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Identity Catastrophe

Dispatches from the strangest trial involving a fake Rockefeller in probably forever.

Click here for Margo Howard's coverage of the first two days of Week Two.

Click here for the last two days of Week Two.

Click here for her coverage of Week Three.

And click here for her concluding coverage.

Last July one of The Boston Globe guys who’s a pal called to ask if I knew any Rockefellers. I said yes. He said, “Can you find out if anyone in the family who would be in his 40s is named ‘Clark’?” I asked why. He said someone who identified himself as a Rockefeller just kidnapped his seven-year-old daughter and left town with her. They were found, six days later, in Baltimore where “Clark Rockefeller” had bought a house with $400,000 worth of cashier’s checks.

I phoned “my” Rockefeller, a contemporary whose age group is known as “the cousins,” and asked if she knew a “Clark.” “No,” she said, “doesn’t ring a bell …. but that means nothing because there are so many of us.” I gave the Globe guy a foggy answer: He might or might not be a Rockefeller.

All of Boston was riveted, and I suspect a few Rockefellers, as well. Then the story went national, because, really, how many Rockefellers can you think of who’ve gotten into this kind of trouble? There was not only the question of the perp’s actual identity, but in addition to the kidnapping he’d also been charged with assaulting a court-appointed social worker, a Mr. Yaffe. The assault weapon was an SUV. Apparently, “Rockefeller” had a getaway car driver--a chauffeur, actually, who did not know his true function--and when Mr. Yaffe tried to enter the car when the little girl was yanked inside, “Rockefeller” shoved him, the driver was instructed to gun it, and Mr. Yaffe wound up in the street.

Well, the clairvoyants among you have probably figured out that this was no Rockefeller. In truth, he was a German national who’d come to the U.S. in the ’70s wanting to be somebody and be accepted. I can see a certain logic to selecting a great and famous American name. If you’re gonna make one up, you might as well go for Rockefeller. It’s distinctive and certainly comes with grand associations. Though it’s an alias I think most people would find too majestic to try on for size, even if your real name is Gerhartsreiter. (By the way, he traded his actual first and middle names, Christian Karl, for “Clark.”)

As I said, I’ve been glued to this case from the start. And when the trial began in Suffolk Superior Court last Tuesday--he’s charged with kidnapping and assault--I decided to attend on a daily basis. I want to see how his story unwinds--how was the German nobody able to dupe the fancy and the learned? How would he try to mount a defense? And more to the point, what the hell would they call him in court?


The appellation question loomed large on the first day of trial. The defendant’s lead lawyer, Jeffrey Denner, said Rockefeller has been his name for 15 years, so enough already with the foreign-sounding Gerhartsreiter, the name the prosecution wanted to use because, well, that’s his name. 

The resolution was Solomonic. Judge Frank Gaziano decided the defense could call their client Mr. Rockefeller, the prosecution could call him Mr. Gerhartsreiter, and the Judge would call him “the defendant,” or … “Mr. Gerhartsreiter, aka Clark Rockefeller.” For simplicity’s sake, however, I will call him “Grock.”

Where prosecution wanted a name change, the defense wanted a change of venue … though I can’t imagine that a man named Gerhartsreiter who calls himself Rockefeller would do a whole lot better in Worcester. The request for change of venue was denied because the judge felt that since the defense (i.e., the first lawyer, since canned) went out of its way to drum up publicity, it was disingenuous to say there had been too much media hype.

There was also a ruling that one really provocative thing cannot be mentioned in this trial: the matter of an alleged double murder in California for which Grock has been deemed “a person of interest.”

The crux of the trial, of course, is the kidnapping of then seven-year-old Reigh Storrow Mills Boss. The defense will contend that Rockefeller was legally insane when he abducted his daughter and fled to Baltimore (no doubt for the crab cakes).

The child’s mother (ex-wife of the defendant) is Sandra L. Boss, a very highly placed executive at McKinsey & Co. The little girl’s middle name quite possibly is tied to the major Cambridge/Boston roadway, Storrow Drive, the easterners’ version of Lake Shore Drive. And little Reigh’s nickname is “Snooks.” Need I say more?


As one of the print reporters sitting near me remarked, every trial is a bit of theater, though not necessarily long on drama. In this particular trial, the part of the Judge is played by a hunky all-American quarterback type, with touches of gray in his buzz cut. And today, with the jury selected but not permitted inside the courtoom, the judge is hearing testimony from defense and prosecution experts from the mental health community so that he can issue a ruling about which of them may be heard by the jury.

