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May 27, 2009

Rockefeller imposter trial begins

Posted: 10:10 PM ET

BOSTON, Massachusetts–Jury selection wrapped up Wednesday in a custodial kidnapping case that gripped the nation last summer. A man who posed as Clark Rockefeller was on the lam for a week with his then seven-year-old daughter before authorities captured him in Baltimore, Maryland on August 2, 2008. What those authorities learned during that week constitutes the most fascinating back story of any trial I’ve covered.

Mug shot of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter aka Clark Rockefeller

He is no Rockefeller. He’s Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a German native, who came to the United States in 1978. He’s lived from California to New York under at least three long-term identities.

From at least 1982 until 1985, he was Christopher Chichester, an aspiring filmmaker who claimed to be of British royalty (included in his fictitious ancestry was Lord Mountbatten), and who boarded at a home in San Marino, CA. In the late 1980s, he was Christopher Crowe of Greenwich, CT and New York City, who worked at a brokerage firm, as a corporate bondsman and briefly at a securities firm. From 1993 until shortly before his arrest in 2008, he lived as Clark Rockefeller, an art collector who also helped Third World countries manage their debt.

As Rockefeller, he married Sandra Boss in 1995, a successful businesswoman and the household’s sole breadwinner. In 2001, their daughter, Reigh, was born and in 2007 their marriage ended in divorce. Boss was onto her husband, especially after a private investigator questioned whether he was, indeed, a Rockefeller. Following the divorce, Gerhartsreiter was given only three supervised visits a year with his daughter: spring, summer, and Thanksgiving. He cancelled the first visit scheduled for March of 2008. The summer visit was his first one, and it was on that visit that he kidnapped his daughter and, at the same time, allegedly assaulted the social worker who was supervising the visit.

According to authorities, a plan was in place by July 2008. Gerhartsreiter had already purchased a carriage house in Baltimore, MD under the name of Chip Smith. He told the realtor that he was a single parent and that his daughter Muffy would join him. On July 27, he duped two drivers into participating in the kidnapping. One driver took him partway across Boston. Another drove him to Manhattan. Six days later, living as Chip Smith, he was lured from the Baltimore carriage house, arrested and charged with kidnapping, assault and battery, and giving a false name. He now says he is not criminally responsible by reason of mental disease or defect; in other words, he was criminally insane at the time.

This intriguing story will continue to unfold in the next few weeks in a Boston courtroom. But the trial judge is not permitting jurors to hear everything about Gerhartsreiter’s past. One key fact they cannot know is that a grand jury in Los Angeles County is currently hearing evidence presumably linking Gerhartsreiter to a 1985 double homicide when he lived there as Christopher Chichester.

Opening statements are scheduled for Thursday morning. Among the first witnesses will be the alleged assault victim, social worker Howard Yaffe, a private investigator who was tailing the supervised visit on the day of the kidnapping and Aileen Ang, who drove Gerhartsreiter and his daughter to New York City that day while an Amber Alert went out across the country.

–Beth Karas, In Session correspondent

Filed under: Uncategorized


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Joyce Huffman   May 28th, 2009 6:30 pm ET

Hi Beth,
Thanks for the information about this upcoming trial. It sounds like it will be an interesting one with many twists and turns, I am looking forward to your updates. Keep up the good work.


LauraJ   May 30th, 2009 11:25 am ET

This man is not mentally ill–he is perfectly sane,smart & will obviously put up a fight along with his defense team. This will be a good trial & yes Beth Karas always does a great job covering.


DonAnthony   June 2nd, 2009 6:33 am ET

The Trooper should not have taken the stand. He looks like he is more worried about saving his skin then causing the death of the two girls. It looks like he was doing a final tape when he answers his lawyers questions. I'm surprised that his lawyer was not held on contempt after the last tyraid on the Judge. After a very slow start this case is getting very interesting. Looks like Higbee is closing the gap. We'll find out today unless the little lawyer gets sick again.


Betty Reynolds   June 2nd, 2009 10:41 am ET

I do not find it hard to believe that Sandra Boss did not see any formal documents of "Mr Rockefeller". My husband and I have been together 13 years and the only formal document of his that I have ever seen is his driver's license. According to the defense, I guess I should assume he is a fraud and investigate him! Really, I believe this is true of more couples than we want to admit.


JRS   June 3rd, 2009 12:30 am ET

I say leave the poor guy alone since a parent should not have to go to prison because the love he has for his child, yes what he did was wrong in a way by trying to hide the child from the mother but he should not face 18 years in prison for the affection he has for his child. This case is oburred he should be on trial for fraud or misrepresentation but not kidnapping his OWN child. These laws must change that make parents face felony charges and any prison term thats why there is no federal law for a parent taking his own child.


LH in New Hampshire   June 5th, 2009 9:41 am ET

I was completely duped by "Clark Rockefeller". I worked in a professional office in NH and talked with him on several occasions. My Dad worked for Nelson Rockefeller in my home state of New York for many years. "Clark" talked to me at length about "his great-Uncle". He even showed me a money clip with the Rockefeller seal. It was exactly like one Nelson had given my Dad!!! I was so fooled by him I even gave him my husband's name (and he did contact him) to get a name of a general contractor to do work on his NH home. At one point he even brought his daughter into my office so I could meet her. I was shocked when this story first broke, (back then) I thought everyone was wrong about him... I feel very differently now... LH in NH


Tom Sandford   June 11th, 2009 7:34 pm ET

Money and power usually are synonymous but not always you can"t put all the blame on the wife for not knowing. She was a hard working executive and apparently everything was going fine she had no reason to question him they were young and in love some of us forget that feeling, I dont think I have ever seen my wifes drivers licence or birth certificate I have no reason to look at them .



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