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Video: How Christian Gerhartsreiter became 'Rockefeller', 'Chichester'

By Mike Taibbi Correspondent
Dateline NBC
updated 5/29/2010 10:08:33 PM ET 2010-05-30T02:08:33
TRANSCRIPT

This report airs Dateline Sunday, May 31, 7 p.m./C. Below is the transcript. The full video will not be available online, but you can watch web-exclusive clips here .

He's a con man, a kidnapper, and maybe more. The news broke on a slow Sunday. Boston Herald reporter Jessica Van Sack was heading home when she got an urgent call from her editor

Jessica Van Sack: They said there's been a kidnapping and we think it's a big story. This man may be a Rockefeller. A Rockefeller may have kidnapped his daughter.

Rockefeller: A name to inspire images of money and privilege, not squad cars and Amber Alerts.  But there it was, the name Clark Rockefeller - plastered across an FBI Most Wanted Poster.

Hard to think of the diminutive Rockefeller - five feet and change - as a kidnapper but his life had taken an ugly turn. He'd lost custody of his seven year old daughter, Snooks to his ex-wife. And after they moved away to London could only see his little girl on court-ordered visits back in Boston a few times a year. It was during one of those that he'd snatched the girl in broad daylight.

Daryll Hopkins: When he first told me he was a Rockefeller, I called my daughter and I said (whispers) "I picked up a  Rockefeller.."

Boston livery driver, Daryll Hopkins, was a little bit in awe of his spiffy new client, Clark Rockefeller. He paid good money too.

July 27, 2008, Hopkins was looking forward to a $3,000 payday. Rockefeller said he and his daughter Snooks needed a ride to Newport, Rhode Island. They had a date with a senator's son. But there was a catch. A friend would be with them and he might try and get in the car too. Rockefeller wanted help getting rid of him.

Daryll Hopkins: And I said "Well he won't be getting in my car, Clark, I'll take care of that one way or another.”

Just past noon, Hopkins parked on this leafy block of old Boston, engine running.

Soon, he spied Rockefeller in his mirror carrying his daughter on his shoulders... and as expected that “clingy friend” was right next to them.

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Daryll Hopkins: All of a sudden the door's opened and she's in the car and he's in the car, and closes the door and “Go! Go! Go!”

In his mirror, Hopkins watched the man run alongside the car, holding onto the door until he lost his grip and fell to his knees with the car speeding away.

It was only later that Hopkins learned the man wasn't a friend or acquaintance of his client, but a social worker and that he'd just been tricked into helping Clark Rockefeller abduct his own daughter in broad daylight.

That social worker immediately called 911.

His next call was to the little girl's mother and Rockefeller's ex-wife, Sandra Boss.

She raced to the scene and told police her recent divorce was more troubling than a simple domestic dispute. Incredibly, she said the man she had been married to for 12 years, the father of her child, was no Rockefeller.  Their whole life together -- his part of it anyway -- had been a lie.

Frank Rudewicz, private investigator: This was the equivalent of a 48-year-old man being born in 1993, because there was no record prior to that.

Sandra Boss's private investigator had been digging through databases trying to find out who exactly the phony Rockefeller was but there was nothing. And that had him worried.

Frank Rudewicz: From my gut if you will there's something else there. There's some issue that he doesn't even want his closest people knowing about…

How do you track down a ghost? Could this mystery man, this cypher now take 7-year-old Snooks and erase all trace of her too?

Four days passed, and police were no closer to finding either of them.  And Boston Police Superintendent Thomas Lee became even more alarmed bySandra Boss' descriptionof her ex-husband's state of mind.

Sgt. Thomas Lee Lee: We were looking at this now as a person who may be a homicide/suicide situation. We didn't know what could transpire.

Sandra videotaped a message to her husband.

Sandra Boss: I ask you. Please, please bring Snooks back. There has to be a better way for us to solve our differences. And Reigh, honey, I love you and miss you so much and remember you're always a princess.

But there was no response. Sandra's heartfelt pleas were met with silence. What was her daughter's name now?

FBI Agent Noreen Gleason: It was like every time we had a lead, we would get to a dead end.

