Page last updated at 16:19 GMT, Friday, 12 June 2009 17:19 UK

Kidnap father's life of deception

By Dan Bell
BBC News

A man who falsely claimed to be part of the wealthy Rockefeller oil dynasty has been convicted of abducting his daughter from his British wife during an acrimonious custody battle.

Scene in the court
A photo of Gerhartsreiter and his daughter dominated the courtroom

Christian Gerhartsreiter spent his life spinning webs of deception, hoping to confer on himself a degree of wealth and status he did not really possess.

Ironically, it was a lie told by police that in the end led to his arrest.

Gerhartsreiter came to world attention in July 2008 during a week-long manhunt launched after he kidnapped his daughter in Boston on a supervised visit.

He and his seven-year-old daughter were tracked down to his Baltimore apartment, near which he had a catamaran docked at a marina. Police lured him outside with a phone call saying his boat was taking on water, then arrested him.

Before being caught, Gerhartsreiter had used a series of falsehoods and misdirections to throw the police off his trail, but it was only after his arrest the true extent of his make-believe world began to emerge.

Great and good

Originally from Germany, the 48-year-old came to the US as a young man and spent three decades under numerous aliases chosen to imply connections with the great and the good.

The most recent of these was the name Clark Rockefeller, an identity he used to affect ties with the massively wealthy American oil dynasty - but there was no such connection.

He believed he was telepathically communicating with his child
Jeffrey Denner

He used the alias to secure jobs at prominent firms and his act was so convincing his ex-wife, London-based management consultant Sandra Boss, was unaware he was a German immigrant.

Investigators discovered Gerhartsreiter's fingerprints matched those of a man calling himself Christopher Chichester, who in the mid-1980s was living as a lodger at a guesthouse in California at the same time as the owners went missing.

Jonathan and Linda Sohus disappeared while living in San Marino, 10 miles north-east of Los Angeles.

Skeletal remains which police believe are those of Mr Sohus were unearthed at the couple's property in 1994 when new owners were installing a swimming pool.

A Los Angeles County Sherriff's Department spokesman said Gerhartsreiter was a "person of interest" in the case but not a suspect.

Ex-wife Sandra Boss
Sandra Boss testified about how charming and charismatic he could be

He said there were no immediate plans to take action against Gerhartsreiter.

Ms Boss, 42, a senior partner in the London office of the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co, told the court she met Gerhartsreiter at a Cluedo-themed fancy dress party in New York in 1993.

He came dressed as Professor Plum, while she was Miss Scarlet.

Ms Boss, who now lives in London with her daughter, said she believed his claims he was a Rockefeller, raised in luxury in New York, and his work involved renegotiating the debts of small countries.

He told her his family fortune was tied up because of a family dispute.

Ms Boss described Gerhartsreiter as "very intelligent, very polite... really very charming" and admitted never questioning his stories, even after they had become engaged.

But Rockefeller was not the only name or personality he created. There was a Dr Reiter, a cardiovascular surgeon from Las Vegas, and Charles "Chip" Smith, a ship's captain based in Chile.

Defence lawyer Jeffrey Denner claimed his client was insane and said Mr Gerhartsreiter suffered from a narcissistic personality disorder which distorted his judgement. He said his client lived in a "magical, insane world".

'Grandiosity and narcissism'

Mr Denner said Gerhartsreiter kidnapped his daughter because he thought she needed to be rescued.

"He believed he was telepathically communicating with his child. He believed that she was secretly signalling him... that she needed to be saved, that she wasn't being cared for," Mr Denner said.

Psychologist Catherine Howe
At some point, his grandiosity, his narcissism... became so intense that his world, his reality, was not the reality that everybody else would have seen
Forensic psychologist Catherine Howe used a chart to explain the diagnostic criteria for delusional disorders

According to one psychiatrist for the defence, Gerhartsreiter was so delusional that when he lost custody of his daughter he continued to put a place setting out on the dinner table for her.

Another forensic psychologist who testified, Catherine Howe, said Gerhartsreiter's delusions and narcissism were so severe they had completely distorted his perception of reality.

She said: "The data points to the fact that at some point, his grandiosity, his narcissism... became so intense that his world, his reality, was not the reality that everybody else would have seen."

Now the reality for Gerhartsreiter is that he faces spending years in jail in Massachusetts.



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