Every so often, a story appears that is so fantastical that if it were to be dramatised, audiences would spurn it for being just too out there, too ridiculous to take seriously. The story of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, otherwise known as Clarke Rockefeller, is one of these.
Born in Bavaria, Gerhartsreiter moved to the United States in 1979 in at the age of 17, where he began his new life, indeed, new lives, and started his ascent to the top of American society. After obtaining a green card by means of a meaningless quaker marriage, Gerhartsreiter, or, as he called himself then, Chris Gerhart, left the film school he was attending, and moved to California, to pursue his passion for the movies, in particular, Film Noir.
Adopting the name Christopher Chichester, he moved to San Marino, where he quickly assimilated himself into local life. Claiming that he was a member of British Aristocracy, he even made a fake family crest and motto, which read âfirm in faith.â? He lodged in a guest house of Didi Sohus, a known outcast with drinking problems. Later, Sohus’ adopted son John, and his wife Linda, moved in with her. In 1985, they disappeared, with Sohus telling friends that a âsourceâ? (revealed to be Gerhartsreiter) had told her that they had taken a secret government job in New York, and then later, Europe. In 1994, the body of John was found, buried in the garden. The whereabouts of Linda are still unknown.
By this time, Gerhartsreiter was long gone. Moving to Connecticut under the name Christopher Crowe, he eventually found work with Wall Street firms. After being fired from each of them, he disappeared, only to resurface as âClarke Rockefellerâ?. Successfully convincing those around him that he was a member of one of the world’s most famous families, he eventually met Sandra Boss, who was to become his wife and mother of his child. Their marriage dissolved several years after the birth of their child – âSnooksâ?, and Gerhartsreiter had only limited supervised access to her.
This would be his undoing. He snatched Snooks, stole a social workers car and escaped. Police trying to track him down eventually made the connections and uncovered his various identities. In 2008, he was arrested.
Using archive footage and interviews from those Gerhartsreiter made an impression on, The 6 Million Dollar Conman is a superb documentary. Clocking in at over an hour and a half, it’s a long watch, but this tale is so compelling, and so well told, that by the end of it you’ll feel like Rip Van Winkle. Showing a twisted interpretation of the American Dream, this episode of True Stories is not to be missed. With Gerhartsreiter still to face trail for the murder of Jon Sohus, it’s also a story that is yet to finish.