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The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor [Paperback]

Mark Seal
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 1 2012
“Forget fiction. Pop this jaw-dropper in your beach bag.” —USA Today

This shocking expose goes behind the headlines to uncover the true story of Clark Rockefeller, wealthy scion of a great American family, who kidnapped his own daughter and vanished. The police and FBI were baffled. Tips poured in, but every lead was a dead end … because “Clark Rockefeller” did not exist. In a gripping work of investigative journalism, Mark Seal reveals how German native Christian Gerhartsreiter came to the United States, where he stepped in and out of identities for decades, eventually posing as a Rockefeller for twelve years, married to a wealthy woman who had no idea who he really was. Fast-paced, hypnotic, and now updated with more stunning details, The Man in the Rockefeller Suit chillingly reveals the audacity and cunning of a shape-shifting con man.

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Review

“Has all the pace and drive of a suspense novel.”
(-Michiko Kakutani, New York Times)

“No mystery writer would script this—it’s too unbelievable.
(-The Christian Science Monitor)

“Impeccably reported.”
(-Los Angeles Times)

“Fascinating.”
(-People (four stars))

About the Author

Mark Seal is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, where his piece on Gerhartsreiter was a finalist for a 2010 National Magazine Award. He is also the author of Wildflower. He lives in Aspen, Colorado.

Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is there a "Rockefeller" in your future? June 15 2011
By Jill Meyer HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Mark Seal's true crime book, "The Man in the Rockefeller Suit" - expanded from an original VF article Seal had written - is the story of a man who everyone seemed to believe was a member of the Rockefeller family. They believed that he was "Clark Rockefeller" because he told them he was and because he acted the part. He fooled a lot of otherwise smart people who WANTED to believe he was who he said he was.

But "Clark Rockefeller" was not always "Clark Rockefeller". He was born in 1961 in a small village in Bavaria and his real name was Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter. From early childhood he was precocious and dreamed of getting out of Bavaria and becoming "someone". He emigrated to the US as a young man and began "using" people he met along the way to set-up a "lifestyle". Beginning in the Connecticut suburbs where he first fabricated an upper-class persona, then moving out to San Marino, California, he continued a charade as "Christopher Chichester". He gained access to friendly people by joining and volunteering at the prestigious Episcopalian church in San Marino. Nearly everyone he met he charmed. Getting by on the largess of lonely women and others who were taken in by his lies. After a few years - and cons and a possible murder - in San Marino, he moved to NYC, after a short stay in Connecticut. Each time he took a new name and a new identity.

Finally, he met and married a brilliant-at-work, naive-at-life woman named Sandra Boss. She was a Stanford graduate and on the fast-track financially. She wanted to be wooed and "Clark Rockefeller" wooed her. This was in the early 1990's. She flourished at work while he played the brilliant dilettante husband, taking control of her life and her money. They had a child who "Clark" took care of while Sandra worked.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book! April 23 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Shipping time as expected, book itself was great. A couple of the photo pages were glued together, couldn't desperate them without ripping, but not a big deal.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting in and well researched April 18 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was interesting but not particularly memorable. It was very thoroughly researched. I would not particularly recommend it to anyone.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  163 reviews
62 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ABSOLUTELY RIVETING June 4 2011
By Robin Simmons - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I think the last non-fiction book that I literally couldn't put down was "THE LOST CITY OF Z." Now comes Mark Seal's true-life account of German born Christian K. Gerhartsreiter's metamorphosis through several identities until he adopted the lock-jaw, Boston Brahmin accented Clark Rockefeller. He dressed the preppie part and charmed people along the way with his wide knowledge and wit. He was clearly an eccentric but people longed to associate with a "Rockefeller" even if he was vague about the family connection.

I was kind of sympathetic to "Clark" because he was a self-made man who actually was able to get several prestigious jobs on Wall Street. He also got married to a high-powered business consultant and had a daughter.

Oh yes, he may have also killed two young people in San Marino and drove their truck to the East Coast where he tried to sell it. The book alludes to a third missing person.

If, after the bitter divorce (his wife finally had him investigated), he had not kidnapped his daughter and made international headlines, he may have been able to continue his serial impersonations.

Today he is being held on murder charges as well.

What amazes me is the incredible ability of "Clark" to make up stories people eagerly "bought." I wonder if he had chosen a fiction writer's life, would he have been as successful conjuring stories as say Stephen King, who obviously has a compulsion to create artificial lives.

This is a terrific book. Seal has put together many missing pieces with over 200 interviews. There are many unanswered questions that remain. Perhaps a revised edition after the murder trial?

Far beyond what a master of fiction might conjure, this incredible story will leave you slack-jawed.

We are indeed a wild and crazy species.
48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perplexing. Could this con man have fooled us? June 7 2011
By Jesse Kornbluth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
People can be so stupid.

And I don't mean politicians who don't know enough to use throwaway cell phones when communicating with women who aren't married to them.

I mean the citizens of Milford, Connecticut, who met a 17-year-old German exchange student named Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter in the fall of 1978 and believed him when he said his father was an industrialist who had something to do with Mercedes-Benz.

And I mean the citizens of San Marino, California, who believed that Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter ---- now Christopher Chichester --- was related to Lord Louis Mountbatten, cousin of the King of England.

And I mean the citizens of Greenwich, Connecticut, who believed that Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter --- now Christopher Crowe --- was the same Christopher Crowe who produced the Alfred Hitchcock television series.

