If you have seen the movie Catch Me If You Can, you are no stranger to the talent of “scam boss” Frank Abagnale with the ability to fake ecstasy, pocket millions of dollars. However, when compared to Christian Gerhartsreiter, Frank still seems to be far behind, both in terms of “talent” and “achievement”.
Journey to the “American Dream”
Christian Hanz Gerhartsreiter was born in 1961 in Bergen – a mountain town in Bavaria, Germany, in the family of an artist father and a seamstress mother.
According to family and acquaintances, Christian has always felt out of place in his hometown, being a short child and fond of fantasy stories. A family friend once said in an interview with a reporter: “He’s like Batman… always playing different roles… always having crazy ideas.”
Portrait of Gerhartsreiter in his youth.
By the time Gerhartsreiter was arrested by the authorities on suspicion of impersonation, no one in his hometown had heard from him in more than 30 years.
The beginning of Gerhartsreiter’s decades-long drama begins with a fateful meeting with American Savio’s family on a train in Germany. Heartwarming, the Savio family said that if Gerhartsreiter had been born in Connecticut (USA), they would have adopted the boy, who was 17 years old at the time. Realizing his opportunity, Gerhartsreiter made his way to America, went to Savio’s doorstep and asked to stay as an international student.
To make things go smoothly, Gerhartsreiter lied to an immigration officer at JFK airport that he was allowed to live with an American couple while studying in the United States.
While living with the above family, the teenager “revealed” that he was the son of a European aristocrat in order to refuse to do the most basic housework such as preparing breakfast or washing clothes. He even scoffed at the “poverty” of his family who were helping him. This soon upset Savio’s family and kicked him out of the house.
But instead of accepting to return to Germany, Gerhartsreiter continued to find other families to continue his “mistlet” life. Gradually, the small town of New England became too crowded, and he decided to go further to fulfill two purposes: to settle permanently in the US and to California to work as an actor.
Step into the elite
In 1980, Gerhartsreiter changed to a more American name, Chris Gerhart, and attended film auditions at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. There, he met and married a woman named Amy Jersild. Once he got his green card, Gerhartsreiter disappeared, just a few weeks after the wedding.
After leaving Milwaukee, Gerhartsreiter once again disguised himself as Christopher Chichester, and “made a surname” of the name Mountbatten – a noble family of German origin. He even distributed business cards with aristocratic titles and a fake family crest.
Gerhartsreiter as Christopher Chichester.
Gerhartsreiter later moved to an upmarket area in San Marino, California. To get ahead, this man dated Ruth “Didi” Sohus, a wealthy widow who took advantage of her money and fame. “Christopher” also quickly integrated into the upper-class community by attending lavish parties and attending strangers’ weddings.
Thanks to his constant efforts, Gerhartsreiter even convinced a TV channel to accept him as a talk show. Here, under the guise of a film art student, he began to approach and become close to many prestigious Hollywood stars.
Get involved in crime
However, the situation quickly turned complicated when Ruth’s son and daughter-in-law moved in with her. John and Linda Sohus quickly became suspicious and questioned their mother’s special guest when they saw him excitedly spending money on personal clothes.
In 1985, John and Linda suddenly disappeared. According to Gerhartsreiter, they had to leave because of an urgent business in Europe. Before Ruth could discover anything, Gerhartsreiter was already “running away” with John’s car to Connecticut. This time, the scammer changed his name to Christopher Crowe when trying to sell the stolen car.
In 1994, while digging in the pool, a company discovered the remains of the body of the ill-fated John Sohus. Witnesses confirmed that Gerhartsreiter borrowed a chainsaw and plowed through Ruth’s back garden because of a “plumbing problem”. Thanks to this incident, the murderer was sentenced to 27 years for murder. However, Linda’s body was never found.
Arriving in Connecticut, “Crowe” thanks to his eloquence, applied for a position as an expert at a financial brokerage company. However, after the fake social security number was discovered, “Crowe” was fired and had to leave the state.
Gerhartsreiter continued to look for work and even got a job at a major Wall Street company despite having no experience or a degree in finance. In 1994, when the police discovered the body of John Sohus and conducted an arrest, Christopher Crowe, the fraudster had been able to change his new identity as Clark Rockefeller for 2 years.
The “fake” billionaire of the Rockefeller family and the end of the “scam king”
To create a mysterious appearance and have an excuse to refuse to answer questions about his private life, Gerhartsreiter chose to disguise himself as a member of the billionaire Rockefeller family.
To appear even more believable, he always carried a portable radio with him and pretended to report the location to a personal bodyguard. Eccentric and paranoid habits such as refusing to eat food at restaurants for fear of being poisoned reinforce this “VIP” guise.
His friends weren’t even suspicious when Gerhartsreiter refused to get out of the car while they were traveling to Connecticut. Rockefeller “fake” excuses by telling people around him that his parents died after an accident in Connecticut. Of course, what no one expected was that he was trying to hide from the search of this state government.
Using the identity of Clark Rockefeller, Gerhartsreiter quickly made an impression and blended into New York City’s elite. In 1993, the young, charming “Rockefeller” became acquainted and attracted the attention of Sandra Boss, his wife for the next decade.
Wedding photo of the scammer and his wife Sandra Boss.
To maintain cover with his wife, who is a Harvard alumnus, Gerhartsreiter lied that he worked for Asterisk, a business that specializes in debt restructuring for developing countries. In fact, he spends most of his day hanging out with famous New York artists. Most of the living expenses of the two come from Sandra’s income, which is very successful in her career at a large company.
However, after more than 10 years of living together, Gerhartsreiter’s mask was gradually revealed. “Clark” becomes increasingly controlling and violent. Many people close to the couple also began to wonder why the stories about his past didn’t fit together. In 2006, Sandra hired a private investigator to investigate her husband and discovered everything she knew about him was a lie.
She then filed for divorce. In order to avoid legal scrutiny of his true identity, Gerhartsreiter accepted a property division of $ 800,000 and the condition that he could visit his daughter only 3 times a year.
“Everything about this man’s life is a lie” – Reporter Mark Seal, author of a book on Gerhartsreiter responds in an interview. “The only real thing in his life was his love for his daughter. And when he lost his child to a bitter divorce, he set out to get her back.”
After a supervised visit to Boston, Gerhartsreiter was successfully abducted by a social worker to abduct his daughter.
Once again, Gerhartsreiter disguised himself as a captain named “Chip Smith” and went to live in an apartment in Baltimore.
Fortunately, the FBI successfully tracked down this man. According to NBC, they tricked Gerhartsreiter out of the apartment by saying his yacht was sinking in the dock. The moment Gerhartsreiter appeared on the doorstep, agents were already surrounded on all sides.
Gerhartsreiter when he was arrested.
With the child unharmed, Gerhartsreiter was initially sentenced to only seven years in prison for kidnapping. However, only a short time after the trial, the authorities discovered the true identity of the fraudster and continued to prosecute him for the murder of John Sohus.
Finally, in 2013, Gerhartsreiter was sentenced to life in prison for murder, proving that not even someone with such a “natural” gift for fraud cannot escape the net.
Source: ATI, Ranker