On day five of the investigation police got the break they were looking for. Baltimore realtor, Julie Gochar saw Rockefeller's photo on the Internet. Only his name wasn't Clark Rockefeller she told the cops.

Julie Gochar, realtor: He said, "My name is Charles Smith, but I loathe the name ‘Charles’ so I go by Chip." 

Chip had contacted the realtor by email almost a year before the abduction. He said he was a sea captain looking to settle down in Baltimore with his daughter, Muffy.

Julie Gochar: He told me the mother of his child was a surrogate that he hired from Sweden. 

It wasn't until April, a few months before the kidnapping, that Julie Gochar finally met her unusual client in person. He didn't look anything like a professional sailor.

Julie Gochar: He came in, his hat pulled completely down with his black glasses, his black plastic frame glasses, bright red dyed hair and extremely pale. Video: How Christian Gerhartsreiter became 'Rockefeller', 'Chichester' (on this page)

Gochar showed FBI investigators the carriage house Chip had paid for in full with a $450,000 cashiers check.

Agents staked it out overnight, their patience paying off with a sighting of Clark the next afternoon. But where was his daughter, little Reigh?

Noreen Gleason: We wanted to make sure that we arrested Clark separate from Reigh.  We wanted to get them apart.  We definitely didn't want a barricade situation.

Gochar told the FBI that Chip kept a boat moored at the local marina.

Jim Ruscoe, the manager at the marina, offered to help the FBI lure the man he knew as Chip Smith out of his home.  He called him and said his boat was sinking.

Jim Ruscoe, marina manager: I told him specifically that he had to get down here immediately.  Because there was no time to find somebody else to deal with it.  And if he was local, that he had to come down and take care of the boat.

Sure enough, a worried Clark Rockefeller hurried outside, but he was instantly surrounded.Agents raced inside the carriage house looking for Snooks.

Noreen Gleason: I think she was upstairs, playing.  And when the agents went in, they called her name. And she came bounding down the stairs. I think she was upstairs, playing.

Despite the indignity of his arrest, the man calling himself Clark Rockefellermet police questions with courtesy.

ClarkRockefeller: My sincere apologies for the trouble I've caused you.

He was booked and locked up in a Baltimore jail but he never wavered...he was Clark Rockefeller, he told everyone who asked.  That was his name.

And though he was arraigned as Clark Rockefeller in a Boston courtroom on charges of parental abduction and two counts of assault and battery, the prosecutor called him an unknown. 

Prosecutor: He is, in fact, your honor, and I know this sounds dramatic but I believe it's simply true, he's a "mystery man". He's a cipher. We simply do not know who this man is before you…

But within days, finally, a clue -- fitting, perhaps, that it came from a wineglass.  It was found at a friend's apartment and when FBI analysts dusted it for prints. They got a match.

FBI spokesperson: The individual's true name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter. He was born in 1961 in what was then West Germany.

In the days after his arrest for kidnapping his 7-year-old daughter, the true identity of the man known as Clark Rockefeller was confirmed as Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a German national.

Eighty-nine-year-old Luise Huber owns a little store in Siegsdorf, the town where Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter was born in 1961 to a seamstress and a painter. It's a friendly, comfortable place… but apparently he didn't think so. 

Huber remembers Gerhartsreiter as a child always thinking he was better than everyone else. He picked fights with his friends, she said, berating one friend in her own store.

Luise Huber: (In German) All of a sudden Christian shouted at him, "Stay out, you dog!"

At 18 years old, Gerhartsreiter told his family he was leaving his stifling little hometown to reinvent himself in America. 

Luise Huber: There is nothing Christian likes more than being away from here...

That reinvention began in Connecticut in 1978. Gerhartsreiter enrolled at a local high school, moving in with Ed Savio's family.

Ed Savio: He came with these interesting, the white sunglasses, his clothes were much tighter.

Mike Taibbi: And how did he sound?

Ed Savio: It was very like "Ed, how are you Ed?” You know, “Pass me the bread.”

Mike Taibbi: German accent or affected something else?

