ALHAMBRA, Calif. – A German immigrant who masqueraded as a member of the famous Rockefeller family appeared Friday in a Southern California court to face charges that he murdered his landlord more than a quarter-century ago then fled the state.
Not guilty pleas were entered by a judge for Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who spoke only to waive his right to speedy proceedings.
Prosecutors believe he murdered Jonathan Sohus, who disappeared along with his wife Linda in 1985. Gerhartsreiter rented the couple's guesthouse in the wealthy enclave of San Marino, northeast of Los Angeles, and left town soon after they vanished.
Prosecutors, however, did not bring charges against Gerhartsreiter until March, after he had been convicted in a Massachusetts kidnapping case.
Outside court, Gerhartsreiter's Boston lawyer, Jeffrey Denner, acknowledged it was unusual to have charges brought after such a long time, but said "old case, new case, he didn't do it."
Denner said that with the waiver, it could be a significant amount of time before the case comes to trial, but the defense would immediately be receiving 9,000 pages of discovery material from the prosecution.
"They've had 26 years to put it together and that's just the beginning," he said.
An Aug. 16 hearing was set in Los Angeles County Superior Court to determine a date for a preliminary hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to hold Gerhartsreiter for trial.
Gerhartsreiter was already serving a prison term in Massachusetts following the 2009 conviction in the kidnapping of his 7-year-old daughter in an elaborate scheme in which he hired two people to drive them to New York.
At the time of his arrest in Baltimore in August 2008, Gerhartsreiter had been living under the Rockefeller name.
Detectives in California had long considered Gerhartsreiter a person of interest in the death of 27-year-old Sohus, who disappeared at the same time a man using the name Christopher Chichester was staying in a guest house on the property.
The man who called himself Chichester had quickly ingratiated himself into the community and told people he was a British aristocrat.
Over the years, Gerhartsreiter has morphed identities many times, telling people he was a physicist, art collector, ship captain and financial adviser who renegotiated debt for small countries.
At his kidnapping trial, prosecutors said Gerhartsreiter used aliases to move in wealthy circles in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. His strange story has become the subject of a TV movie.
Skeletal remains were found in the backyard of the Sohus home in 1994 when new owners were excavating for a swimming pool. Those bones were thought to belong to Jonathan Sohus. His wife is still missing
Gerhartsreiter's lawyers claimed during the 2009 trial that he was suffering from a delusional disorder and was legally insane when he snatched his daughter during a supervised visit in Boston following a bitter divorce from his wife.
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