Preliminary Hearing Begins for Rockefeller Imposter

A man who posed as a member of the Rockefeller family is accused in the death of a San Marino man

By Jonathan Lloyd
|  Wednesday, Jan 18, 2012  |  Updated 7:22 PM PDT
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Christian Gerhartsreiter, aka Clark Rockefeller, enters a courtroom Jan. 18.

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Testimony began Wednesday in the case of a 50-year-old man -- who allegedly posed as a member of the famed Rockefeller family -- accused in the death of a man whose remains was found in a San Marino backyard in 1994.

A construction worker who dug a hole for a swimming pool where the remains were found testified Wednesday at a preliminary hearing for Christian K.  Gerhartsreiter. Jose Perez was operating construction equipment in the backyard of the home in the 1900 block of Lorain Road in May 1994 when he discovered what was later identified as the body of John Sohus.

"We ran into what we thought was some garbage,'' Perez said, later explaining that the obstruction turned out to be a container with a bag inside.

Their discovery launched an investigation that led to Gerhartsreiter, a man who blended into high society as "Clark Rockefeller" -- one of several aliases listed in a criminal complaint. 

Gerhartsreiter had been in prison in Massachusetts for kidnapping his own daughter in 2008. He was charged with Sohus' slaying and brought to Los Angeles County last August.

Gerhartsreiter killed Sohus sometime in February 1985 using a blunt object, according to the criminal complaint. Gerhartsreiter was renting a guesthouse from the Sohus family in the mid-1980s, and he  disappeared shortly after 27-year-old John Sohus went missing.   

The remains in the San Marino backyard went undiscovered until the swimming pool project in 1994. 

The criminal complaint lists five aliases for Gerhartsreiter, who came to Connecticut from Germany in 1970s as a student. At the beginning of Wednesday's hearing, defense attorneys asked whether the defendant could be referred to as Rockefeller during the proceeding.

The judge denied that request.

Gerhartsreiter faces up to 26 years to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder. The preliminary phase, which might last about six days, will determine whether there is enough evidence for him to stand trial.

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