Rockefeller imposter pleads not guilty to murder

LOS ANGELES Fri Jul 8, 2011 4:30pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A German-born man who once posed as a member of the wealthy Rockefeller clan pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges that he murdered a neighbor in 1985, when authorities said he was using a different name.

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, whose life of assuming false identities was portrayed in the 2010 made-for-TV movie "Who Is Clark Rockefeller?", entered his plea at a court in the Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra.

The 50-year-old Gerhartsreiter was ordered held without bail until an August 16 preliminary hearing, when a judge will determine if there are grounds to order a trial on the first degree murder charge.

For at least 16 years, Gerhartsreiter passed himself off as a Clark Rockefeller and pretended to be a member of the Rockefeller oil dynasty, a claim the family denies. Actor Eric McCormack played him in the movie on the Lifetime network.

Los Angeles prosecutors charged Gerhartsreiter with murder in March, accusing him of using a blunt object to commit the killing. He had long before been suspected in the 1985 death, but the case took years to develop.

The victim, John Sohus, went missing in 1985 but his body was not discovered until 1994, when a building crew found it buried in the backyard of what had been his home in the Los Angeles suburb of San Marino.

He was conclusively identified only recently with the help of new technology, sheriff's officials said earlier this year.

Sohus went missing along with his wife, Linda. Her body was never discovered, and as a result Gerhartsreiter has not been charged in her death. Investigators have said, however, that they believe she is dead.

In 1985, Gerhartsreiter rented a guest house from the couple while going by the name Christopher Chichester, authorities said. He disappeared after they went missing.

James Hallett, an attorney for Gerhartsreiter, could not be reached for comment.

Sandra Boss, Gerhartsreiter's wife of 12 years, accused him in her 2007 divorce case of lying about being a Rockefeller.

The following year, he kidnapped the couple's young daughter in Boston, leading to a manhunt that ended with his arrest in Baltimore and the girl's rescue.

He was serving an over 4-year prison sentence in Massachusetts for kidnapping and assault when Los Angeles prosecutors charged him in the 1985 killing, and began extradition proceedings to have him sent to California.

He was returned to Los Angeles on Wednesday to face the murder charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 26 years to life in prison.

Detectives said his fingerprints identified him as Gerhartsreiter, a German who came to Connecticut in the 1970s as a student.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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