Grock, who alas is best described as nebbishy, just sits there between his two lawyers, and one can’t help but feel his discomfort. It seems that Grock had given interviews to the Globe, television stations, the FBI, and the Boston Police without a lawyer present, and the defense wanted this to show that his statements to the media were not voluntary because his grandiosity made him feel that he was important, and special, and that everyone wanted to listen to him.

The next fight was about another expert, a Dr. Ablow, and whether or not to permit the jury to hear that, in addition to being a psychiatrist, he is a fiction writer, talking head, and a commentator for Fox. The defense would like to ditch his entertainment value; the prosecution finds it absolutely relevant. The prosecution wins this round.


The jury box really does look like a gang of kids that wandered over from BU and sat down. Even the Harvard Law School professor among them looks like one of the kids. The lone grandmother brought to mind that well-known question: “What is wrong with this picture?”

The prosecutor, Assistant DA David Deakin, made the opening statement, the legal equivalent of “the six minute Louvre.” He zipped through the high points of what the jury would hear as the trial progressed. Quickly recapping, he told of a court-supervised visit between then 7-year-old Reigh and her father late last July. He described how Grock threw the kid into an SUV, she hit her head, and “cried hard.” Fleeing from the court-appointed minder, they ditched the big black car for a cab, then switched to a friend’s private car. The friend, for $500, drove them to New York, where they took a train to Baltimore where--hang on!--he had already bought a house using some of his $800,000 divorce settlement (first invested in Krugerands, then American Eagle coins.) He was, to the realtor, “Chip Smith,” a South American ship’s captain who also designed catamarans. He and the kid were holed up there for six days before he could be tracked down. The child’s mother, Sandra Boss, was frantic.

Then Deakin filled in the back story. He rewound the saga to 1978 when Grock was granted a student visa. He liked it here, so he talked some woman into marrying him to get a green card. After city hall, they never saw each other again. Then, somehow, somewhere, he met his future wife’s identical twin sister (!) who introduced him to Sandra Boss--then in her first year of Harvard Business School, having graduated from Stanford. Since Grock had no actual college education, he had to tell Ms. Boss he did something, so he made up a job: He told her he was into debt-restructuring for governments of small, poor countries, and he did it pro bono because they were, well, small, poor countries. This explained his lack of money. Sandra Boss was charmed, so in 1994 they moved in together, then married.

As all new lovers do, they told each other their histories. Grock’s was fabulous. He’d matriculated at Yale when he was 14 (making him somewhat socially awkward) and his parents were killed, on their way to visit him, when he was 17. He also had the keys to Rockefeller Center. Boss was, we heard, “dazzled by his charisma.” This I had a problem imagining … but perhaps any man who’d been residing in the Nashua Street jail since last summer would look kind of seedy and meek, and in the process might have lost his charisma. (The jail/no bail situation is an interesting sidelight. Bail was originally set at $500 million--stiff, certainly, even if he actually was a Rockefeller.)

But back to better days. Grock moved from debt restructuring (in his head) to a new international career. Make-believe jobs, of course, do not come with a salary, and Boss became unhappy that her husband had no money coming in. In ’98 he insisted they move to Nantucket, so she commuted to work during the week. Next they moved to Vermont, then Cornish, New Hampshire. He may have had no money, but he certainly possessed wanderlust and great powers of persuasion. In 2000, however, the marriage was over. “Mrs. Rockefeller”--a name she didn’t use, by the way--had tired of her impecunious husband and small New England towns. But wait! She found she was pregnant, and Grock returned to his earlier, charming self. The coming baby pulled them together and she transferred to Boston, though “home” was still New Hampshire. When little Reigh was two, he insisted that he become the nanny; or as they say these days, the manny.

In 2006, when the little girl was five, she had not yet been to pre-school or kindergarten. At that point they all moved to Boston. In 2007, Ms. Boss had had it and filed for divorce. She could not even verify his identity, which I suspect was the least of her reasons. She then had herself transferred to London, with the arrangements for visitation being three days three times a year.

Bringing things relatively up to date, the DA said that when Grock decided he would just steal the kid on a visit, he engaged a livery driver he had used before; and to account for the fact that he would be making a speedy getaway from “a friend” (actually the court-appointed visitation monitor), he told the driver that he needed to go boating with Senator Chaffee’s son (!).

The defense, for its part, said they would make the case that its client was a distraught father who was pushed over the edge when he lost his daughter. He felt she was communicating with him telepathically to rescue her. He had grandiose delusions and was insane at the time of the attempted rescue.

