don't have any family."

Rockefeller said he was working as a researcher during their courtship, a job he trained for by "auditing various classes at various universities over time."

"My subject was whatever my clients deemed worthy," he said. "It could have been literally anything."

He said he built a good reputation but would not give details about the work and could not name any clients. "No one that I really remember," he said.

He proposed to Boss in summer 1994, he said, at an Episcopal church in Isleboro, Maine, off the coast of Camden. The couple wed a year later in a ceremony on Nantucket, but they never obtained a marriage license.

Rockefeller said the couple had simply let that detail fall through the cracks.

"There is some disagreement as to who was supposed to take care of the legalities of the wedding, the marriage," Rockefeller said. "Ultimately, neither one of us took care of it."

In 2001, Boss gave birth to their daughter, Reigh.

"I had never, never thought of becoming a father, and then suddenly this little bundle came along," he said. "And everyone always told me that this will change your life going forward. I always thought, 'No, it can't.' But it did. It clearly, clearly positively did. And it made a huge, huge impact on me. It was a life-changing experience."

Rockefeller said he was a "stay-at-home father" at their home in Cornish, N.H., and that he taught Reigh to read at 2.

"I started her on Alfred Lord Tennyson," Rockefeller said. "She loved Tennyson. And we spent hours and hours and hours reading 'The Daisy.' "

At 2 1/2 years old, she read him the newspaper in the morning, he said. At 3, she could read an article in the scientific journal Nature on the use of statistics. He said he made a video recording of the feat.

"I'd love for you to see it," he said. "Unfortunately, I have no access to it at the moment."

In September 2006, the family moved to a Beacon Hill townhouse. By then, he said, the marriage was falling apart.

He recalled sitting at "the dining table in the evening, and everyone is tired, and somewhat bored, and the discussion is not really going anywhere."

The couple divorced in December. During the divorce proceedings, Rockefeller was asked to provide proof of his identity. He refused, a decision that contributed to the court awarding custody of Reigh to her mother.

A report by a court-appointed advocate for Reigh concluded that Rockefeller was an unfit father and recommended that custody be awarded to Boss, Rockefeller said.

"Everything about the report was negative," Rockefeller said. "There was not one single positive line about me in the report. Nothing. Nothing whatsoever. Even witnesses who had testified on my behalf apparently gave negative testimony on me."

He said that his lawyer at the time told him: "This is a terrible report. We've lost. There is nothing you can do."

According to authorities, Rockefeller soon planned his daughter's kidnapping, paying for the house in Baltimore with $400,000 in cash. Police say he kidnapped her during a July 27 visit, shoving aside a social worker who was supervising and pushing Reigh into a waiting sport utility vehicle.

Rockefeller said that while he was on the lam in Baltimore, he never saw Boss's video, posted on YouTube, pleading with him to return their daughter, and was "not really" aware that he was wanted because he had a "very poor Internet connection."

Gary Koops, a spokesman for Boss, said: "Sandra's sole focus is on the health, well-being, and safety of her daughter, Reigh. In light of Mr. Gerhartsreiter's history of deceitful behavior, any statements made by him should be viewed with extreme skepticism."

During the interview, Rockefeller offered an explanation for the origin of his name, saying it had been given to him by a man named Harry Copeland, whom he described only as his godfather from New York who died in the late 1990s. "He insisted that that's what my name is," Rockefeller said.

Even so, he was unwilling to dismiss the possibility that he might in some way be related to the Rockefeller dynasty.

"As far as I know, I'm not," he said, but then added: "I could very well be."

In jail, Rockefeller is being held in the general population, in a single-bunk cell on the seventh floor. Inmates ask for his autograph. He said he is completing a historical novel connecting the 1919 Paris Peace Conference to the founding of Israel in 1948.

"It's an absolutely fascinating story as to why Zionism had its birth," he said.

He said he has not talked to his daughter but has just received stationery and hopes to write her a letter. He said that one day, he would like to see her again.

"Everyone has hopes," he said. "Everyone has wishes."

Michael Levenson can be reached at