Ed Savio: He was trying to do his version of what he thought an Americanized accent was

He told the Savios he was the son of a wealthy industrialist. Sometimes he hinted he was European royalty, implying that living with the Savios was really kind of slumming it.

Ed Savio: He'd walk around our house going, "I wouldn’t live like this." He would say that, in front of my mother, "I would never live like this." 

It seemed to the young Savio that Chris was practicing how to lie. And that's not all: Savio says the German student changed his hairstyle and the way he dressed, measuring the effects. In retrospect, Savio thinks he was witnessing a future con-man evolve before his very eyes.

Mike Taibbi: Whatever he was gonna do in this country, he'd started in your household.

Ed Savio: Yeah.

Mike Taibbi: In your house.

Ed Savio: Yeah, it's sort of like seeing the caterpillar you know and you see them start to build the cocoon.

Seven months after his arrival at the Savio house, Chris Gerhartsreiter had worn out everyone's patience.  He was told he had to leave.

Savio: He was a bit stunned. I really believe it was surprising that we didn't love him. On the other hand, he was like. “Ok I'm ready for something better.”

Gerhartsreiter didn't go back to Germany. Instead he moved across country enrolling at the University of Wisconsin. Fellow student Richie Riddle immediately noticed something about the new boy calling himself "Chris," his temper.

Richie Riddle, fellow student: It was the sort of outburst that you look at and you think this is a little over the top. And you walk away from it going, steer clear of that guy.

When he refused to leave a party she was hosting, a burly resident advisor had to manhandle him back to his room.

Richie Riddle: His temper flared. You know, "Who are you? Get your hands off of me? Do you know who I am?"

She didn't have to worry much longer. A few months later, Gerhartsreiter was gone, a dropout who'd just disappeared.

But not forever. In 1983 a young man calling himself Christopher Chichester, 13th Baronet, landed in San Marino, California, a tony Pasadena suburb.  He was a big hit at the Rotary Club and the local century-old church.

Meredith Brucker: I just found him utterly charming.

Meredith Brucker says this new man about town had no trouble endearing himself to everyone.

Meredith Brucker: My first impression of him was here's a young man who's well dressed, well spoken, fun and friendly, and very intelligent.

Of course, Christopher Chichester was nothing more than the latest invention of German student Christian Gerhartsreiter.

Cori Woods: Every person I've spoken to who has a daughter, he asked the daughters out.

As the 24-year-old Gerharstreiter looked for friends, allies, victims, he wasn't really choosy. Cori Woods says she was just 12 years old when he asked her to a movie.

Cori Woods: And then after that you know it got a little weird. And he started asking other inappropriate girls out.

Mike Taibbi: Not age appropriate.

Cori Woods: Not age appropriate.

And so in time, the town's love affair with baronet Chichester started to sour. He became just another local eccentric who faded into memory...

That is, until he resurfaced, decades later in New York, with a new name: Clark Rockefeller.

William Quigley: The waiters would refer to him as "Mr. Rockefeller" and "How are you Mr. Rockefeller?" He had this air about him.

Christian Gerhartsreiter was living in New York in the early 1990s when he hit upon the name that would stay with him the longest. Clark Rockefeller.

Artist Bill Quigley says the bon vivant truly lived the Rockefeller lifestyle.

William Quigley, artist: The first painting I see when I walk into the home is a 1969, 1970 Rothko and I was pretty impressed by this.

Just as impressive was Clark's heady entertaining. There was never a shortage of champagne for his dinner guests. On the town there were nights spent at tony private clubs.

William Quigley: He was always very generous.  He paid for everything we did.  I don't think I ever remember paying for anything. 

But never openly brash. Quigley says Clark hated drawing attention to himself. He walked down the street with his hat pulled down over his face.

William Quigley: Clark was a very private person. I recall him not wanting to be noticed and a little bit reclusive.

Sandra, a woman of substance- Stanford and Harvard-educated and a heavy hitter in the city. Each week she'd commute to her job at McKinseys, a high powered consulting firm a hundred miles away.

Emily Miller, babysitter: She was very into her career, Sandy was. She was in Boston most of the time that Clark and Snooks were up here.