Before long, we had our first witness: the court-appointed monitor, not Chaffee’s son--the one the criminal complaint said was assaulted by the SUV. Yaffe said that at a pre-meeting with Grock, he found nothing about him to be out of the ordinary. He found him “oriented times three,” a term of art in the mental health world meaning aware of oneself, time, and space. In other words, Yaffe did not find him nuts, which is the defense’s trump card: insanity.

Yaffe also said, in making the plans for the visit, that Grock wanted to cut it short so he could go to a Red Sox game. Yaffe suggested, since it was a scheduled visit with his child, that perhaps he could get two more tickets … for the child and himself, the supervisor for the visit. They met at the Algonquin Club, a Brahminesque club that has seen better days. Grock, of course, told Yaffe he had formerly been on the board. After wandering around from public room to public room in the club, they went to Fenway park to pick up the tickets. Grock said they were not just any tickets he’d gotten his hands on; they were “State Street Pavilion” tickets.

Alas, arriving at the ball park, Grock left Reigh and her court-appointed minder near the entrance while he went to the will call box office. Guess what? No tickets. Grock said he couldn’t understand it but it had something to do with the fact that he didn’t bring his photo ID. So … they did without the Sox game and spent more than a few hours in a book store.

Then Grock asked the minder if he could introduce his daughter to his new wife and family (!). The social worker said no. So, with the three of them walking around Commonwealth Avenue looking at buildings, the DA got to the part about “the shove.” That’s when he pushed Yaffe aside, hustled Reigh into the SUV, and burned rubber. Yaffe said he had lacerations, bruises, and a mild concussion. During this testimony the onlookers in the courtroom could see the back of Grock’s head moving from side to side in the universally understood gesture for “No.” Yaffe said he called 911, after he confusedly first called 411.

It was then the defense’s turn--this time Denner’s colleague, Timothy Bradl, did the honors. He questioned whether or not Yaffe did, in fact, receive a head injury because it was not in the medical records. Then he suggested that, by trying to hang onto the SUV, Yaffe had assaulted the vehicle. The defense also made reference to how about how long it took Yaffe to call 911.

Let us move on to the next witness: Naomi Kalder, the Red Sox’s assistant director for ticketing! There were no tickets ordered or reserved for Grock--certainly not the State Street Pavilion tickets, “the big shot tickets.” And … if someone does not have a photo ID, there are ways around that if you can prove you ordered and paid for the tickets. The Sox were playing the Yankees that day, by the way.

Then we heard from G. Robert Warren, a thin, aging PI with DEA experience. He would have been perfect playing a jailhouse snitch whose voice had been tempered by maybe 40 years of smoking Camels. He had been engaged to surveil the father, daughter, and the social worker on their visit by someone in Boss’s employ. Warren somehow lost the trail during the Algonquin visit. He called his handler, who directed him to Fenway--where he didn’t see them, either. He interestingly referred to the little girl, Reigh, as Rhea, or sometimes Leah. Later on, he did find his targets back on Commonwealth Avenue but then he lost sight of the social worker … until he found him lying in the street.


Today became The Day of Many Witnesses. Leading off was Liza Brooks, a psychologist engaged to work with Snooks, the parents, and visitation issues. With her $800,000 settlement check to Grock, Boss had essentially bought the right to move to London, as well as sole custody of their daughter. His visits would be tightly rationed--three days, three times a year--and limited to the United States. His visiting England was an impossibility because, forget a passport, he has no identification papers.

Brooks tried to keep a neutral tone when reporting that he couldn’t make time for the spring visit because he was “too busy with construction projects and traveling.” Also, she was advised that he had a new family and they were expecting twins! He’d additionally requested August, not July, as agreed upon, for the summer visit. This was all pretty unusual for a guy who really had nothing to do and no new family to do it with. As to the question of why he’d not been in touch by e-mail or phone with Snooks for six months, his response was, “Sorry.” Brooks did the defense no good, since their bottom line was to convince the jury Grock was devoted, but insane.

Up next was Julie Gochar, a Baltimore real estate lady. She knew Grock as SB Shenandoah, the address on his first e-mail to her. He said he was in Chile, on his boat, along with his daughter whom he was home schooling, or in this case, boat schooling. He was interested in relocating. When she addressed him as “Mr. Shenandoah,” he said that was the name of his boat; he was actually “Chip Smith.” When they did meet, presumably after his boat had “docked” in Baltimore, they started to look at properties, and he volunteered that the child’s mother was a surrogate. From Sweden!