And I mean Stan Phelps, who was once smart enough to have given the young Mike Milken his first job, and who now hired Crowe to trade bonds, never checking the Social Security number that Crowe provided, which actually belonged to David Berkowitz, the serial killer known as Son of Sam.

And I especially mean Sandra Boss, a 26-year-old in her final year of Harvard Business School, who met Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter --- now operating as Clark Rockefeller --- in 1993. She believed his parents had died in a car crash. That he started Yale at 14. That he lived, alone, in a townhouse on Sutton Place. That he settled a $50 million lawsuit, leaving him broke, so that she wouldn't be at financial risk if they got married. And that, on the eve of their wedding, he disinvited his distinguished family.

In fact, it wasn't until shortly before "Clark Rockefeller" assaulted a social worker and fled with their young daughter that Sandra Boss --- now a management consultant making a fortune as one of the youngest partners ever at McKinsey --- began to wonder who her husband was. Until then, she thought it was merely eccentric that her husband had no Social Security number and no checking account. Why, he was just about to be named to the board of the Federal Reserve Bank!

All this and more is presented in Mark Seal's exhaustively researched "The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter." Seal did 200 interviews on two continents for this book, and it shows. He did not get to interview Sandra Boss and Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, and it also shows. But still, the record is vast, the story a jaw-dropper --- this is a book that true-crime and high society buffs will devour like crab cakes at a yacht club cocktail party.

How did Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter fool Sandra Boss? Many say he was charming and brilliant, that he looked and dressed like the Real Thing. And Sandra Boss --- could she have been so bright at work and so blind in her marriage? Or did she put up with her husband's "eccentricities" because his name gave her a business advantage?

"The Man in the Rockefeller Suit" is a perplexing book. After the fact, "everyone" knew Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter was a fraud. Before he was unmasked, he fooled almost everyone. I'm sure I would have seen through him. And you're sure you would have. But if we're honest, we have to wonder if a con man using a fancy name might not have fooled us too. And then we have to ask ourselves.... why?
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Detailed account but still left me wondering July 10 2011
By Scott Yanoff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I don't see a way to give half-stars so let me start by saying that this is at the high-end of a 3-star review. Other reviewers have deftly recapped what the book's content is about -- a German student who comes to America and takes on several identities and eventually gathering the gumption to take on the Rockefeller moniker. The book ambles a bit at the beginning with so much detail, but it never gets too deep that it becomes boring. The book slowly picks up steam and after the half-way mark really begins to become a page-turner once the Rockefeller identify is assumed. The story is always interesting and spans somewhere between two and three decades, so a lot of ground is covered in this person's life.

This is an interesting story and it was a fun read. What kept me from rating it higher were a few things. First off, there's a lot of second-hand information in the book. The author never had access to the main character, but he does a serviceable job of interviewing everyone who ever seemed to have come in contact with "Rockefeller". Second, a couple of things just seemed unexplained to me. For example, the author mentions a packet of detailed information they are given early in the book. It's glossed over so quickly that the reader is left wondering about the veracity of the information. Why did this all just land in the author's lap? Similarly, there is a part at the end when the author is presented a basement-full of "Rockefeller's" personal belongings with little explanation as to how he found them nor how the new owner came upon them. Either way, though, the book was a fun read and kept my interest throughout.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Clearly I'm in the minority here May 21 2012
By Eugene - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This could have been a fascinating book but the errors, discrepancies and questions left hanging ruined it for me. For example, on p. 42, Christian transfers to the Univ of Wisconsin in Jan. 1980. On the very next page, he arrives there in Jan 1981. This may seem like a minor error but there were similar ones, lots of them, through the book and many of them were major ones. I kept waiting for the author to explain the major discrepancies but he never did (for example, the lost year was never explained). There appeared to be no fact checking or editing (even though he thanked his fact checker and editor at the end) and so it lacked credibility and was totally confusing. I realize it's a complicated story, based on a thirty-year fraud, and so some hanging questions are inevitable but the loose ends and errors here were just way over the top. For credibility, the author should have at least acknowledged them and shown that he made some attempt to resolve them.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievable as Fiction but Captivating as Reality Sept. 23 2011
By D_shrink - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In the vernacular, it could be said you just can't make this stuff up, although it unfortunately really happened. And I use the adverb unfortunately because there were numerous people hurt by the central character in this story of what in psychological terms would be called Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Since CHRISTIAN KARL GERTHARTSREIDER emigrated to America from Germany at age 17 in 1978 he had so many different personalities and character changes you need to take notes to keep up with them all. He hurt many people along the way and was finally charged with the murder of one friend in March of 2011, yet at present got away with possibly the murder of that friend's wife for lack of a body being found. As the assumed character Clark Rockefeller he traumatized his now ex-wife Sandra Boss and ultimately kidnapped his daughter, Reigh, aka SNOOKS. There were many other people hurt by this meek looking but diabolical mastermind impersonator, in fact too many to list. Again, you need to take notes to keep up with the cast of characters. If this weren't a true story, you simply couldn't believe it happened. Having worked with many criminals in a 40 year career, even I have trouble believing in the shear number of alternating personality changes encountered in this story.

Read the book and study the characters involved to make sure such a thing won't happen to you. The people involved were almost to a person intelligent, very well off financially, learned, and yet gullible, since they wanted to believe in the character Christian had become, meaning Clark Rockefeller, and also to believe they were rubbing elbows with one of the scions of an American dynasty. It is a captivating and intelligent read.
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