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Movie - My Friend Rockefeller - An Imposter Fooled the Public for 25 Years (2015)

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Background

Christian Gerhartsreiter, an immigrant to the United States from Bergen, Germany, lived a life of deception which the FBI called "the longest-running con in FBI history."  Gerhartsreiter used several aliases when he came to the United States in 1978.  When he was a University of Wisconsin film student, he was Chris Gerhart.  He then became Christopher Chichester, a descendant of British royalty.  He took the name Christopher Crowe, a TV producer, and worked for three Wall Street investment firms in the late 1980’s.  His longest con was as Clark Rockefeller, a Boston Brahmin who became friends with important artists, writers, producers, physicians, financiers, and members of prestigious private clubs.

Writer Walter Kirn, a friend of “Clark Rockefeller,” stated “I thought he was with the fanciest person I ever met.  The truth was that he was the saddest, scariest, lowest, most degraded person I ever met.”

                                                

John D. Rockefeller

                                                      John D. Rockefeller - Wikimedia

Introduction

An elderly couple had picked him up as a hitchhiker in Germany.  They exchanged addresses and he contacted them when he arrived in the United States.  He would come on Sunday to have dinner.  At that time, he called himself Chris Chichester.  Gerhartsreiter then traveled to Wisconsin where he married a woman for the green card he would receive, then left her after a few days to settle in California.

More Falsehoods

In Los Angeles, he claimed to be a television news producer making $1,300 a month as a writer for Charlie’s Angels.  He said that George Lucas was a friend of his, as well as Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford.  He moved to San Marino which was odd for a young person to do.  He had perfected a British accent with no trace of a German accent.  He was drawn to affluent bedroom society who accepted new friends easily and would not question him.  Homes in San Marino sold for 4, 5, and 6 million.  He claimed to live in one of those houses, although he did not.  The house that he actually lived in was very shabby, dusty, and unkempt. 

One resident said he was extroverted and chatted with many people, stating that he was the 13th Baronet of Chichester.  He was always beautifully dressed, a picture of elegance.  He contradicted himself a lot, and when caught in it, he had a remarkable way of exiting the conversation by saying “Excuse me.”

At different times, he claimed to be an actor, director, art collector, physicist, a ship’s captain, a negotiator of international debt agreements, as well as an English aristocrat.

                                                         

George Lucas

                                                            George Lucas - Wikimedia

Chris Moves to the East Coast

One day, he abruptly left San Marino and went to Greenwich, Connecticut where he took on the alias of Christopher Crowe, and said he was related to the director and screenwriter Cameron Crowe.  He was hired by a junk bond business.  When he charged a dinner to his boss, he was fired from the job.

Christopher Crowe charmed his way into Wall Street where he ran an entire department.  He claimed to know people and to be a member of a yacht club, both of which were false.  He worked at Nikko Securities where he met an Asian woman with whom he had a seven-year relationship.  She testified that he was let go at Nikko Securities when they found out that Christopher Crowe was not his real name.  She said he received a phone call from a Detective Allen, and Christopher told him the man was not a detective.  He said his parents were in danger and he was in danger.  There was no explanation for the call.

After the call, they had to go into hiding.  He became markedly different and acted strange and furtive, cutting off all social ties.  She had to break ties with her family.  He used her name for all of their utilities.  They were planning to marry because she loved him and believed that he loved her.

Chris Marries a Wealthy Woman

After ingratiating himself into New York society, he met and married a wealthy banker with an MBA from Harvard, named Sandra Boss.  He had taken the name of Clark Rockefeller.  He was able to live a prosperous lifestyle on his wife’s income.  The couple had one daughter before they divorced after 13 years of marriage.

More Lies

A woman who was interviewed said Clark Rockefeller became her neighbor in 1993.  He knocked on her door and brought her some New Age music CDs.  She felt as though she was being spied upon.  There was no furniture in his apartment, just a card table with folding chairs.  He was about 31 or 32 at the time.  He said he was working to solve debt in countries on the Pacific Rim.

                                                           

Steven Spielberg

                                                            Steven Spielberg - Wikimedia

Chris Talks About His Past

His neighbor could hear him coming and going.  Chris had cocktail parties and had people over, mostly in their late twenties and early thirties.  He would serve them a glass of cream sherry, Harvey’s Bristol Cream.  He told sad stories about his parents. He was orphaned, his parents died in a plane crash, and he had to raise himself.  He claimed that he was unable to speak until he was 10 or 11, when he suddenly regained his speech.  He had no formal education and was tutored at home until he was 14.  He started Yale at age 14 and graduated when he was 18.  

He knew his neighbor was an art dealer but he had no interest in art until he received a phone call that his great aunt Blanchette Rockefeller, who had started MOMA, had passed away.  He had inherited a few paintings and didn’t know if they were valuable.  He asked if he should I have them insured.  They were three major paintings from Mondrian and Pollack.   

Writer Walter Kirm Felt Betrayed

When writer Walter Kirn met him, he thought Clark Rockefeller would make a great character for a book, but decided he could not do that to such a good friend.  In 2008, he found out that everything was a lie, even Clark’s name.   He felt anger and shame that Clark was never what he said he was.  Kirn said they had a relationship which he was not proud of; they made fun of and looked down on other people.  Kirn felt used, and decided that he had a right to write about his experience.  He had done favors for Clark and received no favors in return.

When Sandra Boss won custody of their daughter, she planned to move to London.  Clark was distraught because he had no passport, no identity.  He planned to kidnap his daughter.  He almost got away with it except that a real estate agent recognized him.

A Person of Interest

Police had been seeking him since 1985 as a suspect in the disappearance of a married couple.  The FBI had interviewed 350 people in Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Wisconsin, Montana, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and San Francisco.  Clark had left a wide path. 

A Couple in California Went Missing

Chris Chichester had lived for a time in Loma Linda, California with an older couple named John and Linda Sohus.  When they went missing, friends received postcards indicating that the couple was in France.  When a swimming pool was being dug, plastic bags were discovered which contained body parts.  Christ Chichester was declared a person of interest.  He had driven John Sohus’ truck all the way to Connecticut.  Linda’s body had never been found.  Christopher claimed that Linda must have killed her husband and disappeared.

                                               

Prison Bars

                                                              Prison Bars - Wikimedia

Christopher is Convicted of Murder

Special Agent Noreen Gleason, a 17-year veteran of the FBI was assigned to the case.  On April 13, 2013, Christopher Gerhartsreiter was convicted of murder in the first degree and was sent to a California prison where he is now serving 27 years to life.

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