The imposter who called himself "Clark Rockefeller" entered a not guilty plea today in a packed Los Angeles courtroom on a murder rap dating back to 1985, when he is accused of killing his landlady's son and burying his dismembered body in the backyard.
Christian Gerhartsreiter, 50, a native of Germany, has been in prison in Massachusetts since 2009, when he was found guilty of abducting Reigh "Snooks" Boss -- his daughter by Sandra Boss, who he married under his fake identity.
The kidnapping investigation led California authorities to look at Gerhartsreiter in connection with a cold case in San Marino, Calif., where John Sohus' remains were found in 1994 in the backyard of his home during excavation for a swimming pool. He had died from blunt force trauma to his head, officials said.
Gerhartsreiter, then using the alias Christopher Chichester, had lived in the mid-1980s in a guest house on the property, which belonged to Sohus' mother, Didi. Neither Sohus nor his wife, Linda, had been seen since 1985, and Linda's whereabouts remain a mystery.
Jann Eldnor, who for decades has owned a hair salon in San Marino, remembers "Chichester" well from that era. He used to come in for haircuts every two weeks.
"He was a British gentleman," Eldnor recalled. "He was just about 25 years old, but he acted like he was 40. He never worked, but he always dressed like a banker."
He said Gerthartsreiter claimed that his uncle was Lord Mountbatten, a great-uncle to Prince Charles who was assassinated by the IRA in 1979.
Eldnor remembered him as a "really polite" man who never used bad language, much less resorted to violence. He was popular in San Marino, which Mark Seal, author of the new book "The Man in the Rockefeller Suit," said was "like a Norman Rockwell village" in that era.
"In his younger days, he was attractive and also had the gift of gab," said Seal.
"Chichester" left San Marino in 1985.
"He came up to me and said, 'This is my last haircut. I'm going to Europe. A relative has died. I might never come back,'" Eldnor recalled.
Instead, Gerhartsreiter went to Greenwich, Conn., where he tried to sell Sohus' truck, Seal said.
Chichester and Clark Rockefeller were only two of Gerthartsreiter's fake identities. He also posed as an Ivy Leaguer, a cardiologist, a Hollywood producer and actually was a successful bond broker on Wall Street in the years after he left San Marino.
He lost that job and later moved to Boston, where he hung out in a Starbucks and was working on a TV sitcom called, "Less Than Proper," and told people he was the inspiration for the character of Niles Crane in the TV show "Frasier," Seal said.
That's where he met Sandra Boss, Reigh's mother, an executive who graduated from Harvard Business School. After they split and Boss and Reigh moved to London, he abducted his daughter, then 7, during a visit in Boston in 2008.
He was convicted in 2009 on the kidnapping charge and was sentenced to four to five years, with a year's credit for time served, according to a spokesman for the Suffolk County district attorney.
Now, the stakes are much higher: He could face 26 years in prison. Judge Carlos Uranga ordered Gerhartsreiter to return Aug. 16 for another hearing.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles County sheriff, Steve Whitmore, said Gerthartsreiter is being held on $10 million bail at an undisclosed jail.
"Because of his notoriety, we want to be safe and sure with this individual," he said. "We're acting with an abundance of caution."