Opening statements began Monday in the murder trial involving a man accused of posing as a member of the famed Rockefeller family to gain access to wealthy circles after allegedly killing a Southern California man nearly 30 years ago.
Seven women and five men were selected to the jury in the trial of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, also known as Clark Rockefeller. Gerhartsreiter pleaded not guilty in the 1985 slaying of John Sohus.
Gerhartsreiter was a tenant on the Sohus family's property in San Marino, an upscale community southeast of Pasadena, in the early 1980s when he was known as Chris Chicehster -- one of several aliases, according to investigators. Prosecutors told jurors Monday that he claimed he was related to Sir Francis Chichester, a famed British adventurer, and even passed out business cards identifying him as a Chichester relative.
"You will learn that the people of San Marino believed him -- he convinced them," said prosecutor Habib Balian.
Sohus and his wife, Linda, disappeared in 1985. Nine years later, a construction crew building a swimming pool on the San Marino property discovered John Sohus' remains. The father-son work crew found a fiberglass container in the dig area and plastic bags with Sohus' remains.
Prosecutors in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom Monday opened their statement with an image of the construction site, including the container embedded in the dirt.
The criminal complaint states Sohus was killed between Feb. 1, 1985 and Feb. 28, 1985 with a "blunt object." Linda Sohus (pictured, right, with John Sohus) has never been located.
Gerhartsreiter, a German national, moved to the United States in the late 1970s, left Southern California for Connecticut in Sohus' vehicle after the couple's disappearance and attempted to assume another life on the East Coast, according to prosecutors. After the couple's disappearance, Sohus' mother began receiving postcards written to appear as though they were from her son and his wife. Prosecutors claim the postcards were part of a ruse to convince the Sohus family that the couple had left for France.
He went on to call himself Christopher Crowe, Chip Smith and, most notably, Clark Rockefeller, a pretender to the oil fortune. The impostor worked his way into high society and talked his way into important jobs. He married a wealthy woman but his identity unraveled when he kidnapped their daughter during a custody dispute.
Defense attorneys argued Monday the defendant's aliases have nothing to do with Sohus' death, and that he is just one of many people who moved to Los Angeles to "reinvent themselves." They said prosecutors will portray Gerhartsreiter as an "odd guy," but that he was "not much else."
Gerhartsreiter was serving time for the kidnapping in Boston when investigators connected him to the Sohus case.
Prosecutors have not suggested a motive for the Sohus killing.
The list of potential witnesses includes several law enforcement agents from Boston, Southern California and Connecticut. San Marino neighbors who lived in the area at the time of Sohus' disappearance also are expected to testify.