Snooks, whose given name was Reigh, was born in May 2001- the newest addition to the Rockefeller dynasty. Emily Miller was her babysitter for two years and she says Clark did most of the care-giving.

Emily Miller: He didn't go anywhere without her by his side.

The 16-year-old found Rockefeller impressive, a loving and attentive dad who brought his daughter to museums and art galleries and had her reading by age two...

There was one odd thing though:

Emily Miller: They would dress alike. Clark would have his khaki pants, his navy blue polo and brown boat shoes and then she would have you know the little brown sandals and the khakis.

And Don McLeay, Rockefeller's neighbor and friend, thought Clark was a bit too possessive.

Don McLeay: Didn't have other children around. And I asked him once about that and "Well, she might catch something from them.”

In 2006, they left their life of isolation behind. Clark and Sandra bought a $3 million brownstone in Boston and enrolled Snooks in a top notch private school.

It's one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the country. Boston's Beacon Hill. And Clark Rockefeller fit right in. In the summer of 2006, before all the trouble began, you might have seen him in the park with his daughter, Snooks. Or dining at the ritzy Algonquin club, a few blocks away.

Not long after, Sandra Boss filed for divorce. Rockefeller confided in his friend, fashion consultant, Amy Patt. Video: How Christian Gerhartsreiter became 'Rockefeller', 'Chichester' (on this page)

Amy Patt, friend: He would say, "I was so nice to her and I used to get her coffee and the paper in the morning." So I honestly felt like he missed this person and didn’t know what had happened.

But Rockefeller's apparent torment over his failed marriage was nothing compared to his reaction to what happened next. A family court judge in Boston ruled that Sandra could move to London and take 7-year old Snooks with her. What's more the judge restricted Clark to three supervised visits a year with the daughter to whom he'd been Mr. Mum and Dad all her life.

Amy Patt: That period of time was almost an instantaneous character change. He lost all of his bubble, all of his passion for anything. He became secretive and defensive.

Amy looks back now and wonders whether she could have stopped what happened next: the abduction.

Amy Patt: He would say I think I'm going to get in a boat and go away and never come back. And I'd be like, “You're a friend of ours why would you just disappear?”

Of course unlike his previous incarnations as the German student and the English baronet Rockefeller wasn't planning to disappear alone. He was planning to take his daughter with him. Had he cracked? Had the veteran con-man finally started to believe his own lies?

After his arrest for abducting his own daughter, the man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller, swapped his tony post-divorce bachelor pad for a 12 by 12 foot jail cell.

By now police had connected the dots -- a lot of them anyway.  They knew from fingerprint analysis he was really German immigrant, Christian Gerhartsreiter and that Clark Rockefeller was just one of perhaps ten different aliases he'd used over the years.

While he waited for his trial, Gerhartsreiter sat down for his only television interview with NBC's Natalie Morales, defense attorney at his side.

NBC’s Natalie Morales: In truth, I’m not sure what to call you.  Because the FBI has identified you as Christian Gerhartsreiter, a German national who came to this country in the late 1970s, as an exchange student.

Steven Hrones, defense attorney: He doesn't remember anything about that early life.

Natalie Morales: Do you not remember?

Clark Rockefeller: I have to go by what Mr. Hrones is telling you.

Natalie Morales: Are you a Rockefeller?

Clark Rockefeller: I really couldn't tell you. Perhaps at some point we can do a DNA test to really find out.

Natalie Morales: And you never told anyone outright that you are a Rockefeller?

Clark Rockefeller: I don't think so.  I always left it very ambiguous. 

Gerhartsreiter says the one person who enjoyed the ambiguity of his name...and the reality of its power as much as he did… was his wife Sandra Boss.

She usually did so-- in a very understated way, calling attention by calling special attention to it by keeping it extra quiet.  Sort of the "Psst, she's married to a Rockefeller," kind of way. 

Hrones: It's like saying you went to Harvard. It opens doors.

Natalie Morales: Uh-huh. So you believe that was something for her.  It was socially something that elevated her into circles.

ClarkRockefeller: Well, she is the youngest woman ever to be elected to director of McKinsey and Company. 

