“He was really good, an absolute psychopath, sociopathic liar.”
Mark Seal, an award-winning journalist and author of Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Death in Africa, has laboriously pieced together the strange and instructive “career” of con-man/impersonator Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter
- best known as Clark Rockefeller, and the subject of all the statements above.
“He was well mannered and dressed so well—there was nothing suspicious about him.”
“He was like that character Tony Curtis played in The Great Imposter, passing himself off as an airplane pilot, a doctor, and everything else.”
“For two years before we got married, he was almost always the nice, sweet, smart person whom I had met.”
“He obviously had the ability to convince anybody that it was snowing in August.”
Gerhartsreiter was a German immigrant to the US, a handsome teenager who quickly convinced a woman to marry him for the first important document he would require: a green card. After that, he rarely used his German name. Watching hours of TV while posing as an exchange student, he acquired the fake Boston accent of actor Jim Backus on
Gilligan’s Island. That accent would come in handy when he crashed into the highest echelons of Boston society years later, posing as an obscure Rockefeller.
Like Ferdinand Demara, the protagonist of the film The Great Impostor, Gerhartsreiter worked on the theories that most people just don’t notice you if you act like you know what you’re doing, and that it’s best to start at the top and skip the hassles of actually earning your way up. As a “Rockefeller” in Boston with a plausible accent, he was able to gain membership in the highly exclusive Algonquin Club and marry a responsible professional woman, Sandra Boss, with whom he had a daughter, Reigh
(or "Snooks," as her daddy liked to call her). After years of impersonations that included Hollywood producer, bond trader, author, and an Englishman named Christopher Chichester who could do or be just about anything the situation demanded, and after an acrimonious divorce from Sandra, who finally saw through his façade, Gerhartsreiter sealed his own doom by kidnapping little Snooks while she was on a custody visit.
But wait! There’s more! Once people began to see Gerhartsreiter’s picture in the papers, he was remembered by some folks back in southern California who had been wondering for years about the unexplained disappearance of a young married couple who were connected with Christopher Chichester Crowe. After they mysteriously left home on a “mission,” Crowe took their pickup truck and left California for the East Coast in 1985. Later, bones of a dismembered corpse turned up in the yard of the place Crowe had been living with the couple. They were determined to be those of the missing husband. In 2011, an intensive investigation resulted in Gerhartsreiter, then in prison for kidnapping, being indicted for murder.
Apparently Gerhartsreiter believes the dictum of another well known German, Joseph Goebbels: The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed. He is obviously a brilliant man, like the aforementioned Demara (who lived out his last years as a priest and actually saved lives, rather than destroying them). He could memorize trivia and affect and sustain personae, and charm both women and men sufficiently to live comfortably much of the time.
But let us beware of feeling any kinship with or any admiration for a man like Gerhartsreiter who uses others, possibly even kills them when they get in his way. That tiny bit of mistrust might save your life.