'Rockefeller' said he had new wife

Social worker tells court about visit

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By Jonathan Saltzman and Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / May 29, 2009

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Howard Yaffe, a clinical social worker, was walking on Marlborough Street in the Back Bay on a sunny Sunday in July, supervising a visit between the man he knew as Clark Rockefeller and Rockefeller's 7-year-old daughter, Reigh Storrow Mills Boss.

It was the first visit since the contentious divorce of Reigh's parents in December 2007, and Yaffe had observed a few odd things before and during the weekend, including that Rockefeller had asked Yaffe whether he could introduce Reigh to his new wife and children. Yaffe had never heard about a new family but said such an introduction would be inappropriate.

Still, the visit seemed to be going smoothly. Reigh had cheerfully ridden on her father's shoulders, and Yaffe was casually looking at a building that Rockefeller had pointed out when suddenly "the defendant shoved me" and Yaffe fell to one knee on the pavement, he testified yesterday in the defendant's custodial kidnapping trial. Yaffe said he looked up and saw Rockefeller scrambling into a black sport utility vehicle with his daughter.

"I ran over and tried to climb into the SUV . . . to try to stop Reigh from being taken by her dad," the bespectacled Brookline social worker testified. But Rockefeller closed the door on him, he said, and the SUV drove off.

Yaffe, who had his hand on the door, tumbled to the pavement, suffering bruises on his chin, knee, and hip and what he said was diagnosed as a concussion.

He dialed 911 on his cellphone. "A daughter was just kidnapped by her father," he said in a composed voice in a tape-recorded call played for the Suffolk Superior Court jury. "I was walking down the street. He knocked me over and ran off in the car."

Seconds after the abduction, a private investigator who had been hired by Rockefeller's former wife to keep an eye on the defendant and her daughter ran up to Yaffe to offer assistance. Yaffe had no idea he was being followed.

Yaffe was the first witness to testify yesterday in the high-profile trial after Assistant Suffolk District Attorney David A. Deakin and defense lawyer Jeffrey A. Denner used their opening statements to paint starkly different pictures of the 48-year-old defendant.

Deakin said Rockefeller was a manipulative con man from Bavaria whose real name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter. The defendant, Deakin said, spent months plotting the kidnapping in a scheme that showed his flair for deceit. He bought a condominium in Baltimore, telling the real estate agent he was a ship captain based in South America who was home-schooling his daughter on the vessel. He converted the $800,000 divorce settlement he had received from his former wife, Sandra L. Boss, an executive at the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., into gold coins. He lined up three getaway vehicles and told one driver he was going to Newport, R.I., to go sailing with Senator Chafee's son.

Gerhartsreiter knew he was violating a court order by taking his daughter but did not care, causing his former wife anguish and heartache for six days until authorities found them in Baltimore, Deakin said.

"He knew that it was against the law, and he knew it was wrong, but he planned meticulously over months to make that happen," Deakin said. "In his mind, the rules don't apply to Christian Gerhartsreiter, but in a court of law, the rules apply to everyone equally."

In his argument, Denner acknowledged that Rockefeller took his daughter without permission and spun fanciful stories about himself during his three decades in the United States (including, authorities said yesterday, his comment to Yaffe about having a second family). Indeed, Denner went further than Deakin, saying that his client's aliases had included such storied names as Mountbatten and that he claimed to have sold a jet propulsion lab to Boeing for a fortune.

But Denner said his client was "not just some con man trying to make a quick buck selling aluminum siding" but someone whom two mental health experts will testify suffers from a delusional disorder with grandiose features and narcissistic personality disorder.

Those illnesses explain Rockefeller's lies about wealth, aristocracy, and being admitted to Yale University at age 14, as well as his belief that he was communicating telepathically with his daughter, Denner said. Rockefeller lived in a "magical, insane world," Denner said, and his increasingly grandiose lies sealed him off from his own memories.

Denner urged jurors to find Rockefeller not guilty by reason of insanity. In addition to the charge of custodial kidnapping, the defendant faces two charges of assaulting Yaffe as well as giving a false name to the police upon his arrest in Baltimore.

"This case is not so much about what happened, but why it happened and what was the defendant's mind-set," Denner said. "The irony was that his daughter . . . was the only thing that offered him hope in the reality of his life. Without her, he was nothing."

As the lawyers argued, the defendant sat in his blue blazer and red striped tie and stared ahead, his face tilted slightly away from the jury. The corners of his mouth were turned downward in what almost looked like a frown.

During about an hour on the stand, Yaffe mentioned a few peculiar things about Rockefeller's visit with his daughter. For one thing, he said, Rockefeller could have spent the weekend with his daughter, but the defendant told Yaffe he had a conflict.

Rockefeller also told Yaffe and his daughter that he had purchased luxury tickets at $165 each to watch the Red Sox play the Yankees at Fenway Park. Rockefeller, his daughter, and Yaffe walked about a mile to the ballpark so he could pick up the tickets shortly before the game.

But Rockefeller returned to tell them that the clerk refused to turn the tickets over because he did not have photo identification. (A Red Sox employee testified yesterday that there is no indication he ordered tickets.)

Robert Warren, a 68-year-old private investigator, testified after Yaffe. He said he was retained by another private investigator whom Boss had hired to follow her daughter, Rockefeller, and Yaffe that weekend. But Warren said he lost sight of them an instant before Reigh's abduction.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at