The headline-grabbing mystery man who still insists his name is “Clark Rockefeller” says he remembers little of his past, but can “fairly certainly say” he has never hurt anyone physically.
The man authorities have identified as Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter sat down with TODAY’s Natalie Morales for an exclusive jailhouse interview in Boston, where he faces parental kidnapping and assault charges for allegedly abducting his daughter from his ex-wife during a custodial visit on July 27.
But even more serious charges may possibly await the man of many names in California — where police have named him as a “person of interest” in a 23-year-old missing persons case.
Within hours of his Aug. 2 arrest for fleeing with his daughter Reigh, layers of the strange man’s past lives and aliases began unpeeling. His brother Alexander identified him as his long-lost brother Christian, while former associates recognized him as former Wall Street trader “Christopher Crowe.”
But it is the time when he went by the name “Chris Chichester” that aroused police interest in California.
Using that name, Gerhartsreiter rented a guest house of San Marino newlyweds Jonathan and Linda Sohus in the mid-1980s. The couple disappeared in 1985 while he was living with them, and according to police, Gerhartsreiter tried to sell a pickup truck belonging to the couple three years later in Connecticut — fleeing before authorities were able to question him.
Remains believed to be those of Jonathan Sohus were found on the couple’s California property in 1994, and the couple are presumed dead.
In his interview with Morales, Gerhartsreiter, 48, was often evasive in talking about his former friends and landlords, the Sohuses — often being cut off in mid-sentence by his lawyer, Stephen Hrones. But he said that despite his fuzzy memory, he doesn’t believe he was capable of murder.
“My entire life, I’ve always been a pacifist,” he told Morales. “I am a Quaker and I believe in nonviolence. And I can fairly certainly say that I have never hurt anyone physically.”
While Gerhartsreiter faces the reality of being compelled to stand questioning in the Sohus case, attorney Hrones told Morales authorities are barking up the wrong tree.
“He did not commit any murder,” Hrones said. “He’s adamant about that. And they don’t have any evidence.”
German or American?Morales faced an uphill battle in questioning Gerhartsreiter about his numerous past lives. He asked Morales to refer to him as Clark Rockefeller, despite being identified by fingerprints as Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a German exchange student who came to America in the late 1970s — as well as being identified by his own brother.
“I don’t know what to say about this — I don’t have any particular knowledge of that,” he said.
As evidence, Gerhartsreiter argued that if he had known he was German, it might have changed the outcome of his kidnapping case. After his divorce from his wife of 11 years, Sandra Boss, she moved from the family home in Boston to work in London, taking the couple’s 7-year-old daughter, Reigh, with her. After going eight months without seeing his daughter, Gerhartsreiter allegedly shoved a social worker and fled with the child during their first supervised visit back in Boston on July 27.
Gerhartsreiter told Morales: “If I had known that I would’ve had an easy access to a European passport, I think the first thing I would have done was hop on a plane and go see my daughter.”
He remained adamant that any memories he has from his childhood are of growing up in the U.S. “I have a clear memory of picking strawberries in Oregon,” he said. “I remember clearly going to Mount Rushmore in the back of a woody wagon — I believe it was a ’68 Ford.”
And, he told Morales, “I am quite sure I grew up in New York City — I remember the taxi strikes, I remember going to the zoo in Central Park.”
Gerhartsreiter did admit remembering the aliases he has used during his adult life — he told Morales that Christopher Crowe was “a name I used temporarily. I was working on Wall Street in those days. I was never particularly good at what I was doing.”
But he claimed only hazy knowledge of the alter ego that may yet land him in the most trouble: aspiring actor Chris Chichester. Hrones blocked every attempt Morales made to discuss Gerhartsreiter’s activities under that name, although the attorney had said in a previous interview, “He was trying to get into the acting business and he thought it was a more appropriate name.”
Message for SnooksGerhartsreiter was nonchalant when Morales asked whether the considerable gaps in his memory (he says he remembers only bits and pieces of his life before 1993) bother him. “I really only look forward. I very rarely look back at anything,” he said.
