LOS ANGELES – A German man who for decades claimed to be a member of the famous Rockefeller family was heading to California on Wednesday to face a murder charge, after authorities plucked him from a Massachusetts prison where he was serving time for a 2009 conviction in the kidnapping of his 7-year-old daughter.
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter came to the United States in the 1970s and assumed many identities, including Clark Rockefeller, a supposed heir to the Rockefeller oil fortune.
He was taken Wednesday from a state prison in Shirley, Mass., where he was serving a four- to five-year sentence in the kidnapping case, and put on a plane to Los Angeles. He was expected to arrive Wednesday evening, Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said.
"It has taken us a long time to get here," Whitmore said. "Now we are finally here."
Gerhartsreiter was due to be arraigned Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court on a first-degree murder charge stemming from the 1985 killing of Jonathan Sohus, Whitmore said. He said he expected bail to be set at $10 million.
One of Gerhartsreiter's Boston attorneys, Jeffrey Denner, said his client will plead not guilty.
Detectives in California had long considered Gerhartsreiter a person of interest in the death of 27-year-old Sohus, a former landlord who mysteriously disappeared with his wife, Linda, in 1985 at the same time a German man using the name Christopher Chichester was staying in a guest house on their property in the wealthy Los Angeles-area enclave of San Marino, prosecutors said. The man left town soon after the couple disappeared.
Skeletal remains were found in the backyard of the couple's home in 1994 when new owners were excavating for a swimming pool. Those bones were thought to belong to Jonathan Sohus. His wife is still missing.
In May, Gerhartsreiter agreed to return to California to face the murder charge. He could face 26 years to life in prison if convicted.
"We're all anxious to get this going. It's time for it to be resolved," Denner said. "He continues to maintain that he had nothing to do with the murder of Mr. Sohus."
Because of the notoriety of his case, Gerhartsreiter will be kept away from the general jail population when he arrives in Los Angeles, Whitmore said. He did not say which jail the suspect would be sent to, citing security concerns.
Gerhartsreiter came to the U.S. as a teenager. Through the years, he told friends and acquaintances he was a physicist, an art collector, a ship captain and a financial adviser who renegotiated debt for small countries.
At his kidnapping trial, prosecutors said Gerhartsreiter used aliases to move in wealthy circles in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. His strange story has become the subject of a TV movie.
Gerhartsreiter's lawyers claimed during the 2009 trial that he was suffering from a delusional disorder and was legally insane when he snatched his daughter during a supervised visit in Boston following a bitter divorce from his wife. Prosecutors portrayed him as a master manipulator who used multiple aliases and told elaborate lies about his past.
Gerhartsreiter used several aliases during his time in San Marino, including Christopher Chichester.
Denner has said Gerhartsreiter said he "has no idea" what happened to Jonathan and Linda Sohus and insists he had nothing to do with the couple's disappearance.
Denner previously said Gerhartsreiter recalls renting a guest house from Sohus' mother, but said he had "very limited contact" with the family.
Ngowi contributed from Boston. He can be reached at: http://twitter.com/ngowi Watkins can be reached at http://twitter.com/thomaswatkins
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