LOS ANGELES (AP) — In his world of pretense, the little man in spectacles became many fabulous people from royalty to a Rockefeller until his charades finally ended with a conviction under his true name — Christian Gerhartsreiter — a German immigrant guilty of a cold case murder.
A jury found Wednesday that the past had caught up with him. He was no longer Clark Rockefeller, heir to a fabled oil fortune, or Chris Chichester, the 13th baronet of England or even Chris Crowe, a producer of an Alfred Hitchcock mystery TV show.
"I've never known anyone with the ability to become so many people," said jury forewoman Kristen Lee, an attorney. "But his character was his character. We were more concerned with the evidence."
She and other jurors found that Gerhartsreiter, who lived briefly in California in the 1980s, killed John Sohus, a 27-year-old computer programmer who was the son of the defendant's landlady. Sohus and his new wife, Linda, vanished under strange circumstances in 1985. No trace of her has been found.
But the discovery of a bag of bones in a pit being dug for a swimming pool at his former residence gave new life to the missing persons case in 1994. It took another nine years for authorities to put together the pieces of the baffling circumstantial case.
Gerhartsreiter, 52, was convicted by a jury which needed a mere six hours to find him guilty.
Much of the prosecution's evidence focused on the strange behavior of the man who went by many names, including Clark Rockefeller. The prosecutor, who had little direct evidence and was dealing with a 28-year-old case wondered if the defendant would escape justice.
"Sometimes you're afraid that this guy's conned so many people for so many years that this will be the one last time he pulls off his last con," Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian said after the verdict. "But that didn't happen."
In the courtroom, Gerhartsreiter kept up appearances just as all of his alter-egos would have. He was all smiles when he entered and his lawyers said he believed he would be acquitted.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Denner said in the end his client may have been his own worst enemy.
"The way he went through life deceiving people did not make him very likable to the jury," Denner said. "But that doesn't make him a killer."
He said there was reasonable doubt of his guilt.
Ellen Sohus, the victim's sister, said later that she was unsure if the verdict brought closure after so many years of uncertainty about the fate of her brother and his wife.
"I don't know if you can really have closure with something like this," she said. "What I have now are a lot of answers that I never believed I was ever going to have."
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