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How Authorities Caught An Affluent Conman Wanted For Married Couple's 1985 Disappearance
California couple John and Linda Sohus disappeared after reportedly leaving for New York City on a top-secret mission. Only one of them was ever found.
A man hiding in plain sight among his elite companions would spend years on the run after a married couple disappeared from California.
Newlyweds John and Linda Sohus were reported missing in April 1985 from San Marino, California, one to two months after their last-known whereabouts. Now-retired Detective George Yankovich of the San Marino Police Department was the first to investigate the couple’s disappearance, but after speaking with acquaintances of the married couple, nothing about the Sohuses raised suspicion.
Linda’s friend, Sue Coffman, recalled how that pair met just three years earlier.
“Linda was a smart individual, she was really interested in the art world and science fantasy,” Coffman told Oxygen's "Blood & Money." “John was a Dungeons and Dragons freak. They started going to games together, and she may not have played, but she was there hanging out with him.”
Linda’s sister, Kathy Jacoby, told "Blood & Money" that the Sohuses were an odd pair but there was "a lid for every pot."
After marrying, John and Linda moved in with John’s adoptive mother, Didi Sohus, a former socialite from the ‘30s and 40s. The couple had hoped to stay in the guesthouse of Didi’s affluent home, but remained in the main house with Didi, since a man named Christopher Chichester was lodging in the granny flat.
John and Linda didn’t have the means to live on their own. However, their luck changed when a “dream job” seemingly fell from the sky, according to Coffman, who last saw the couple when they visited in their new white Nissan pickup truck.
Linda told Coffman that she and John would be traveling to New York City so he could take an interview for a “high-level, high-security government job.” It seemed odd, but the Sohuses didn’t strike their friends as typical to begin with. But after not hearing from the couple for over a month, Coffman called Didi, who said she didn’t think her son and daughter-in-law would return to the West Coast.
“I wanted to chat with Didi, John Sohus’ mother,” said Det. Yankovich. “She said they had gone on a secret mission. I thought that was kind of unusual.”
According to Linda’s sister, it was hard to pull information from Didi because of her alcohol abuse and ailing health. However, it was soon discovered that Didi only maintained contact with her son and daughter-in-law via a third-party source: her tenant, Christopher Chichester, a half-British man alleged to be the 13th Baronet of Chichester.
When Det. Yankovich went to speak with Chichester, he was naked and disheveled, announcing he was a nudist. He reiterated Didi’s claims that John and Linda were away on a secret mission.
Yankovich dug deeper into Chichester, who also went by Christopher or Christian Gerhartsreiter, and was in possession of the Sohus’ new truck.
On April 28, 1985, Didi received a postcard with a New York postmark, believed to be authored by her daughter-in-law, saying, “Looks like we made a wrong turn. Linda.” In July of that same year, Didi notified authorities that Chichester – Didi’s only connection to her son – had disappeared with the Sohus’ pickup.
But nothing in the investigation came to fruition until 1988 – three years after the couple vanished – when Det. Yankovich found the stolen truck was recently sold in Greenwich, Connecticut, prompting him to contact Greenwich Police Detective Dan Allen.
The vehicle’s new owners didn’t recognize the names “Chichester” or “Gerhartsreiter” but said the man who sold them the truck was a church acquaintance and hedge fund manager named “Chris Crowe.”
Christopher Chichester, Christian Gerhartsreiter, and Chris Crowe were all the same person.
Detective Allen hoped to pay “Chris Crowe” a surprise visit at the Connecticut office of Kidder, Peabody & Company, but he was soon on the run again.
“His boss tells me he got a call from Chris saying that his mother and father had been kidnapped in Pakistan,” said Allen. “That he was going to have to take two months off to go look for them.”
But before the case went cold, Allen was able to collect the absconder’s fingerprints, which were already on file with the Connecticut-based brokerage company. That same year, Didi Sohus passed away, never knowing what happened to John and Linda.
Six years would pass when, in May 1994, authorities were called to the former home of Didi Sohus. The new owners, wanting to have an inground pool constructed in the backyard, made a gruesome find: the human remains of a single person, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Det. Tim Miley.
“The head had been covered with two plastic bags and wrapped around [the] neck with a telephone wire,” Miley stated. “The arms and legs and torso were wrapped in saran wrap material and then buried.”
Further investigation revealed the presence of blood in the guesthouse where Chichester had lived.
The body was processed, and a medical examiner ruled the male victim died of blunt force trauma to the head, with indications of a stabbing when slits were found on the victim’s clothing. But due to decomposition, the body couldn’t be positively identified as John Sohus. With Didi being his adoptive mother, there were no known family members with which he could be biologically linked.
The body would remain unidentified for years until DNA testing could advance the case. In the meantime, investigators from around the country looked into Chichester some more.