Gerhartsreiter claims Sandra's crazy work schedule also got in the way of her relationship with Snooks. He describes Sandra as an absent mother. When she won full custody, he says it was devastating... and not just for him.

ClarkRockefeller: It was brutal. It was absolutely brutal. Worst of all, the separation happened four days before Christmas.

Natalie Morales: How did you tell your daughter at the time, what was happening to her?

ClarkRockefeller: Well, I told her that she has to leave. That she's going far away, and that I will see her at some point again in the future. And that was a very difficult thing to say. I had two hours to say good-bye to her, four days before Christmas. I'm sorry.  (sniffing)

Sandra Boss declined to talk to us on camera but she did say in a written statement that we should be skeptical of anything Gerhartsreiter told us given, what she called, his "history of deceitful behavior."

And it should be noted that a judge gave her full custody of little Reigh and only supervised visits to the father three times a year.

Which brings us back to the abduction.  Gerharstreiter characterizes his time on the run with Snooks as an extended father daughter bonding session.

ClarkRockefeller: All I can say now is that I had six wonderful, wonderful days with my daughter.  And I don't regret having spent those six days with her.

Natalie Morales: If you loved her so much, why separate her from her mother?  Why take her away?  For those days that you had her?

ClarkRockefeller: She had been taken away from me for eight months. Eight very cruel months.

Natalie Morales: So, you admit you took your daughter away from her mother?

ClarkRockefeller: No. 

When his trial opened in a Boston courtroom last month, Gerhartsreiter had swapped his prison overalls for a blazer and khakis.

He had pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him: two charges of assault and battery against the social worker, one count of giving a false name to the cops. As for the kidnapping itself? He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Prosecutor David Deakin argued that the evidence proved something far different than insanity.

Prosecutor: The rules don't apply to Christian Gerhartsreiter. That's what the evidence is going to show you he believed… this was a premeditated effort to take the child away from her mother, the custodial parent and to take her into a place where she couldn't be found-- and to use violence and trickery, deceit to accomplish those ends.

The abduction had taken a matter of seconds but, according to the prosecutor it was no moment of madness. It had taken months to prepare for a life on the run.

The Baltimore realtor testified that the defendant had been looking for a house as far back as November 2007, even before Sandra had moved to London.

And this precious metals dealer told the jury how Gerhartsreiter had transferred a small fortune, gained in his divorce, into untraceable gold coins. 

Ken Murphy: About $465,000 dollars right away. And then $300,000 on the 30th.

Next the prosecutors said, Gerhartsreiter lined up his unwitting accomplices for the big day.

There was that livery driver, Darryl Hopkins.

And then a sometime sailing pal of Gerhartsreiter testified that she drove him and his daughter to New York-- one leg of the getaway.

Prosecutor: Did he give you specific instructions about what you should do in preparation for the trip?

Aileen Ang: Fill up the gas tank because he didn't want to stop.

The prosecutor had explained how Rockefeller had brazenly and deliberately broken the law. Now he wanted the jurors to understand why. He suggested that Rockefeller’s calculated behavior was not that of a desperate dad deserving of sympathy but just one more criminal act in the life of a career conman.

And the prosecutor's star witness had perhaps been the victim of the biggest of all his cons. After all she'd spent 12 years married to him.

On day three of the Clark Rockefeller trial, the witness everyone had been waiting for: Sandra Boss, the supposedly sophisticated ex-wife who said she'd been duped too. She had lived alongside a man she thought for years was a Rockefeller.

But the cultivated man who wooed her had morphed into a controlling husband with a terrible temper.

Sandra Boss: Very intelligent, very polite... could talk about anything. He wanted to walk me to and from work everyday. He began to be less supportive of my seeing my friends.

She said her husband, despite the vast wealth and privilege implied by the name "Rockefeller” never contributed a dime to their household income and instead pushed her to work long brutal hours at McKinsey.

Sandra Boss: The defendant, particularly in the early years was unhappy with the limited amount that I earned at my job and put a lot of pressure on me about it.

Though her salary soared past the one million dollar mark, she said that pressure was relentless, her husband insisting she go right back to work after the birth of their daughter Reigh.