Ms. Gochar mentioned that she had been expecting to meet “a tall, tan sailor guy.” Grock, however, intuited this misperception, so he volunteered that he couldn’t get a tan because it had been raining the whole time he was on the boat. Oh, and he had dyed his hair red.

His first offer on a house was rejected and he had a temper tantrum. His second offer met the asking price of $450,000 and was accepted. The house was on Ploy Street. (I had to check with my Vanity Fair neighbor in the courtroom to see if I’d heard it right. I had.) Gochar found him pretty smart. Saw no signs of confusion, no insanity.

Next came Aileen Ang, an attractive, slightly plump 31-year-old Asian woman Grock met on a boat at a sailing club members’ night in Boston. They didn’t exactly date (she said there was no romance or intimacy), but they saw each other every couple weeks for lunch or a boat show. He told her he was working at Harvard with an astronomy professor. And … he was an entrepreneur. His child’s mother worked for Vogue, but had left the child when she was three months old. He rounded out the story by saying that she only came around when she needed money. For whatever reasons, Ang and Grock fell out of touch for a while, but then he resurfaced and asked her if she wanted to go sailing around the world with him, his daughter, and another man. He was planning to buy a boat. Then he dropped off the radar again, only to phone her in August to ask if she was ready to go (around the world). She said no. In that case, would she drive him to New York City for $500? She had driven him out of town before; he had no car. They would meet on Sunday at the sailing center parking lot. Unbeknownst to her, this was part of the abduction.

When they arrived at the car, walking quickly, both Snooks and Grock got in back, and both of them lay down. Snook s had a headache, he said, so we would lay down with her. They stayed down until they were out of Boston, then he got into the front seat. Snooks was asleep.

Ms. Ang saw no signs of an amber alert.

He wanted to take goofy routes to New York.

He made a call on her cell. (His battery was dead, he said.) Whatever number he called was not in service; she could tell by the noise she heard through the phone.

She got a few calls but didn’t answer. He’d asked her not to because it made him nervous.

He wouldn’t allow her to stop for a ladies’ room because he was antsy about his boat launch. Even when the “you need gas” red light was on and they stopped at a gas station, he said there was no time for her to tinkle. So she didn’t. He asked to be driven to Grand Central Station and, once there, exited with Snooks.

She said, “Have a nice trip.” He slammed the door. Then she checked her phone, which he had apparently turned off. The minute she turned it back on she got a call. Her girlfriend asked what her friend Rockefeller’s first name was. After that conversation, she called 911. They sent her to the police station in Astoria, Queens, but all she knew was that he was going to his boat in Long Island.

Later to the stand came Frank Rudewicz, a soi disant “litigation support” person; a forensic investigator; a dick. His background was the Hartford PD, New England FBI, as well as being an attorney. He was retained by Boss, at the time of the divorce, to conduct an asset search, then a background investigation. The only results he found, on both public and private databases, were solely related to Boss. Grock did not exist in the public record. He had never seen such a result in his career. “Our conclusion was there was no such person.”

The last witness of the day, Kenneth Murphy, was kinda fun. He was a precious metals broker for private clients. He believes Grock found him on the Internet by looking up “gold in Boston.” They had a meeting at a Starbucks in Harvard Square, where “Clark Rock” told him he wanted to buy, first, $465,000 worth of Krugerands, then later he would want $2 million worth of gold coins. Grock actually did a wire transfer of $465,000 and went to Murphy’s unpublicized suburban office address to collect his gold coins. (A Krugerand has no face value; it is simply an ounce of gold.) Some days later, however, Grock wanted to exchange his Krugerands for American Gold Eagles with a face value of $50. It seems there is no 1099B report required from sellers for Eagles. Then he purchased another $300,000 of Eagles.

So … a total of $765,000 in gold coins had been bought from Murphy. A coincidence, no doubt, that this figure approached $800,000. An odd sidebar to these transactions is that whenever they did business, Murphy wound up driving his client back to the city. This is a Rockefeller who seemingly gets lifts everywhere. Oh, also: 321 gold coins were seized by the FBI at Grock’s house in Baltimore.

One final ruling the judge will need to make is whether or not they will be returned to Grock so that he can pay his legal bills.

Click here for Margo Howard's coverage of the first two days of Week Two.

Click here for the last two days of Week Two.

Click here for her coverage of Week Three.

And click here for her concluding coverage.

Margo Howard writes "Dear Margo" for and Creators Syndicate.

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