The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal

59 in my 2011 book blogging challenge.

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit is one crazy story. This is a non-fiction account of a guy who posed as a Rockefeller for more than 15 years. His use of the name gained him entrance into some of the most elite social clubs in the country. It also allowed him to not have to work for a living while enjoying great wealth. He told one lie after another and conned his way through so many situations it is just unbelievable.

What’s more, the Rockefeller identity was not his first con. He’d gone by several other names, one of whom was supposedly an English baronet with ties to the royal family. When the Rockefeller life played out after his wife filed for divorce, he probably could have gotten away with disappearing yet again and forging a whole new identity if he had not tried to take his daughter with him. Once he was wanted for kidnapping, Clark Rockefeller’s face was plastered all over the national news, and the the FBI went after him full force. Before long they found him in a new city going by a new name.

His real name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter. He is a German who came to the US as a teenager to study and never left. Instead, he kept fabricating new lives for himself. He learned his supposed upper crust American accent from aping Thurston Howell on Gilligan’s Island. No kidding. He trained away his foreign accent and convinced hundreds of people he was an American aristocrat by copying Thurston Howell.

Like I said, it’s a crazy, crazy story, and it isn’t over yet. Gerhartsreiter/Rockefeller was just sent last month from Massachusetts to California where he will stand trial for murder. Just before he left his California identity behind, two people he had connections to there disappeared, and later the body of one was discovered on a property where Gerhartsreiter had been living.

Honestly, I’m fascinated with the fact that he was able to pull of this off. The things he told people about himself sound so ludicrous in the book that it is difficult to imagine anyone believing them. But people did believe him. He was very convincing. One can only conclude that he is as intelligent as he is insane.

And of course he has to be insane in some way to have done this, but having just read the book about psychopaths, I don’t think I’d classify him as that. I don’t think he scammed people because he was incapable of empathy or remorse. I think he was just incapable of reality. I think in his mind he really became the people he impersonated. That’s not to say he wasn’t aware of telling lies. He had to have been aware of the lies in order to keep telling so many detailed stories about fake trust funds and such. I just think he really became the personality he was playing. How else could he have never slipped character in 12 years of marriage? His wife didn’t even suspect he was a fraud until near the end of their marriage.

It’s all pretty fascinating, and it says as much about other people as it does about Whatshisname. He was able to get away with such preposterous lies because so many people were so eager to have any association at all with the name Rockefeller. It opened up every door for him. It convinced people to spend massive sums of money on him. It basically turned him into the thing he pretended to be — the most privileged of the privileged.

This is a true crime story that is just unbelievable. If you’ve ever found yourself pretending to be more important that you really are, read this and know you have found the master of pretense toward importance.

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