And no nanny, she testified he insisted he'd be Mr. Mom.

Sandra Boss: It became a very stressful relationship from my point of view.

And years later during the divorce and custody proceedings, she said it was money on his mind, even more than Reigh.

Sandra Boss: The gist of the discussion was that I could have full custody of Reigh. That I could move with her to London or anywhere else. And that in exchange I was to give him a million dollars.

Here was the crux of the prosecution case. Rockefeller, far from being a deranged father driven to crime after being separated from his daughter, had been perfectly willing to give her up for money.

Prosecutor: I think that he took his daughter for his own gratification, not because he thought it was really in his daughter's best interest. 

The next day defense attorney Jeffrey Denner had a chance to cross-examine Sandra Boss. At times it sounded like she was the one on trial.

Sandra Boss: The fact that we're talking to each other right now suggests this was a complicated marriage to get out of.

Defense: Do you think other people's marriages are not complicated to get out of?

Denner: I think realistically and very candidly speaking, she made it possible for him to be who he was.

Bottom line, the defense suggested, it just wasn't credible that the whip-smart Sandra Boss hadn't guessed her husband was lying about who he was.

Denner: We used our cross-examination of her to illustrate that she would not be a good measuring stick to ascertain and to reflect the craziness of our client.

Defense: Did you ever see him with a driver's license?

SandraBoss: No, he told me he couldn't drive because he had an eye issue.

Defense: Did you ever see his passport?

SandraBoss: No.

Defense: Did you ever see him with a checkbook?

SandraBoss: Mine.

Defense: I'm sure that's true. But any check book other than yours?

SandraBoss: No.

Defense:  You were married to a man for more than 12 years. You were together for more than 15 years. You are an economist, you are a major major consultant. You had no idea if he had a bank account?

SandraBoss: I think consistently you're making a connection between business intelligence and personal intelligence. I came from a place where people don't jay walk, it's a very honest place. It had never in my entire life occurred to me that I could be living with someone who was lying about such basic stuff. I'm not saying I made a good choice in a husband. It's pretty obvious I had a blind spot.

The defense gained one last admission from Sandra Boss before she was excused - an admission that seemed to support her ex-husband's insanity defense.

Defense: So you never saw any evidence of mental illness?

SandraBoss: I saw behavior that made me think that he wasn't all well - definitely. but it's what I would describe as obsessive kind-of behaviors.

Rockefeller was a victim of grief, the defense argued, literally driven insane by the loss of his child.

Listen to the statement he made to the FBI when he was arrested.

AUDIO:

ClarkRockefeller: She was taken from me four days before Christmas which was evil. I just want to be with her. I want to get her up in the morning, send her off to school, walk her to the bus.

FBI: OK.

ClarkRockefeller: Wait for her when she comes back.

FBI: Uh-huh.

ClarkRockefeller: Give her something to eat at night, and put her back to bed. And the next day the same thing again.

And as to his phony Clark Rockefeller name? 

Defense expert Dr Katherine Howe testified this alias, unlike all the others, was truly a delusion, something he came to believe and proof of a serious personality disorder.  A disorder that got worse every time anyone believed his lies.

Dr. Howe: It did impair his ability to recognize the wrongfulness of his actions.

The defense team's second expert, celebrity psychiatrist Keith Ablow, said that after Rockefeller lost his daughter, his delusions got so bad, he thought he was communicating with her telepathically.

Keith Ablow: They have a secret language that both of them know.

And Reigh had an urgent message for her father, Rockefeller claimed. "Rescue me."

After six days of testimony peering into the mind of Clark Rockefeller, the jurors were about to get the case. But regardless of the outcome, on the other side of the country far more serious questions were being asked.

Kathy Jacoby: I believe he murdered them.

For thirty years Clark Rockefeller had created and discarded identites at will - college student, aristocrat, Dad.

But for six days in a Boston courtroom, the man who could talk his way out of anything had to sit and listen as a prosecutor and his own defense attorney battled to define him.

Was he a ruthless kidnapper and conman who had lied to police?

Deakin, Prosecution: The evidence in this case shows that the defendant is a self-centered, controlling, and manipulative man who was angry.

