Saturday, September 5, 2015

what I've been reading

I am just finishing up "The Man in the Rockefeller Suit", by Mark Seal.

It's a true account of Christian Gerhartsreiter, a con man who came to the United States from Germany and years later had everyone believing he was a member of the famous Rockefeller family.

His deception was uncovered when he kidnapped his own daughter after a nasty divorce and became the focus of a manhunt with national news coverage.

The author begins the book with a bit about Gerhartsreiter's childhood.  Those who knew him, said he was extremely intelligent but somewhat odd. Even as a teenager he would travel to nearby towns and pretend to be someone else.

While still in high school, Gerhartsreiter befriended some American tourists, a married couple, whom he later falsely claimed was sponsoring him when he came to the US on a tourist visa.  He stayed a while in their California home before making his way across the country  to stay with another aquaintance, a young man living on college campus.

Not long after this, he somehow conned a college girl into marrying him (in name only) just so he could become a permanent resident of the US.
The next thirty years of his life were spent moving from place to place, using assumed names.

He often convinced people he was descended from English royalty...moving into their towns and joining a church, taking advantage of invitations to meals and offers of a place to stay...moving on when he wore out his welcome.

He managed to change his accent to sound like a high society New Englander.  He lied his way into high paying jobs, but never had a social security number and never filed a tax return.

There are gaps in his life story where it isn't known where he was living and what name he was using, but at one point he had a seven year live-in relationship with a woman who supported him financially, even though she believed he was a Rockefeller.

He eventually married a different  woman ( a Quaker ceremony to avoid needing identification).  He told her that he had given up his Rockefeller inheritance, and she completely supported him as well, and had a daughter with him.
It was during their divorce that she found that he had lied about his identity, and that made her cautious with his child visitation - the visits had to be supervised.

Then, on one of  those supervised visits "Clark Rockefeller" snatched his daughter and went into hiding. It didn't take police long to track him down.

The legal problems that ensued, led to investigations into Gerhartsreiter's past...and turned up the fact that he was a "person of interest" in a years ago murder...of a man who was the son of a widow who had rented her guest house to him.

At the time this book was written, the murder trial was not underway yet. 

It's a pretty interesting story...just amazing that someone can get by for so many years pretending to be someone else.  No one wanted to challenge a person claiming to be a rich and well known Rockefeller...even his own wife!   

There is talk of this book being made into a movie. You can get a lot of information online about Gerhartsreiter, too, but the book has a lot of details.  I won't give anything away about the murder trial - so I don't spoil it for you.

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