The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter
is a book of investigative non-fiction by journalist Mark Seal about the life of a German immigrant named Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who spent his life taking on a series of false identities until he finally managed to convince his wife, friends, and a number of elite social clubs on both coasts that he was Clark Rockefeller, of the notoriously wealthy Rockefeller family. The book follows Gerhartsreiter from the age of seventeen, when he arrived in America, until he was arrested for kidnapping his seven-year-old daughter, revealing decades of progressively more complicated cons.
The book follows the story of Gerhartsreiter, otherwise known as Clark Rockefeller, and the story of his elaborate cons which eventually lead to his arrest after he kidnapped his own seven-year-old daughter near his home in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood. The kidnapping, though initially a separate incident, eventually brought to light the string of lies that had come to define Gerhartsreiter's life.
The kidnapping took place on a sunny day in July. Gerhartsreiter, known to everyone in his neighborhood and to his own daughter as Clark Rockefeller, was carrying his daughter, Reigh, in his arms. After his wife divorced him and took away his multi-million dollar home in Beacon Hill, Gerhartsreiter was left with little more than his name and three yearly eight hour supervised visits with his daughter. This morning was one of those visits, and Gerhartsreiter had made a plan.
Gerhartsreiter had spent $3,000 to hire a limo, which he asked to meet him to pick up himself and his daughter outside their home. He had warned the limo driver that he was being followed by a clingy friend, and may ask the driver to speed off without the hanger-on. When the limo pulled up, Gerhartsreiter opened the car door, threw his daughter inside, slid into the backseat and commanded the limo driver to go as quickly as possible. The man obliged, while the court-appointed social worker clung to the door of the car, trying to rescue Reigh. From there Gerhartsreiter had a plan to catch a boat to take Reigh to Long Island. Rockefeller told many of his friends conflicting stories, so that when they were called and asked about his whereabouts by the FBI, they send the authorities in dozens of different directions. It was an elaborate, and well-constructed plan.
When Sandra, Gerhartsreiter ex-wife, was phoned by the authorities to inform her that her daughter had been snatched by her husband during their visit, she was confused and furious. The authorities asked for a social security number or driver's license, but she didn't have his information. As they searched for any trace of Clark Rockefeller in their databases, things began to look more and more fishy. Finally, the authorities managed to find a print, and sent it to the lab. Meanwhile, a photo of Gerhartsreiter that had been released to the public got a number of hits – mostly from those who had gone to school with Gerhartsreiter in college, and claimed that he had gone by other names; Chris Gerhart, Christopher Chichester, and Christopher C. Crowe.
As the mystery unfolded, Sandra, a successful rising businesswoman with an MBA from Harvard, realized that the man whom she had believed to be a Rockefeller was in fact a con artist and a cheat. He was a German man by birth, who had arrived in the United States with fake student visas and had been living a lie ever since. The manhunt that followed takes up the rest of the book, revealing Gerhartsreiter's many identities, his tenuous connection to a missing couple in California in the 1980s, but never quite navigating what could have caused a man to lie for so many decades with no discernible motive.
Mark Seal is a journalist from America. Before becoming a freelance investigative reporter for magazines like Vanity Fair
and The New York Times
, he worked at a number of newspapers in Texas. He has written two full-length books of investigative journalism, including Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa
, a biography of the famous wildlife photographer Joan Root, and The Man in the Rockefeller Suit
, which was published in 2011. He has also collaborated on more than fifteen other non-fiction books, primarily on the subjects of crime.