Saturday, April 13, 2013
Sociopath alert: Christian Gerhartsreiter
It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that the "fake Rockefeller" who was convicted of murder on Wednesday is a sociopath. But he's still worth discussing since he embodies so many facets of sociopathy.
Christian Gerhartsreiter was born in 1961 in Siegsdorf, West Germany. At age 17 he met an American couple, the Kelln's, and falsely claimed that they had invited him to visit them in California, using that claim to get permission to go to the U.S. Once here, he landed in Berlin Connecticut, finding a family, the Savio's, who allowed him to stay with him and register as an exchange student at Berlin H.S. He told the Savios that he came from a wealthy German family, starting a pattern of lying about his background that would continue until his conviction for murder.
Whenever you hear of someone who has adopted a completely new identity, that almost always spells sociopathy. And if he does it for criminal purposes -- especially if he invents a falsely glamorous background -- you can be sure of his sociopathy. For some reason, a normal background is never enough for this type of sociopath; he needs to present himself as "royalty."
(The surname of the woman who educated me about sociopathy when I was 25 was Hines. She told me -- among many other lies -- that her father had been born into the Heinz Ketchup family, but that he had changed his name because he had "wanted to make it on his own.")
The Savios soon tired of Gerhartsreiter and asked him to leave. But he had realized after a short time in this country that he wanted to become a citizen. After making his way to Wisconsin, he quickly found a 22-year-old woman, Amy Jersild Duhnke, to marry him. Duhnke later said that Gerhartreiter left her as soon as he had his green card, the day after the wedding.
In 1995, Gerhartsreiter married Sandra Boss, a Stanford and Harvard Business School graduate with a high-paying job at McKinsey & Co. By this time he was presenting himself as Clark Rockefeller, a scion of that illustrious clan. Boss eventually realized that Gerhartsreiter had been lying to her about a number of things, and asked for a divorce.
Perhaps the interesting question here is how a smart woman like Boss could be taken in by a less intelligent sociopath. The answer is simple: she hadn't had any experience with sociopaths before. No matter how smart you are, if you're unfamiliar with sociopaths, you just can't fathom the depth of their depravity, the complete indifference with which they regard other human beings.
We all tend to assume that other people are like us, and we can't imagine getting any satisfaction from lying about our backgrounds or accomplishments -- so we can't imagine other people getting satisfaction from such lies either. If most of us lied about these things, we'd feel uneasy about it. A sociopath feels no such qualms. It's not until you've met and gotten to know someone like that that you realize they actually exist.
It doesn't matter if you have a higher IQ than them. Smart people who've had no experience with sociopaths are simply no match for conscienceless liars. When it comes down to book smarts vs. street smarts, the latter usually triumphs.
A quick working definition of street smarts: recognizing dishonesty when you see it.
(Another aspect of sociopathy that Gerhartsreiter embodies is that they come in all shapes and sizes and colors. Nobody would ever pick the meek-looking fellow pictured above to be a murderer.)
After Boss and Gerhartsreiter got divorced, Boss was awarded custody of their child, with Gerhartsreiter agreeing to three supervised visits a year. Shortly after this he abducted their child; he was caught by police in Baltimore, Maryland. Although his defense team tried an insanity plea, the jury didn't buy it and he was sentenced to five years.
During his incarceration Gerhartsreiter was charged with the 1985 killing of Jonathan Sohus, a man from San Marino, California, whose guest house he lived in for a while. (Sohus's wife disappeared too, but her body was never found.) This past Wednesday Gerhartsreiter was convicted.
It didn't help his case that by this point his con game was well known.
Gerhartsreiter wasn't a serial killer since he got no sexual kick from murdering people. The Sohus's were simply a couple he preferred dead, so he killed them with absolutely no compunction.
If you meet someone who tells tall tales about his background, you can be pretty sure he's a sociopath. And if he is, you can be sure he cares about your well being as much as Gerhartsreiter cared about the Sohus's.
(One final point: note the thin lips. I know it makes no sense, and I realize it makes me sound crazy to even point it out, but it's something I keep seeing over and over again with sociopathic Caucasians. I've noticed it with the sociopaths I've known personally as well.)