Ex-wife testifies she was fooled

Cites 'blind spot' in believing tales by 'Rockefeller'

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By Jonathan Saltzman and Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / June 3, 2009

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She graduated from Harvard Business School and made almost $2 million a year advising businesses on complex financial matters, but Sandra Boss said yesterday that she spent most of her 12-year marriage clueless that her husband, whom she knew as Clark Rockefeller, was a Bavarian-born impostor.

In two hours of riveting testimony under cross-examination, Boss, a 42-year-old senior partner at McKinsey & Company, said yesterday that she never saw him with identification cards, never viewed any pictures of him from childhood, never knew his Social Security number, and never met his supposed business partners from a jet propulsion start-up company.

She said she believed his claim that he was a Rockefeller and was involved in the Trilateral Commission, or "the Group," as he called it. The commission is a private organization whose aim is to generate closer cooperation between the United States, Europe, and Japan.

And Boss accepted numerous other fantastic stories, including that his mother was a former child movie star and that he was mute as a child, regaining his speech only after spotting a dog and blurting out his first word in seven years: "woofness."

"There is a difference between intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence," Boss said in a firm voice, as the lawyer for the man authorities say is really Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter asked how such an accomplished woman could have been fooled.

"I'm not saying I made a very good choice of husband," Boss said. "It's pretty obvious that I had a blind spot. All I'm saying is that it's possible that one can be brilliant and amazing in one area of one's life and pretty stupid in another."

It was Boss's second day on the witness stand at her 48-year-old former husband's Suffolk Superior Court trial on charges of kidnapping their 7-year-old daughter, Reigh, for six days last summer and fleeing to Baltimore. The prosecution rested its case yesterday afternoon. The defense, which contends he was legally insane at the time of the abduction, plans to begin its case today.

Boss, whose poise and confidence rarely flagged during defense lawyer Jeffrey A. Denner's cross-examination, said the man she thought was Rockefeller was emotionally abusive. He controlled their finances, she said, even though she was the sole source of income.

When they lived in Cornish, N.H., after Reigh was born in May 2001, Boss would sometimes awaken hungry and cold because there was not enough food or heat in the house, even though she was making a generous salary at McKinsey, she said.

Denner said it was unfathomable that she did not leave her husband before January 2007, but Boss said she was afraid of him and feared losing her daughter. She said it was "a complicated marriage to get out of."

Prosecutors contend that the defendant is a con man extraordinaire who duped countless people with claims of an aristocratic pedigree and tales of remarkable achievements. The defense counters that he suffers from mental illness, including grandiose delusions and narcissistic personality disorder.

Under cross-examination, Boss revealed more outlandish fabrications by her former husband. She said Rockefeller had expressed hopes that he would be appointed to the board of the Federal Reserve for his work with tiny nations struggling with debt. He also told her he used a $50 million inheritance to clear the name of his father, who had been posthumously accused of embezzling from the Navy.

Boss also conceded that "I saw behavior that made me think that he wasn't all well - definitely." He was obsessive, angry, controlling, and lacked empathy, she said.

On Monday, under questioning by Assistant Suffolk District Attorney David A. Deakin, Boss said she never saw him display signs of delusions or incoherence, though.

But at times, it appeared as though Denner was blaming Boss for having been fooled by his client, even though Denner insisted he was not. Numerous other witnesses called by the state have also testified that the defendant, who spoke with a clipped Brahmin accent that one likened to Thurston Howell III on "Gilligan's Island," duped them, too. "Gilligan's Island" was a TV sitcom from the 1960s.

"It had never in my entire life occurred to me that I was living with somebody who could have been lying about such basic stuff," Boss said. She ultimately hired a private investigator to look into his background.

In one of her more revealing comments, Boss said she prevailed upon Rockefeller to move to Beacon Hill from New Hampshire in 2006, so she could obtain "witnesses" to corroborate his alleged mistreatment of her.

In Cornish, she explained, Rockefeller was regarded as a pillar of the community and a doting father. By moving to Boston, where she worked at McKinsey, "it made it much easier for me to get out" of the marriage and obtain custody of Reigh. She and her daughter moved to London, where she still works for McKinsey, in December 2007, seven months before the abduction and shortly after the couple's divorce.

In other testimony yesterday, the jury heard from Amy Jersild-Duhnke, a Milwaukee woman who testified she married Gerhartsreiter in Wisconsin in 1981 so he could obtain a green card. Her sister had been dating him but did not want to do the favor.

Jersild-Duhnke said she agreed to wed Gerhartsreiter after meeting him for the first time for about an hour. They married a few weeks later and then went to the federal courthouse in Milwaukee so he could apply for a green card.

Deakin asked whether she ever had any intention of living with Gerhartsreiter. "None whatsoever," she said, adding that she never saw him afterward. She obtained a divorce in 1993 to marry her current husband after posting a notice of divorce.

Authorities used three hidden prints that Gerhartsreiter left on documents in his filing for legal immigration status to confirm that he was the man arrested when Reigh was recovered safely, an FBI fingerprint specialist testified yesterday.

Saltzman can be reached at