The Man in the Rockefeller Suit
The stranger-than-fiction story of the con man who found his way into some of America’s most elite circles.
The fantasy of creating a new life – just disappearing from the humdrum of everyday life and starting over as a completely different person – may well be fairly common. But few people ever attempt it, let alone pull it off. Veteran journalist Mark Seal’s latest book, The Man in the Rockefeller Suit, tells the tale of a man who managed to reinvent himself multiple times, the last of which involved appropriating the name and mannerisms of one of America’s most legendary families.Skip to next paragraph
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It all began in Germany where young, ambitious Christian Gerhartsreiter wanted a better, more exciting life than the one he would have in the small village where he grew up. He moved to the United States (on a questionable student visa) in the fall of 1978 and settled briefly in Connecticut where he enrolled in high school. A year later he went to Wisconsin, started college and, for the first time, changed his name. Then known as Chris Gerhart, he married to gain US residency and soon moved (by himself) to California where he began calling himself Christopher Chichester. In 1981, he settled in San Marino and claimed he was a grandson of Lord Mountbatten – the great grandson of Queen Victoria and one of the three Supreme Allied Commanders of World War II – but shyly admitted that he was a “poor relation.” He soon began to tell people that he was a baronet.
Given that “Chris” was charming, well-mannered, smart, sophisticated, and claimed a royal pedigree, he was readily welcomed. He eventually settled into the guest house of an alcoholic, mentally troubled woman who lived on Lorain Road in tony San Marino, and befriended John and Linda Sohus, the woman’s son and daughter-in-law. The young couple left suddenly for New York and a “very secret” government job that Chichester had arranged for them. They were never heard from again.
Chris himself departed abruptly and next appeared in Greenwich, Conn., where he called himself Christopher Crowe and worked as an information technology specialist for a small investment firm. His growing ego soon clashed with the owner of the firm and he again left quickly. But he landed on Wall Street where he became – stunningly, given his total lack of experience – a vice president in the corporate bond department of Nikko Securities. Not surprisingly, that did not last long and, once again, he simply vanished. For the next three and a half years, it appears that there is no record of where he was or what he did.