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The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor Paperback – Apr 25 2012
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“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.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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?
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.
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.