When his divorce was finalized on December 12, 2007, he wrote to a friend in New York: „Just signed Versailles. Not exactly my best day.“ One might as well say: it was the day the man who called himself Clark Rockefeller lost everything: his daughter, his places of residence, his wealth. And of course his wife, but that clearly was of minor concern, in the last couple of months he had referred to her only as the „evil one“.
He made a plan: he would kidnapp his child. Yet for the first time in his life he had not thought two steps ahead. He had not anticipated the media spectacle a Rockefeller on the run would cause. Now his mugshot was seen on every single channel and he and his daughter were trapped in Baltimore – behind closed curtains, in the kitchen a bag of rice.
The friends who tried calling his mobile phone reached only his voice mail. The friends who thought they knew him realized with every passing day they knew nothing at all. From the news they learned that not only was Clark no Rockefeller heir – he was not a Rockefeller at all. He was a man with dozens of aliasses and a mouthful of a name in his passport from 1978: Gehartsreiter.
First name: Christian Karl. Country of origin: Germany.
An imposter, who will keep generations of psychiatrists busy and who might be the key to a human skeleton found years ago in California. If only he could remember.
The most improbable jouney of the man who made himself into a Rockefeller began in the mountain village of Bergen, Germany. Always different from the other bavarian children, he had dreamed of escaping to places far away from an early age. In 1978 he seized his chance and flew to the US on a tourist visa. His destination: a small town in Connecticut. There he showed up on the doorstep of a young backpacker he had met on a train in Germany. After one year of absorbing everything like a sponge, the boy from the alps had successfully changed into an American teenager.
After a short intermezzo in Wisconsin – where he married only to get a greencard – he appeared in the wealthy town of San Marino, California. Gerhartsreiter, now 20, had transformed himself into Christopher Mountbatten Chichester from the UK, a self-proclaimed computer expert, stockbroker and a descendant of Lord Mountbatten. He rented a house in the backyard of an old lady, also living there with her only son, a science fiction geek, and his wife. Two years after Chichester moved in, the couple disappeared. Soon, the tenant took off as well.
His next stop: the waspy enclave of Greenwich Connecticut. Now calling himself Christopher Crowe he was hired by S. N. Phelps and Company, one of the East Coast’s most reputable security firms. Some years later he landed at an even bigger, more prestigious firm on Wall Street: in 1987 he was named vice president of the corporate-bond department at Nikko, one of Japan’s biggest brokerage firms. At Nikko, in his office at the World Financial Center, he ran an entire department, dealing with millions of dollars every day. The next step was Kidder, Peabody & Co., a venerable American security firm, established in 1865. Here the young man only lasted a few weeks though – he vanished the day the Greenwich Police Department had come to look for him to question him about the skeleton they had since found in his former garden.
He resurfaced in New York in 1992. This time he came equipped with a world famous name: Rockefeller. He dressed the part, he talked the part, he ingratiated himself with members of the most prestigious church and the most exclusive private clubs. In 1995 he married an appropriate wife: Sandra Boss, a Harvard MBA who soon became one of the youngest partners at McKinsey, with a $2 million salary.
“One can be brilliant and amazing in one area of one’s life,” Sandra Boss later said, “and really stupid in another.” Until the very end of her marriage she did not doubt that her husband was who he said to be. She found him increasingly demanding and controlling – but she was impressed by his intelligence, his fast wit, his never ending curiosity. Like the many international experts who had admired her husbands art collection, she had never questioned his Rothkos or Pollocks either.
The couple had a child whom Rockefeller raised and educated. At 5 years of age, she was able to converse about Greek Gods and the periodic system. Much of their time father and daughter spent in New Hampshire, where Sandra Boss had bought a house in the small town of Cornish. A former artist colony and yet again a very exclusive place, one of the neighbors being J.D. Salinger.
From Cornish they relocated to Boston, a move that could not stop their fighting though. In 2006, after 12 years of marriage, Sandra Boss filed for divorce. She paid her husband $800,000. In exchange she won custody over her daughter, with whom she now moved to London. It was during a court-supervised visit back in Boston, that Gerhartsreiter/Rockefeller kidnapped his daughter. He had prepared everything for their new life in Baltimore, where he had rented an apartment and taken on yet another identity: that of Chip Smith, an easy going yacht captain. This time however, the game was over quickly, he was tracked down by the FBI, handcuffed and finger printed.
In 2009, Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter was convicted in Boston for abducting his daughter. Then, in March 2011, the one-time Rockefeller was charged with murder. He was accused of having murdered the son of his former landlady in California. In January 2012 Gerhartsreiter appeared in court for a preliminary hearing, in April 2013 he was convicted of murder and sentenced to prison for 27 years.