Detectives learned “Christian Gerhartsreiter” came to Connecticut at 16 years old as a foreign exchange student in 1979. He then shortened his name to “Christian Gerhart” before relocating to Wisconsin, where he attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He later moved to the West Coast, where he attended film school with the University of Southern California under the name “Christopher Chichester.” Then back to Connecticut as “Chris Crowe.”
“He wanted to reinvent himself as somebody,” said Det. Miley. “As somebody of importance, somebody of wealth.”
The aliases continued for decades and in 2008, a man named “Clark Rockefeller” was wanted for kidnapping his own daughter on July 27, 2008, during a supervised visit in Boston.
A break came days later when a real estate agent recognized “Clark Rockefeller” as “Chip Smith,” a man to whom she’d just leased a home. She alerted the FBI, who arrested “Rockefeller” for parental kidnapping.
Thanks to the fingerprints left with the financial business in Connecticut, “Clark Rockefeller” and “Chip Smith” was determined to be “Christian Gerhartsreiter,” “Chris Gerhart,” “Christopher Chichester,” and “Chris Crowe.” The one man remained behind bars.
“You go through all sorts of different emotions,” said Linda’s sister, Kathy Jacoby. “Anger, frustration, sadness.”
The man arrested as "Rockefeller" was sentenced to five years in prison on parental kidnapping charges, during which time California authorities started building their case, looking at the scam artist for the Sohus case.
A deep dig revealed Didi Sohus – convinced that her son had abandoned her for his wife and their subsequent move to New York – wrote John out of the will, denying him the home which, back in 1985, was worth about $310,000 (about $870,000 today).
“With John and Linda Sohus out of the way, Christopher Gerhartsreiter a.k.a. Chris Chichester, would have been home alone with Didi Sohus, a vulnerable old woman sitting on a large property in a wealthy San Marino neighborhood,” said Lead Prosecutor Habib Balian of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors believed that back in 1985, Chichester intended to have Didi list him in the will. Meanwhile, Didi received suspicious postcards from Paris, France, purportedly from Linda.
After leaving California for the East Coast in Linda and John’s truck, Chichester hooked up with a woman who – believing Chichester’s parents were kidnapped (and that Greenwich Det. Dan Allen was a hitman) – spent eight years on the run with a man she called “Chris Crowe.”
The conman then ingratiated himself into the high arts scene in New York City as “Clark Rockefeller,” selling fraudulent art pieces and marrying a wealthy woman named Sandra Boss, with whom he had a child. Under the guise of being a relative of one of New York’s famous Rockefeller family, he regularly claimed he had money tied up while Boss supported Rockefeller and their daughter.
After years of financially supporting Rockefeller, Boss filed for divorce in 2006. The contentious split only heated up when Boss learned “Clark Rockefeller” didn’t exist, and that he kidnapped their daughter in 2008 in the midst of an embattled custody dispute.
That same year, the body found in Didi Sohus’ backyard was identified as John Sohus, thanks to advanced DNA testing against a half-sister.
“[Chichester] loved his position in San Marino; he loved being the 13th Baronet of England,” said Prosecutor Balian. “And John and Linda Sohus, who likely wanted to live in that guesthouse, challenged his status in that community, and that likely played into this confrontation which led to death.”
With so much time passing between when the Sohus couple disappeared and Chichester’s 2008 arrest, little physical evidence connected the conman to the crime scene. However, the circumstantial evidence was strong, including the two bags wrapped around Mr. Sohus’ head.
“One of the bags was from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee bookstore, and the other was from the USC [University of Southern California] bookstore,” according to Balian. “Only one person at 1920 Lorain Road attended the University of Wisconsin and attended the USC.”
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officially charged their suspect, “Christian Gerhartsreiter,” with the first-degree murder of John Sohus.
Though prosecutors wished to charge Gerhartsreiter with the murder of Linda Sohus, her body was never recovered.
“I believe Christin Gerhartsreiter killed John and Linda Sous in cold blood,” said Balian. “He then fled and entered a new life of deceit, manipulation, and greed.”
The trial began in March 2013, where the defense argued the possibility that Linda Sohus – who could not be accounted for – murdered her husband, buried him in his mother’s backyard, and then fled to Paris, from where she sent postcards to Didi Sohus.
Prosecutor Balian called the notion “nonsensical.” In April 2013, jurors agreed, convicting Gerhartsreiter of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to serve a minimum of 27 years in state prison.
“I want him to be convicted on the murder of Linda, but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” said Linda’s sister, Kathy Jacoby. “But he’s going to jail. He’s not a young man, and hopefully, he’ll die there. I’m sorry to be so blunt.”
Linda’s friend, Sue Coffman, keeps a scrapbook containing information about her friends, and though she knows it’s unlikely, she holds on to a small piece of hope that Linda could one day be found.