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Prosecutors charge Rockefeller imposter with 1985 murder

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter had posed as a member of the wealthy Rockefeller clan, served prison time for kidnapping his daughter and been the subject of a made-for-TV movie.

On Tuesday, the German-born man was also charged with the 1985 murder of a man prosecutors say was his former neighbor.

Los Angeles prosecutors formally brought that charge against him, and they are seeking to have him extradited from Massachusetts, where he is serving a sentence of more than four years in prison for kidnapping his daughter in 2008 in Boston.

Prosecutors long suspected him in the 1985 murder, but the case took years to develop.

"It was a very difficult case on many levels," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.

The victim, John Sohus, went missing in 1985 but his body was not discovered until 1994. He was conclusively identified only recently with the help of new technology, Whitmore said.

"The district attorney decided that now is the time to file the murder charge, we have enough evidence to get a conviction," Whitmore said.

Gerhartsreiter's life of assuming false identities, including the name Clark Rockefeller, was portrayed last year in the made-for-TV movie "Who Is Clark Rockefeller?" on the Lifetime network. He was played by actor Eric McCormack.

Gerhartsreiter's was born in the former West Germany, and came to the United States in the 1970s as a student.

In the latest accusation against him, the 50 year-old Gerhartsreiter's is accused of wielding a blunt object to kill Sohus, who went missing along with his wife, Linda, in 1985.

Linda's body was never discovered, and as a result Gerhartsreiter has not been charged in her death, Whitmore said. Investigators believe, however, that she is dead.

John Sohus was found buried in the backyard of his home in the Los Angeles suburb of San Marino, prosecutors said.

Gerhartsreiter's, who then went by the name Christopher Chichester, lived in a guest house behind the Sohus home, prosecutors said.

He was named as a person of interest in the case in 2008, a designation just short of being named a suspect, as investigators continued building their case.

"It's basically shoe leather police work combined with technology, as the technology advanced we were able to review and review again," Whitmore said.

For at least 16 years, Gerhartsreiter passed himself off as a Clark Rockefeller and pretended to be a member of New York's Rockefeller oil dynasty. The family has denied that he is a member of their clan.

Sandra Boss, his wife of 12 years, accused him in her 2007 divorce case of lying about being a Rockefeller.

The following year, he kidnapped the couple's young daughter, leading to a manhunt that ended with his arrest in Baltimore and the girl's rescue.

Los Angeles prosecutors will ask that bail be set at $10 million for Gerhartsreiter's in the 1985 murder case. If convicted, he faces 26 years to life in prison.

"We are proceeding immediately to extradite as soon as we can, that should take two to three months," said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the L.A. District Attorney's Office.

(Editing by Greg McCune)

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