Or a deranged father, driven mad when his darling Snooks was taken away from him?

Defense: Taking a look at Mr. Rockefeller... You know that something is wrong with him. This is not a man playing with a whole deck.

A jury of eight women and four men - their foreman a lecturer at Harvard Law school- would now decide once and for all - was he a criminal?

It took five days for the jurors to reach a verdict. Rockefeller stood tight lipped to receive it.

Judge: May I have the verdict slips please?

Juror: We the jury say the defendant is guilty as charged.

He looked on the verge of tears as the jury found him guilty of kidnapping his daughter.

Then another "guilty” ... this time for assault and battery. He was found not guilty of the two other charges and sentenced just a few hours later.

Judge at sentencing: The defendant shall be sentenced to four to five years in a state prison.

A day after the verdict, nine of the twelve jurors sat down exclusively with Dateline to explain their decision.

Sarah, juror: I don't think anyone else in the jury, really bought the delusional hypothesis at all. I think he was very smart and cunning and got away with a lot of lies for a very long time. And probably had some kind of personality disorder of some sort, the experts seemed to agree on that. But we don't think that it had anything to do with his crime.

During their five days of deliberations, the jurors say they went through each of the charges methodically, re-visiting testimony, much of which they'd found gripping.

Linda, juror: I kept feeling like I was in the middle of a John Grisham novel because each witness was so classically what they were and — I found that very interesting. Like Sandra Boss was so smart and so kind of prepared. And she so took on the defense attorney. I mean she just is able to answer. And it seemed quite sincere and quite believable to me that she could have a professional life that was brilliant and a married life that was tough.

As for Clark Rockefeller, most of the jurors found him puzzling. But some were just as puzzled by the people around him — those who had so readily accepted his stories. 

Sarah Funke: I was very troubled by the fact that he seemed to get away with a lot — all the lies he said kind of went unnoticed to the people he told them to. And it kind of strikes me as interesting that our society is so trusting.

Across the country in California meanwhile, Meredith Brucker had been watching the trial with a kind of morbid fascination. She'd known him 25 earlier when he called himself the Baronet Chris Chichester, that charming man she'd met at church.

Meredith Brucker: I just found my old date book from 1984. And here it says "Trivial pursuit party here, 8 p.m. Christopher Chichester, and names all the people that were there.”

They'd played the game at the guest-house Chichester was renting...

Meredith Brucker: I think I remember a little single bed pushed against the wall. It was horrible.

Years later that squalid room would be part of a crime scene. Chris Chichester, an earlier phony name for Gerhartsreiter, the phony Clark Rockefeller on trial in Boston, was named as a person of interest in the disappearance and possible murders of his San Marino landlady's son and daughter-in-law, John and Linda Sohus.

Frank Girardot, newspaper editor: When they first disappeared on February 8th 1985, it wasn't that big a deal.

Frank Giradot is metro editor of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

Mike Taibbi: No evidence in plain sight of foul play or anything else.

Frank Girardot: None.

In fact, Linda Sohus had told her best friend, Sue Coffman, that she was leaving town for a few weeks, her husband had a job interview.

Sue Coffman, Linda Sohus' friend: That was the last time I talked to her ever. I never heard from Linda again. Just disappears off the face of the earth, forever as far as I could tell.

She did receive a postcard a few months later with a French postmark, signed Linda. But the handwriting didn't seem quite right.

Sue Coffman: And I just knew in my heart some bad stuff had happened to her somehow.

Linda's sister Kathy filed a missing person's report but police didn't seem too be doing much.

Kathy Jacoby, Linda Sohus' sister: I had to keep you know phoning them and saying "Okay what did you - what do you know now?”

In the meantime, Chris Chichester continued to live in the Sohus guest-house, until one day someone noticed that a section of the backyard had been dug up. A plumbing problem, he explained. Shortly thereafter, the 13th baronet disappeared as well.

A few years later Chichester — using still another name, Christopher Crowe — reportedly tried to sell the Sohus' pickup truck in Connecticut. But before the police could question him, he vanished, again.

