Jury's verdict reverberates across the country

By John R. Ellement
Globe Staff / June 13, 2009
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"I faced a mother's worst nightmare: the possibility of losing a child without a trace," Sandra Boss said in a victim impact statement yesterday in the sentencing of the man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller.

When Ellen Sohus read those searing words, a flood of painful feelings overwhelmed her.

Sohus, whose brother and sister-in-law disappeared in the 1980s in California, thought of her father and of Rockefeller, Boss's former husband.

Rockefeller, who is considered a "person of interest" in the California disappearance and murder, was convicted in Suffolk Superior Court yesterday of kidnapping his daughter, Reigh.

Boss described in the written statement how she felt when her daughter was taken off a Boston street by her former husband, whose real name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, in 2008.

Rockefeller, 48, was found guilty on two of the four counts against him: parental kidnapping and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. He was acquitted of two lesser charges, assault and battery and providing a false name to police.

In a telephone interview from Arizona last night, Sohus recalled how her father, Bob, endured that kind of pain after her brother, John Sohus, disappeared from San Marino, Calif., in 1985. John Sohus's wife, Linda, disappeared with him. At that time, Rockefeller was living in the Sohuses' guest house using the alias of Christopher Chichester.

"That was my father's worst nightmare," Ellen said of her brother's disappearance. "My father went through that very agony and pain when John disappeared without a trace. I watched my father go through that as the result of the same man's actions."

Nine years after John Sohus was last seen, construction workers digging a pool in the Sohuses' former yard found partial skeletal remains that are believed to be those of John Sohus. The cause of death was declared to be blunt force trauma.

"When my father found out that he was dead, but also the way he died, it was devastating to all of us," Ellen Sohus said.

The Los Angeles County sheriff's department has reopened its investigation, calling Rockefeller a "person of interest" in the case. Rockefeller, through his attorneys, has consistently denied having any role in the Sohus case. He was found to be driving John Sohus's car in Greenwich, Conn., months after John Sohus disappeared, according to police records.

Ellen Sohus said she wants California authorities to bring murder charges against Rockefeller as soon as they have the evidence. She said she has not been provided a private briefing but has received e-mail messages from detectives who say they are continuing to investigate her brother's death.

Ellen Sohus said she followed the Rockefeller trial over the Internet and, as a mental health professional, paid close attention to the testimony of defense experts who tried to convince jurors that Rockefeller was legally insane when he kidnapped his daughter.

"I think that the jury was very astute," she said. "I imagine they had to sort through a lot of information in order to come to their decision. But I believe they came to the right decision."