SHARE
COPY LINK

CRIME

Fake Rockefeller jailed for killing US landlord

A German man who impersonated a member of the Rockefeller family and an English aristocrat was sentenced on Thursday to 27 years in prison for murdering his Californian landlord in 1985.

Fake Rockefeller jailed for killing US landlord
Photo: DPA

Christian Gerhartsreiter, 52, was convicted in April of killing his landlord, John Sohus, who went missing in February 1985 together with his wife Linda.

The remains of Sohus were found nine years later in the backyard of his home in an upscale Los Angeles neighbourhood.

Prosecutors believe the German also killed Linda Sohus, but he was only charged with one murder.

When the couple vanished, Gerhartsreiter was living in a guest house owned by the victim’s mother.

The defendant – clad in a blue prison jumpsuit, his face visibly thinner – again proclaimed, as he has in the past, that he was not guilty before Judge George Lomeli read out the sentence in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday.

“I would like once again to reassert my innocence… I didn’t commit the crime,” Gerhartsreiter said.

A spokeswoman for prosecutors said Gerhartsreiter would be allowed to make his first request for parole once he has served 85 percent of his minimum prison sentence of 27 years.

The hearing began with Lomeli and Gerhartsreiter, who represented himself, debating a motion by the defendant for a new trial – one that the judge ultimately rejected.

Several members of the Sohus family, including the victim’s sister, were present in court. “It’s been a very long storm but it’s almost, almost over,” Ellen Sohus said. “Why did you kill John? Where is Linda? I imagine Linda is dead and I think that you’re responsible for her death.”

After the alleged crime, Gerhartsreiter moved to the East Coast state of Connecticut and changed his name a number of times, eventually becoming Clark Rockefeller and getting married, fooling his wife for 12 years.

Gerhartsreiter – who also pretended to be a Hollywood producer and an English aristocrat during his years evading arrest after the killing – came to the United States more than three decades ago.

For more than 10 years, he lived without a driver’s licence or bank account, never signed a lease and would not even take a flight for fear he would be recognized.

He was finally arrested in 2008 and jailed while awaiting trial. He had already been sentenced to five years behind bars in 2009 for kidnapping his seven-year-old daughter.

In closing arguments in April, prosecutor Habib Balian rejected the defence’s claim that Sohus’s missing wife Linda could just as easily have killed her husband.

Defence attorney Jeffrey Denner had questioned a key piece of prosecution evidence – two plastic bags wrapped around Sohus’s skull, each from a US university where the German had studied.

Gerhartsreiter would have to be “one of the stupidest murderers in the history of Southern California” if he killed Sohus and then wrapped the dead man’s head in bags clearly linked to him, Denner told the court.

Denner admitted, however, that Gerhartsreiter was “not an easy guy” to defend. “How he went through life didn’t make him very likeable… But that doesn’t mean that he is a killer,” he said.

AFP/tsb

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

GERMANY AND ISRAEL

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

The German government says it is in talks over further compensation for victims of the attack on the Munich Olympics, as the 50th anniversary of the atrocity approaches.

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

Ahead of the commemoration in September, relatives of the Israelis killed have indicated they are unhappy with what Germany is offering.

“Conversations based on trust are taking place with representatives of the victims’ families,” a German interior ministry spokesman told AFP when asked about the negotiations.

He did not specify who would benefit or how much money had been earmarked, saying only that any package would “again” be financed by the federal government, the state of Bavaria and the city of Munich.

On September 5th, 1972, eight gunmen broke into the Israeli team’s flat at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released.

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists  held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Horst Ossingert

The spokeswoman for the victims’ families, Ankie Spitzer, told the German media group RND that the amount currently on the table was “insulting” and threatened a boycott of this year’s commemorations.

She said Berlin was offering a total of €10 million including around €4.5 million already provided in compensation between 1972 and 2002 — an amount she said did not correspond to international standards. 

“We are angry and disappointed,” said Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in the attack. “We never wanted to talk publicly about money but now we are forced to.”

RND reported that the German and Israeli governments would like to see an accord by August 15th.

The interior ministry spokesman said that beyond compensation, Germany intended to use the anniversary for fresh “historical appraisal, remembrance and recognition”.

He said this would include the formation of a commission of German and Israeli historians to “comprehensively” establish what happened “from the perspective of the year 2022”.

This would lead to “an offer of further acts of acknowledgement of the relatives of the victims of the attack” and the “grave consequences” they suffered.

SHOW COMMENTS