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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.)


Quartermain said...

In the early '90's, I read an article in Rolling Stone about a similar conman, who didn't kill but conned some frat boys and Sorority girls out of some money.

His story was that he was a young adult in his late teens or early twenties, and he was a member of the Rothschild family not to mention rich.

In actuality, he was always broke, always borrowing money, never paying it back, his age was 29 (he looked it) and a Chicano.

No normal person can make this stuff up.

John Craig said...

Allan --
You're exactly right. No "normal" person, i.e., no non-sociopath, would ever invent such a story for himself.

Every now and then you hear about some 22-year-old who pretends to be 17 and enrolls in some h.s. And there was that fellow who pretended to be Sidney Poitier's son, upon whom the film Six Degrees of Separation was base. More recently there was a fellow going around pretending to be Sean Connery's son. Sociopaths all.

W O D said...

IQ is no match for someone who never gets embarrassed or nervous.

A sociopath has so much time and enery to plot their schemes because their minds are not caught up with conscience, guilt or anxiety.

There's quite a few people who have masqueraded as Doctors/Surgeons over the years can you imagine!

John Craig said...

W O D --
Once you've been burned by a sociopath, you're never as easy a mark again. But yes, the first time we're all naive.

That's right, I forgot about those, the fake doctors. (That's something even most sociopaths won't do.)

bluffcreek1967 said...

Hey John, I was a cop for many years and I too have seen my fair share of total sociopaths. After a while, most cops get pretty good at spotting the sociopath that most people mistaken for a sincere and charming person.

I've also arrested people that, on the surface, were so convincing that they were innocent and that they had been unjustly accused, that it had caused me and others to wonder whether we got the right guy or not -- that is, until you look at their 20 page rap sheet and start putting the puzzle together. It's then that you realize how they were able to effectively con very intelligent people, especially since they were almost able to persuade you that they were innocent and should be set free! That's when you realize that sociopaths are not insane or mentally deficient, they're evil!

By the way, I've really enjoyed your posts on sociopaths, so keep it up. Most people never encounter such information and shown some of the hidden qualities to look for in these people.

John Craig said...

Ambrose --
I worked on Wall Street, so I've met my fair share of sociopaths, but I'm sure you've met a lot more than me. Cops have to be the ultimate realists, especially when it comes to sociopaths. I actually wrote about one cop's reaction to a sociopath in "Sociopath alert: Karen Sypher" from August 4, 2010.

The thing about sociopaths that most people don't realize is that they don't just seem like normal people; they often seem nicer, and MORE sincere, than normal people. (As well as more charming and more exciting, as has often been noted.) Until you've had some experience with them, it's almost impossible to recognize them for wht they are, until it's too late.

Thanks very much.

Stettin Curtis said...

My thinking is Sandra Boss believed Gerhartsreiter's lies due to her own emotional problems. Boss seems to have slipped into clinical denial very early in their association and only when she began fearing for her daughter's safety did she ever hire private detectives to investigate him. According to author Mark Seal, he was a con artist but his lies to Sandra were so outrageous, plentiful and contradictory because he lived in a fantasy world much of the time. One of Gerhartsreiter's early stories to Boss concerned him being a mathematical prodigy who entered Princeton when he was fourteen years old. As a Stanford and Harvard MBA, Sandra Boss is no stranger to our nation's elite colleges and would be perfectly aware how incredibly improbable (impossible) this was (this reminds me of the joke about the guy who's never even been in the military, telling a highly-decorated Vietnam veteran in detail how he won the Medal of Honor fighting in the DMZ). Gerhartsreiter later complicated this lie by saying he graduated from Yale. It would have been easy for anyone in Boss' position to discover if any of Gerhartsreiter's stories were true. In court, when asked why she never questioned or looked into all of his contradictory statements, Boss testified it was due to "my own idiocy." I think the "idiocy," sadly, came from her own personal problems. Considering they were married for over a decade, the question remains if she would have ever exposed him if there had been no children.

John Craig said...

Stettin --
That's interesting and makes perfect sense. I had been unaware that they had been married for over a decade and you're right, those would, or at least should, have been easy lies to see through.

This is not to contradict your theory, but the thing about sociopaths is, they are very convincing liars, simply because they speak with such seeming great conviction. Once you meet them, you become wise to their tricks, but if you haven't met one before, there's probably nothing in your background to prepare you for such prolific liars, simply because most of us can't imagine getting any satisfaction from the "glory" gotten through such lies.

I had this experience myself when I was 25; I saw a woman for six months who told me all sorts of lies, and I believed her. And in retrospect, all I can say is, it was due to my own idiocy. An I don't think I was suffering from any emotional problems at the time. Now this lasted for six months, not ten years, but still, looking back, I was remarkably idiotic. Since then, I have been wise to their ways. But before, I was just a sheep ready for shearing.

Anonymous said...

Sociopaths lie about things that don't even make sense. I caught one lying about having had a surgery he hadn't had. I was asking him all sorts of questions about it because the doctor told me I might need a similar procedure, and he seemed to be answering fluently enough, as though he really had had it. A few days later, he walked around the flat in just his boxer shorts and I noticed he didn't have any scars. When I confronted him, he just admitted to having lied without seeming at all embarrased or ashamed. Why on earth would he do that? It doesn't even make sense! I get lying to gain something you're not entitled to, but lying about medical procedures when there's no obvious benefit to this?!?


John Craig said...

Gethin --
It does seem to make no sense when a sociopath lies for no ostensible benefit, but there is such a thing as sport lying, where they lie just for the sake of fooling other people. They do so because it makes them feel that they are smarter than the person they are lying to. ("If he's stupid enough to believe these lies, he deserves to be lied to -- and all of this just proves how smart I am.") It's pathetic, but they do do it.