Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Book Review: 'The Man in the Rockefeller Suit' by Mark Seal

✰✰✰✰½ Clark Rockefeller made international headlines when he kidnapped his daughter and disappeared. During the manhunt that followed, police were stunned to discover that the man known as Clark Rockefeller was an imposter. Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter went from foreign exchange student to wealthy scion, by bluffing his way into exclusive clubs, communities, and financial institutions. Over a period of three decades, this self-made con man managed to fool nearly everyone including his Harvard-educated wife. This true-crime book reads like a fictional thriller. Once you pick it up, you won't be able to put it down. You simply won't believe it's true.

The Bottom Line: This book has it all: mystery, intrigue, and murder. It is a quick read that will leave you wondering just how one man could fool everyone with his outrageous lies. Highly recommended for fans of true crime stories, mysteries, and deception. Several pages of fascinating black and white photos are included as well.

Book Club Notes: The discussion for this pick was well attended and lively. The average rating for the book was 4+, with a range from a low of 3 to a high of 5. There was a lot of excitement about this book, and many participants commented that is was hard to put down.

It has been a few years since the book was published, so there were a few loose ends. I gathered articles and photos to supplement the discussion and bring the group up to date. We were very interested in finding additional photos of John and Linda Sohus as well as Reigh Rockefeller.

Questions for the discussion were available at BookBrowse. However, I also supplemented the discussion with a few of my own questions:

Q: Is truth sometimes stranger than fiction?

Q: Would you have confronted him?

Discuss the importance of churches and libraries in his life.

Q: Which was his greatest character?

The author writes: Nothing sparks a conversation between strangers faster than a walked dog. Dog people just talk to each other. P. 144 True or false?

Q: Sandra Boss: Innocent victim or enabler? Do you think the Rockefeller name was a big reason why Sandra stayed?

Q: Why didn’t anyone question the authenticity of the art?

Discuss Clark’s relationship with his daughter Reigh. Self-love vs. parental love.

Q: Was he crazy to the point of not knowing right from wrong? P. 316

Q: Are we all posers?

Additionally, I created a timeline to facilitate the discussion. Name changes are indicated in red.

Feb 21, 1961 – Born Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter in Bergen, Germany.
1978-79 – He came to America as a high school foreign exchange student. He lived in Berlin, CT. He became Chris Kenneth Gerhart.
1980 - UW – Milwaukee
1981 – Married Amy Jersild on Feb. 20. In April applied for status as a permanent resident. In June drove west. In Las Vegas he was known as Dr. Christopher Rider, a cardiologist. In California he became Christopher Mountbatten Chichester.
1983 – Got a California driver’s license
1984 – Produced Inside San Marino as Chichester.
1985 – Moved into the Didi Sohus’ guesthouse at 1920 Lorain Rd., San Marino. John & Linda Sohus disappear. Chichester vanished too. By June, he lands in Greenwich, CT as Christopher Crowe, film producer.
1987 – Worked for Nikko Securities.
1988 – Detective Allen looks into the missing persons case of John & Linda Sohus.
1988-1992 – Crowe disappeared for a time.
1992 – Emerged as Clark Rockefeller at St. Thomas Church in NYC. First wife Amy Jersild files for divorce.
1994 – John Sohus’ remains are found in San Marino.
1995 – Boss-Rockefeller wedding on October 14.
2000 – They move to Cornish. Also, Sandra gets pregnant.
2001 – Reigh “Snooks” Storrow Mills Rockefeller is born on May 24.
2006 – The family moves to Beacon Hill
2007 – Sandra filed for divorce on January 17. Sandra & Reigh moved to London on December 23.
2008 – He assumed the name of Chip Smith. Kidnapped Reigh on July 27. He was captured on August 3.
2009 – Gerhartsreiter was found guilty of kidnapping of a minor and assault & battery by means of a dangerous weapon on June 12.
2011 – Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter was charged with the murder of John Sohus on March 15.
2013 – Convicted of the first degree murder of John Sohus on April 10. On August 15, he was sentenced to the maximum of 27 years to life for the murder of John Sohus. He still maintains his innocence. He will be eligible for parole in 2039 at the age of 78.
2015 – Linda Sohus has never been found.

Overall, this was a fantastic pick for book club. Enthusiastically recommended for any group interested in taking a look at crime, deception, and human nature.

Details: The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor by Mark Seal. Paperback published by Plume in 2012. 368 p. ISBN: 9780452298033

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