And that's where the investigation into the disappearance of John and Linda Sohus stalled until 1994, when a clue surfaced back in San Marino, California. It turned a missing persons case into a possible homicide case.

KNBC footage: The body was found buried 3 and a half feet down behind the home in San Marino...

Workers installing a pool in the backyard of the old Sohus home, which had been resold, stumbled on three plastic bags filled with the remains of a man.

Frank Girardot: Sheriff's homicide came out. The forensic anthropologist determined at that time that there was significant head trauma on the skull.

Police weren't confirming the identity of the body, but Sue Coffman was certain it was her best friend's husband, John.

Sue Coffman: The guy told me that what was left of the remains was clothed in jeans and a plaid shirt. And I said, "That's exactly what John wore, like almost all the time." 

Their next gruesome discovery made detectives eager to track down the man who had called himself the Baronet Chichester.

Frank Girardot:  The sheriff's department went into the guest house where Chichester had lived. And they used the luminol technique to discover that there was, you know, a sizeable amount of what appeared to be human blood.

But even though investigators had figured out Chichester was really Christian Gerhartsreiter, they didn't know where to start looking for him.

That is - until his arrest for kidnapping in 2008 under the name Clark Rockefeller.

That's when investigators in LA County went back to the property where Chris Chichester had lived side by side with the Sohuses, and where that unidentified body had been found. This time they brought cadaver dogs and sonar equipment.

Frank Girardot: They hit upon what they believed might be a spot that would yield some evidence.  And they did an excavation.  They took a piece of concrete out. They took some dirt out.

But Giradot says it was a dead end.  The body of Linda Sohus was not there.

Still, the investigation is moving forward.

Steven Whitmore, spokesperson, LA County Sherrif's department: This is a case that has been going on for over a quarter of the century and they're gonna stay with it until they hopefully do solve it, resolve it, and bring whoever it is to justice.

In fact, last year, a grand jury was convened in the case to help investigators look at the evidence so far.

Giradot thinks postcards sent from Europe after the Sohuses disappeared could be the biggest clue left.

Frank Girardot: If they can somehow determine that Linda didn't write the postcards, they know she's dead. And then, perhaps, somehow link those postcards to the travels of Gerhartsreiter-- you know, it may be a slam dunk.

But it's no slam dunk yet.

The grand jury examined the reports of three handwriting experts. One of them, Sheila Lowe, showed us how she came to her conclusion that Linda did indeed write the postcards.

Sheila Lowe: You can see that except for the lower loop it fits very closely.

Mike Taibbi: So either the same person wrote all these documents or it's a forger who's really good at it.

Sheila Lowe: They would have to be really good at it.

But it's a subjective science. In fact more art than science. The other two handwriting experts disagree with her.

So where does that leave the case of the missing Sohuses?

Kathy Jacoby: I've come to peace with the fact that she's dead. Now I would just like this man who I think has something to do with it, to become accountable.

Linda's sister wants Gerhartsreiter to talk to L.A. County investigators. So far he's refused.

He did, however, tell Dateline that he had nothing to do with their killing, if in fact they were killed - as far as he knew.

Natalie Morales: Did you kill John and Linda Sohus?

Clark Rockefeller: My entire life, I've always been a pacifist.  I am a Quaker and I believe in non violence. And I can fairly certainly say that I have never hurt anyone.

Gerhartsreiter has never been named a suspect in the case, just a person of interest.

Mike Taibbi: As numerous as are all the circumstantial bits of evidence which point to him, how can you link it to him at all?

Frank Girardot: There's plenty of circumstantial homicide cases made all the time.

Mike Taibbi: But you know from talking to law enforcement, they're frustrated.

Frank Girardot: They are very frustrated. It's a mystery that everybody wants to solve but nobody has all the puzzle pieces.

Investigators have time to work the Sohus case while their "person of interest" sits behind bars for kidnapping: He lost a bid for a new trial earlier this year, and just this month a panel of judges denied a request for a shorter sentence. His lawyers say they will soon appeal his conviction.

Christian Gerhartsreiter came to this country seeking fortune and fame. And while he may have lost his little Snooks and wife Sandra along the way — his certain kind of notoriety hasn't faded yet.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints

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