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. After about 10 years of marriage, Sandra filed for divorce and custody of the daughter.
And that's when all hell broke loose. Sandra's divorce lawyers began to tread into "Clark's" past and found there was NO past as "Clark Rockefeller". In fact, there was no "Clark Rockefeller". Intrigue, scams, and lies were the basis of Christian Gerhartsreiter's life as he took and shed identities in a perpetual reinvention of self.
After the divorce, which Sandra essentially paid him off and took the daughter to live in London, he arranged to kidnap the girl while she was visiting in Boston. After a nation-wide search, father and daughter were found six days after the kidnapping and the girl was returned to her mother.
Now, as far as I'm concerned, as interesting as Christian Gerhartsreiter's life of charade was, the more fascinating question is how and why did Gerhartsreiter get so many people to believe his lies? I think it was because claiming to be a "Rockefeller" or being related to Earl Mountbatten made the people he met and conned WANT to be conned. I mean, wouldn't YOU like to be friends with a Rockefeller? Or to a cousin to the British Queen by way of Mountbatten? Mark Seal, having interviewed hundreds of people from Gerharsreiter's past, does discuss this point in his book.
Seal has written as non-judgmental a book as I think was possible to write. It's very well written and you may be asking yourself a lot of questions about human interaction after reading it.