Psychologist says 'Rockefeller' suffers delusional disorder

The man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller entered Suffolk Superior Court yesterday for a pretrial hearing. The man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller entered Suffolk Superior Court yesterday for a pretrial hearing. (Matthew West/ Pool)
By Jonathan Saltzman
Globe Staff / May 28, 2009
  • Email|
  • Print|
  • Reprints|
  • |
Text size +

The man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller suffers from two mental illnesses marked by delusions of grandeur and narcissism, a forensic psychologist testified yesterday in a pretrial hearing that gave a preview of the alleged con man's insanity defense.

Testifying outside the presence of a newly picked jury and before today's scheduled opening statements, Catherine T.J. Howe, a forensic psychologist from Salem, said she interviewed Rockefeller for 16 hours over two months at Nashua Street Jail and gave him a battery of tests. She diagnosed him as having "delusional disorder, grandiose type", and "narcissistic personality disorder."

"My clinical opinion is Mr. Rockefeller does have a substantial disorder of thought which does impair his judgment," Howe, a specialist for the defense, testified in Suffolk Superior Court.

Because of his mental illnesses, she added, Rockefeller lacked the judgment to authorize investigators to interview him at the FBI field office in Baltimore on Aug. 2, 2008, hours after his arrest for allegedly abducting his 7-year-old daughter, Reigh Storrow Mills Boss, from a Back Bay street. His illness also prompted him to accept the questionable advice of his former defense lawyer and consent to tape-recorded interviews with the Globe and an NBC television reporter soon after his arrest, she said.

"It would be incredibly hard for someone with a narcissistic personality disorder to say no to someone who said you're so important that I need to talk to you on camera," Howe said in response to questions by one of the defendant's current lawyers, Jeffrey A. Denner of Boston. She later added, "This is a gentleman who does not stop talking."

But Assistant Suffolk District Attorney David A. Deakin, grilling Howe, said Rockefeller made many statements during his taped interview with investigators that were grounded in reality even though they might reflect poorly on him. He told investigators truthfully that he never enrolled in college, that he was worried about losing his daughter, and said, Deakin recalled, "It's fun to shoot off your mouth, especially if everyone believes you."

Howe replied that even people who suffer from delusions can make truthful and rational comments.

Defense lawyers called Howe to explain why Rockefeller could not rationally make about 14 minutes of statements to investigators in Baltimore shortly after his arrest on custodial kidnapping charges.

Deakin plans to call his own mental health expert this afternoon to testify on whether Rockefeller's statements were voluntary.

The motion hearing will take place after opening arguments and testimony in the morning. The judge has given no timetable for his ruling.

Superior Court Judge Frank Gaziano ruled last month that investigators in Baltimore violated Rockefeller's constitutional rights because they continued to interview him after he had invoked his right to remain silent, and barred prosecutors from using the bulk of the videotaped interview - about 3 hours and 45 minutes. But the defense is seeking to also suppress the first quarter-hour, during which he explained why he abducted his daughter during a supervised visit.

"I don't like to cause problems," he told investigators. "I am not a violent person. I just want to be a father. . . . I've been a father, the sole, the sole caretaker for 6 1/2 years until she was taken from me. She was taken from me four days before Christmas, which was evil, it was just evil."

The defense is also seeking to prevent jurors from hearing a long audiotaped interview between Rockefeller and three Globe reporters at the jail. The interview was arranged with the help of Rockefeller's former lawyer, Stephen B. Hrones, but the defendant's current legal team wants to suppress the tape because they fear it would undermine his claims of insanity.

Prosecutors say Rockefeller is a Bavarian-born con man named Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter who has used a slew of aliases and upper-crust identities over the past 30 years to ingratiate himself into tony circles in the United States.

He is accused of abducting his daughter during a supervised visit on July 27 last year following a bitter divorce. After an international manhunt, FBI agents arrested him six days later in Baltimore, and the girl was safely returned to her mother, Sandra Boss. She is an executive for the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, and lives in London.

California authorities have also labeled the defendant a "person of interest" in the 1985 disappearance and presumed killings of a California couple, John and Linda Sohus, in San Marino, an affluent Los Angeles suburb. The jury is not expected to hear about that matter because it would prejudice his case in Boston.

Both sides yesterday morning finished picking a 16-member jury, dominated by college-age people, nine women and seven men.

Also yesterday, Gaziano rejected a request by the defense to prevent jurors from learning that the defendant's other key mental health expert, a Newburyport forensic psychiatrist named Dr. Keith Ablow, also writes thrillers, is a commentator for Fox News, and blogged and publicly commented on the case shortly after the arrest.

In a Fox News blog 11 days after the defendant's arrest, Ablow wrote that Rockefeller's "whole life was an act" and that "he was able to deceive one person after another because he was at liberty to invent and reinvent himself, in order to feed his needs, without regard to those of others."

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at