Impostors Cash In on the Rockefeller Name

When the Rev. Brian Marsh asked a new member of his parish, Clark Rockefeller, about his famous last name, Rockefeller didn't answer.

Instead, Marsh claims, Rockefeller showed the Cornish, N.H., pastor a pocketknife inscribed with the name Nelson Rockefeller, the former vice president and descendant of oil baron John D. Rockefeller.

"He never identified whether he was a member of the Rockefeller family," Marsh said. "But he implied a connection."

"I had no reason not to believe him."

But Marsh apparently should not have believed Rockefeller. Police and the FBI were searching on Wednesday for Rockefeller after he allegedly abducted his 7-year-old daughter during a supervised visit on Sunday in Boston.

Rockefeller, in fact, is not related to the Rockefeller family of New York, according to a Rockefeller family spokesman, and he has gone by several aliases in the past, Boston police say, including J.P. Clark Rockefeller, James Frederick, Clark Mill Rockefeller and Michael Brown.

He is not the only person to take on the historic Rockefeller name. Whether for fame, fortune or thrills, others have attempted to pass themselves off as members of one of America's wealthiest families.

Fraser Seitel, a Rockefeller family spokesman, said that while cases of such impostors are unusual, they do happen.

Perhaps the most famous was Christopher Rocancourt, a French-born con artist who convinced members of the Hamptons jet-set that he was a Rockefeller family heir, despite his French accent. He was sentenced to three years in prison for swindling his newfound wealthy "friends" in New York and California out of $1.5 million.

"You'd want to hire him as your sales person," said Peter Hoffman, a private investigator who worked on the case. "This kid convinced someone to give him $106,000 in cash. That takes talent."

Rocancourt, who also reportedly passed himself off as an entertainment producer and race car driver, was deported to France after his 2006 release from prison and wrote a book about his life.

He's not the only one to cash in on the Rockefeller name. Sometimes, it seems that simply dropping the name Rockefeller can be enough to impress.

A Broadway producer who told investors that she was the secret wife of David Rockefeller pleaded guilty in 1990 to defrauding an investor of $400,000. She reportedly kept a photograph of Rockefeller by her bedside to convince skeptical investors.

Adela Holzer, who had been a successful producer of shows such as "Hair" in the 1960s, had already served time in prison ten years earlier for stealing from investors.

She allegedly referred to herself as the secret wife of David Rockefeller at parties in East Hampton, Long Island, according to news reports from the time, and used that supposed connection to Rockefeller to persuade people to give money to fraudulent investment schemes, claiming they would be backed by Rockefeller.

In 1984, a woman who passed herself off as the daughter of then-Gov. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia was arrested after spending thousands of dollars on expensive hotel suites, body guards and a new car.

The girl allegedly went on a week-long, multi-state spending spree, buying $600 a night hotels suites with a fake license and passport that identified her as a Rockefeller before she was caught. "She was living in a fantasy world back then," her father said.

Robert Feldman, associate dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, said impostors can get several things out of pretending to be a Rockefeller.

They may be treated far better than they normally would be, may be unhappy with their own lives or may simply like duping other people, he said. "Obviously there's also a potential gain – they can get access to people, to parties, to events that they wouldn't otherwise be able to go to," he said.

For Rocancourt, Hoffman believes it was "the challenge" that drove him, "the art of outwitting smart people."

Clark Rockefeller was last seen in New York City's Grand Central Station on Sunday night, about seven hours after he allegedly executed a plan to kidnap his daughter, Reigh.

Police believe the two may have been heading to Long Island to pick up a recently purchased boat called "Serenity."