Rockefeller impostor on trial for murder

FILE - In this Aug. 5, 2008 file photo, Christian Gerhartsreiter is shown during his arraignment at a Boston, Mass., municipal court. Gerhartsreiter, a Rockefeller impostor has been charged Tuesday, March 15, 2011 with murder in a Southern California man's disappearance. (AP Photo/Essdras Suarez, File, Pool)

March 18, 2013 10:36:15 AM PDT
A jury was to hear opening statements Monday in the cold-case murder trial of a German immigrant who spent years moving through U.S. society under a series of aliases, most notoriously posing as a member of the fabled Rockefeller family.

Seven women and five men were selected to hear the case of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who was known for 20 years as Clark Rockefeller.

He has pleaded not guilty to the killing of John Sohus, 27, who disappeared with his wife, Linda, in 1985 while Gerhartsreiter - using an alias - was a guest cottage tenant at the home of Sohus' mother, where the couple lived.

The prosecution's case is circumstantial, based on a bag of bones found buried at the property and fuzzy memories of residents of San Marino, a wealthy Los Angeles suburb. They knew the defendant as Chris Chichester.

The defense says there was no motive for the defendant to kill anyone.

When Chichester suddenly vanished from San Marino, residents didn't connect him with the disappearance of the Sohuses.

For Gerhartsreiter, it was the start of an odyssey across America, using the names Christopher Crowe, Chip Smith and Clark Rockefeller, a pretender to the fabled oil fortune.

He was close to the end of a prison term for the kidnapping of his young daughter in a Boston custody dispute when the murder charge interrupted his chance to regain his freedom.

After a quarter century, Los Angeles County authorities realized the man in custody in Boston was not a Rockefeller heir but the man who had lived in San Marino decades earlier. While the unearthed bones were linked to John Sohus, no trace has been found of his wife.