• Trial Begins in Case of Serial Impostor Charged With San Marino Murder


    LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A man charged with murdering his landlord and burying his remains in a San Marino backyard said in 1985 that part of the yard had been dug up because of plumbing problems, a prosecution witness testified today.

    Dana Glad Farrar — who met Christian Gerhartsreiter through her aunt and knew him as a self-described baronet called Christopher Chichester — testified that she participated in a Trivial Pursuit game in summer of 1985, and she noticed while playing that a portion of the backyard near a guest home on the property had been dug up.

    “Well, shortly after I sat down, I noticed there was dirt in the yard that had been dug up,” she told the Los Angeles Superior Court jury hearing the case against  Gerhartsreiter. “It looked like someone had dug up part of the lawn … I said, `What’s going on with your yard, Chris? It’s all dug up.’  He said he had been having plumbing problems.”

    Gerhartsreiter, 52, is charged with murder in the February 1985 slaying of John Sohus, whose remains were found in May 1994 when a hole was being dug for a swimming pool in the backyard at 1920 Lorain Road.

    Gerhartsreiter was charged in March 2011 while serving a prison term in Massachusetts for kidnapping his own daughter.

    Defense attorneys have suggested that the victim’s wife, Linda, who is still missing, may have been his killer. Gerhartsreiter is not charged in connection with her disappearance.

    Farrar — who said she didn’t believe she ever heard from Gerhartsreiter again after the Trivial Pursuit game — said she had also questioned him that evening about why he went into the main house two to three times during the evening to get items such as spoons, ice and sugar for the iced tea they were drinking while he was staying in the guest house.

    “He said, `They are away. They will not mind,”’ she said.

    Farrar said she had doubts at the time about whether the man who identified himself as being from South Africa was wealthy.

    “There were a lot of inconsistencies … I didn’t really have any reason to doubt it, but he had a really old car,” she said, noting that she believed his parents may have been sending an allowance to the man she believed was a USC student.

    The prosecution’s first witness, Jose Perez, testified that he was using a small excavator called a Bobcat to unearth soil to make way for a pool in the backyard on May 5, 1994, when he came upon a plastic bag containing what he initially thought was trash at about two to three feet down.

    He said his father pulled the bag aside and used a piece of rebar to poke around the bag before pulling out a skull.

    Perez said they stopped the excavation efforts and called police.

    “That’s the skull,” he said, when asked by Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian about a photo taken in the yard.

    Perez said it would have taken him six to seven hours to dig that size hole by hand and that a shovel and a pick ax would be needed because the soil was pretty hard. He agreed on cross-examination that the bag could have been as high as 18 inches below the surface.

    Former San Marino police Officer Joe Lucero testified that he was called to the scene following the discovery of the remains and estimated that a fiberglass container recovered at the scene was about four feet deep.

    In his opening statement Monday, the prosecutor told jurors that Gerhartsreiter posed at times as a member of the wealthy Rockefeller family, a Hollywood producer, British royalty and a USC film professor, lying even to his wife of 12 years.

    In 1985, Gerhartsreiter lived in the guesthouse of the San Marino residence where Sohus and his wife lived with Sohus’ mother, Didi.  Gerhartsreiter killed Sohus in February of that year and then faked the couple’s disappearance, Balian said, leaving Didi to believe that her beloved son had abandoned her.

    Leading forensic experts will testify that Sohus was hit with a blunt instrument three times, each time with “enough force to crush the skull,” Balian said. The prosecutor said clothing also showed evidence of Sohus being cut with a sharp instrument.

    “The evidence will show you that John and Linda Sohus are dead,” Balian said.

    But defense attorney Brad Bailey said his client’s “odd, peculiar and bizarre behavior” was not evidence of murder, but only speculation.

    “What this case is going to be all about is `Whodunit?”’ Gerhartsreiter’s attorney said.“It’s just as reasonable, if not more so, that John Sohus could have been killed by someone else” and “not just an unnamed stranger, not the proverbial one-armed man … (but) John Sohus’ still missing wife Linda,” Bailey told jurors.

    Bailey acknowledged that his client had “undisputably, undeniably” used different names, but said he was hardly “the first person in this city to try
    and reinvent himself.”

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