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Fake Rockefeller With Four Aliases Convicted For Decades-Old Disappearance Of Newlywed
Before John and Linda Sohus vanished in 1985, they lived with con man Christian Gerhartsreiter, whom they knew as Christopher Chichester.
When construction workers broke ground on the backyard of a California home in 1994, they uncovered a gruesome sight — skeletal remains wrapped in cellophane and plastic bags.
Their discovery shook the quiet, upscale community of San Marino, but investigators soon connected it to another unsettling case, the disappearance of newlyweds John and Linda Sohus.
In early 1985, the young Sohus couple told friends and family they were taking a two-week trip to New York. John had potentially landed a “top secret” government job, and the two were traveling east to suss out the prospect, friend Sue Coffman told “A Wedding and a Murder,” airing Thursdays at 9/8c on Oxygen.
At the time, the couple had just moved into John’s mother’s San Marino home, which she shared with Christopher Chichester, a self-proclaimed descendant of British royalty who rented out the property’s guest house.
John and Linda believed the government position could be their ticket out of their cramped living arrangement, and they jumped at the opportunity.
As the weeks went by, however, no one heard from the couple, and Coffman soon reached out to John’s mother, Ruth “Didi” Sohus, whom Coffman described as a reclusive alcoholic. Coffman asked if John and Linda had returned from the trip, and Didi claimed they had ended up going to Paris.
Although she was puzzled, Coffman said she only really began to worry when she received a call from the boarding facility where Linda had housed her pet cats.
“She would have come back for her cats if John would have gotten the job. After hearing that news, I called the police,” Linda’s sister, Kathy Jacoby, told “A Wedding and a Murder.”
When an officer from the San Marino Police Department responded to the missing persons’ report at Didi’s home, she assured him the couple was out of town for work, and that she had spoken with them through a third party — her roommate, Chichester.
Shortly after the police visit, Linda’s friends and family received postcards from France that were signed “John + Linda.” The one addressed to Coffman read: “Hi Sue — Kinda missed New York (oops) — but this can be lived with,” which Coffman said she found odd.
Five months later, Didi filed her own missing persons’ report, telling police that Chichester, the conduit to her son and daughter-in-law, had vanished without a trace, taking the couple’s truck with him.
Despite Didi’s concern, police continued to treat their disappearance as a voluntary missing persons’ case, and John and Linda were never heard from again.
Over years, Didi’s health declined, and she became dependent on a couple Chichester had introduced to her before he left town: Don and Linda Wetherbee. Nearing death, and at Linda Wetherbee’s behest, Didi sold her home and bought a mobile home in La Puente, where the Wetherbees operated a trailer business.
“When the home was sold, there was a loan made to Linda Wetherbee for $40,000, which was kind of surprising to everyone, because Didi had taken John out of her will and made Linda the executor and in charge of all her personal affairs,” Dee Scott, a former detective sergeant at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, told “A Wedding and a Murder.”
Didi died in 1988, and Linda Wetherbee took control of her assets and forgave the $40,000 loan. The original San Marino Police Department officer assigned to the case, George Yankovich, reopened the inquiry that fall, once he was promoted to the rank of detective.
Hoping to track down the Sohus’ missing truck, Yankovich entered its VIN into a national database, and it surfaced in Greenwich, Connecticut, where a man tried to register it after it had been given to him by a bond trader going by the name Chris Crowe.
Police quickly identified Chichester and Crowe as the same man, and Connecticut investigators unsuccessfully tried to locate him. They were able to obtain Crowe’s fingerprints from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The case went cold yet again, and it would be another six years until investigators got their first big break. In 1994, a family moved into Didi’s old home and began renovations. While excavating the backyard for a pool, contractors found skeletal remains, which were later identified as John Sohus.
The remains had been wrapped in cellophane and several plastic bags belonging to universities, including the University of Wisconsin and University of Southern California. An autopsy revealed John had died from blunt force trauma to the head, and luminol revealed large blood stains on the floor of the guest house.
Multiple law enforcement agencies collaborated on the investigation and theorized that Chichester/Crowe had murdered John and Linda so he could take over Didi’s estate.
“He was working on that, and then John and Linda move in and get in the way. And he’s got to figure out how to get rid of them,” said author Frank Girardot, who wrote about the case in “Name Dropper.”
Still, authorities were unable to locate the elusive con man, and he lived undetected for more than a decade, until a seemingly unrelated case led to his capture. In 2008, a man by the name of Clark Rockefeller grabbed national headlines for abducting his 7-year-old daughter, Reigh, amid a contentious divorce.
“Clark’s face begins showing up on TV, and people back in California were saying, ‘That’s not Clark Rockefeller. That’s [Chichester],’” Girardot said.
FBI agents handling the Rockefeller abduction confirmed he was not a member of the famous family, and he was later apprehended in Baltimore, going by the name Chip Smith and claiming to be a sea captain from Chile. Reigh was safely reunited with her mother.
Authorities matched Rockefeller’s fingerprints to those associated with the Chichester/Crowe case, and nailed down his actual identity. He was Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a German national who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 17.
“The fingerprint with the look … only adds up to one thing: that Clark Rockefeller is Chip Smith, and Chip Smith is Christopher Crowe, and Christopher Crowe is Christopher Chichester, and Christopher Chichester is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter,” Girardot said.
Gerhartsreiter was found guilty of kidnapping and sentenced to five years in prison, and investigators soon began building a murder case against him.
The FBI established that Gerhartsreiter had spent time at the University of Wisconsin, linking him to the plastic bag found with John’s remains. Authorities also learned that at the time of the Sohus’ disappearance, Gerhartsreiter had attempted to sell a bloodied rug.
In 2011, 26 years after the young couple vanished, Gerhartsreiter was charged with John’s murder. He was found guilty and sentenced to 27 years to life in prison.
To this day, Linda Sohus’ remains have not been recovered, but police believe Gerhartsreiter killed her around the same time he murdered John, according to “A Wedding and a Murder.”
On her deathbed, Linda Wetherbee confessed that the couple was killed as part of Gerhartsreiter’s financial scam.
To learn more about the case, watch “A Wedding and a Murder” on Oxygen.
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