The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal(4 out of 5)
Christian K. Gerhartsreiter is a German born man who gets himself out of a dead-end German town, determined to conquer the world and live a life of elegant means. What Christian doesn’t want to do- obviously- is work hard to make that living and money. He’s above average intelligence, and although highly eccentric, charismatic to a ridiculous extreme. He charms his way across America, beginning in California. He poses as a film student who has a TV show based on Alfred Hitchcock movies, and begins living with Didi, an older, reclusive lady. Didi’s son John and his wife live in the house also, and Didi is charmed by Chris and lets him stay in the guesthouse, free of charge. Not too much later, John and Linda mysteriously vanish. An investigation by Linda’s best friend leads to Didi telling the private investigator that Chris told her John and Linda were covert spies and that they left the US behind. Didi buys this crazy story, but the investigation starts to hit too close to home for Chris, who is being frowned upon as suspicious because not only is he living rent-free in Didi’s house, but he’s got the run of the place, and hopefully a spot in her will, as well as inexplicably driving around John and Linda’s truck, despite their sudden disappearance. Of course- he vanishes, and so does any lead or discussion into the disappearance of John and Linda.
Next thing you know, Chris is on the East Coast, charming, wining, dining, and even marrying ladies who are taken in by his deceitful Rico Suave act(including one he was only married to for one day.). He latches onto more victims, siphoning money and using his IQ to squander jobs and money out of unsuspecting good souls who buy into his garbage-dumpster baby story, despite the fact that he wears snazzy clothes and claims to have graduated from Yale at age 14. Somewhere around New York, he dumps his 6th persona and claims to be “Clark Rockefeller”, an eccentric distantly removed from the family tree. They buy it hook, line, and sinker. He meets wife #3- Sandra, who’s a smart cookie in her own right and rises through the ranks of her company over the 12 years she’s married to “Clark”. How this woman didn’t pick up on anything is beyond me(and also a source of frustration for me as I read through the book. Vindication came in the form of the defense attorneys in the book asking her the same thing during the trial.), but she not only worked her ass off while he lazed around, unemployed the entire time, but she ends up getting pregnant and having a daughter with this louse. The daughter(the atrociously nicknamed Snooks) is the one shred of compassion you see with this man. You have a feeling reading this that he might actually have a humane bone in his body, and it’s his daughter. Sandra makes it through all those years, before her disintegrating marriage makes her father start digging around, and they find out that “Clark”‘s mom is not a child actor, that she’s alive and doesn’t have a son who’s a Rockefeller, and that Clark lied about pretty much everything. Sandra flees, files for divorce as well as primary custody, immediately. They come to a financial agreement, which Clark barters and gets more cash money. He then uses this cash money-the same day the divorce is finalized-to kidnap his daughter out of her school. Thankfully, he’s slipped up somewhat this time(kidnapping your daughter aboard a 72-foot yacht headed to Bermuda is NOT the way to stay incognito when fleeing from a crime, you dope.), and he’s caught and thrown in the slammer. Then the true tale begins- trying to tear down the tower of deceit, basically his whole life is a lie.
That disappearance of the couple in California? Yeah, this is the point in the story where that comes back into the picture and the entire trail of lies is unravelled and answers are attempted to be found. They don’t go as much into the trial as I would have liked, beside grilling Sandra and making her seem like a nincompoop, which I agree with, based on her actions and staying with this twerp. How Christopher went about this systematic building and dismantling of multiple identities is the true beauty of this story. You honestly cannot put it down, because you keep saying “How much more can he do? How much more can he get away with? Where’s he going to next?” The entire book is a guessing game. Until the end. The trial- I can’t lie, I like a good trial, and I feel they glossed over a lot of it. I thought, honestly, Sandra was a huge part of Christopher’s life, but really, if she couldn’t figure out that none of his stories ran true, how would she be able to coherently testify and get him jailed? Thankfully, the defense, and those witnesses who came forward after Christopher’s story is out in the open(big news for the time, this case), are able to piece it together and get him convicted. The only part of the story open wide is the disappearance of John and Linda. The discovery of human remains found in the yard of the old California house means something sinister definitely happened to John, as the remains are discovered wearing what appeared to be his old clothes. Linda isn’t found, but a witness comes forward to say that Christopher had not only a/borrowed a chainsaw from a neighbor with a flimsy reason for doing so but b/also was burning something in a trash can that smelled putrid, behavior that made it seem Linda’s remains were burned, not long after John and Linda disappeared. So-there’s probable cause. If John and Linda were missing or not there to contest Didi’s will, Christopher stood to inherit all the money.. there’s the reason. Bodies were never fully identified, due to too many years passing and no DNA, but enough proof that they pressed murder charges for John against Christopher. That trial starts in the fall of this year, 2012.
What a fantastic book. You CANNOT set it down. As I said earlier, just when you think you’ve read it all, this cocky Jekyl pulls out some new trick that defies any belief, he pulls a whole different set of cards out of the deck. I recommend this to anyone who likes gripping non-fiction. The only thing that kept me from giving it 5 stars was that I thought there would be more trial coverage- kind of like the evil bastard gets his just desserts. He did, but after reading what he’d done to people, I felt the need for legal vengeance more than the author went into. Still an awesome book.