LOS ANGELES -- A German immigrant who spent decades posing as an heir to the Rockefeller oil fortune, among other identities, was found guilty yesterday of first-degree murder in the death of a man whose bones were buried nearly 20 years ago at a suburban home.
Christian Gerhartsreiter, 52, was convicted in the heavily circumstantial case that went to trial 28 years after the disappearance of newlyweds John and Linda Sohus and faces 27 years to life in prison.
Much of the evidence focused on the strange behavior of the man who went by many names, including Clark Rockefeller.
"Sometimes you're afraid that this guy's conned so many people for so many years that this will be the one last time he pulls off his last con," Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian said. "But that didn't happen."
Defense attorney Jeffrey Denner said Gerhartsreiter might have been his own worst enemy.
"The way he went through life deceiving people did not make him very likable to the jury," Denner said. "But that doesn't make him a killer."
Authorities said Gerhartsreiter occupied a guest cottage at the home of Sohus' mother in San Marino. He was known then as Chris Chichester and intimated he was of royal lineage.
The bones of John Sohus were unearthed during a swimming pool excavation at the San Marino property in 1994. No trace of Linda Sohus has been found.
Across the country, a man variously known as Chris Crowe, Chip Smith and Clark Rockefeller was inventing new lives for himself. He married a wealthy woman and controlled her funds. The con unraveled when he kidnapped their daughter in a custody dispute. That led California authorities to revisit the Sohuses' disappearance.