He added that who he really is and where he is really from “makes no difference to me one way or another,” and that his sole focus is on the well-being of daughter Reigh, affectionately known as Snooks. Gerhartsreiter told Morales of the joy he felt after being reunited with her after she lived with her mother in London for eight months — even though that first visit put him under his current cloud of legal trouble.
“Seeing her was a moment of intense joy,” he told Morales. “And I had not seen her in so, so, so long. And I missed her so much.”
Morales asked Gerhartsreiter if he had a message for his daughter.
“I would say she should wish that we’d be reunited. And that there is hope for the two of us to be reunited again,” he said, his voice breaking with emotion.
As to whether the current charges against him — Gerhartsreiter is set to stand for a pretrial hearing Sept. 3 — will allow such a reunion, he said glumly, “Natalie, I cannot predict the future. I don’t know. I only hope so. And I wish for it.”
‘He would remember’
Meanwhile, Los Angeles County authorities are stepping up their investigation into the disappearance of the Sohuses, bringing in geophysicists to comb the couple’s property where human remains were previously found. But in a live appearance on TODAY following the Tuesday airing of Morales’ interview, Hrones continued to maintain that his client has nothing to fear.
“He had nothing to do with it, he’s a nonviolent person, he has no record,” Hrones said. When Morales asked him how he could be so sure in light of the fact that his client professes to remember little of his time living with the Sohuses in Los Angeles, Hrones replied, “He would remember if he committed a murder.”
Hrones also said he most “certainly believes” Gerhartsreiter when he professes a profound memory loss, though he is at a loss to explain why. “I’m not a psychiatrist; I have no idea,” Hrones said. “Maybe he has amnesia. We have gotten to that issue.”
The issue Hrones is focusing on is having Gerhartsreiter beat the kidnapping and assault charges. While ex-wife Boss was granted full custody of Reigh in the couple’s 2007 divorce, Hrones calls that decision “outrageous,” since the couple never actually filed a marriage application and Gerhartsreiter was a stay-at-home dad.
“It isn’t really kidnapping — this was his own child,” Hrones said. “To have the court give custody to the mother when he was the dad at home, who basically raised the child, is outrageous.”
Hrones also claimed the court had no jurisdiction to grant Boss full custody. “There was no marriage — how could there be a divorce? It’s ridiculous. That whole proceeding was invalid.”
Morales also questioned why Hrones’ client still asks to be called Clark Rockefeller when authorities have positively identified him as Gerhartsreiter, who grew up in Germany and came to the U.S. in the 1970s.
“He believes he is Rockefeller,” Hrones replied. “We don’t rule out that he might be the individual from Germany — but he has a block. He doesn’t remember his early childhood.”
But in a subsequent live segment on TODAY Tuesday, criminal profiler Pat Brown said Gerhartsreiter’s interview with Morales was just another in his long line of cons, though Brown did give Morales credit for pressing him on his vague answers.
“You’re really good at it — you really put him to the wall,” Brown told Morales.
Brown said that despite Gerhartsreiter’s assertions that he is nonviolent and the gentle manner he displayed during his interview with Morales, he should be considered dangerous — and not above suspicion in the Sohus case.
“People say, ‘He’s not a serial killer, he’s just a con man,’ ” Brown told Morales. “Well, con men are psychopaths, and we don’t know what they’re going to do — they do not have any empathy for other people. He is dangerous to everyone. It’s very possible for him to be violent.”
Brown told Morales that Gerhartsreiter was throwing out “a pack of lies” in his interview, and dismissed the tears he appeared to shed when talking about daughter Reigh. Brown believes that when Gerhartsreiter allegedly abducted his daughter on July 27, he had an agenda far from Reigh’s welfare.
“He got back at his ex-wife by doing it — and everybody was chasing him, so he was the man of mystery who was on the run and he was in all the newspapers,” she said. “I don’t think he cared one bit about the actual child, or he wouldn’t have done it if he did.”
Referring to Reigh, Brown added ominously: “It’s lucky she came back in one piece.”