Forget cover girl Tina Fey and her scary scar story. The most interesting tale in this month's Vanity Fair is that of Christian Gerhartsreiter aka Christopher Chichester aka Christopher Crowe aka Clark Rockefeller. He's the mystery fellow who was arrested this summer after kidnapping his daughter, Snooks, whom he lost custody of during his messy divorce. Though he's a nefarious conman, he's also a brilliant one, with a fascinating story, as detailed by VF's Mark Seal. And we're kind of obsessed with it. It's a crazy, crazy thing.
From his childhood days in Germany, Chris/Clark was always intrigued by high society and the finer things. Prone to big dreams and imaginings, at seventeen-years-old he fled his family for the New World. The sleepy town of Meriden, Connecticut, to be exact, where he stayed with a family he'd met on a train in Europe some time earlier. From there he proceeded to a run a thirty year con, changing names several times and going from the toasted It Boy of San Marino, to fake USC film buff, Wall Street big wig, fake art collector, pretend Rockefeller, church owner, celebrated demagogue of Beacon Hill Brahmin high society, and, finally, a man named Chip Smith, arrested by a swarm of armed authorities on a Baltimore street. He's been kind of a terrible person who, you know, maybe murdered a young couple back in California, but compelling facts like these just keep us glued:
- He floated around the country for 30 years without one single piece of official documentation.
- Learned his rich boy drawl from none other than Thurston Howell III, the Gilligan's Island millionaire character.
- When in California as Christopher Chichester, XIII Bt, he made up a Chichester family crest: "a heron, its wings spread, with an eel in its beak."
- Said he was the descendant of a former viceroy of India. And people believed him!
- Was given his own public access television show, Inside San Marino.
- Lived with a drunk old lady named Didi Sohus. Later, probably, killed her son and daughter-in-law, buried them in the backyard. When asked why the whole yard was dug up, he said he was having plumbing problems. He kept Didi from worrying by posing, on the phone, as a State Department official and telling her that the kids were working for the government and were on a secret mission overseas. This case was later on Unsolved Mysteries, and Christopher Chichester was mentioned by name and a photograph was aired. He avoided it by fleeing back East.
- When in Greenwich, and reinvented as Christopher Crowe, had the initials CCC embroidered on everything he wore.
- Used David Berkowitz's (the "Son of Sam" killer) social security number when applying for a job.
- Managed to get two high-profile Wall Street jobs with absolutely no experience or credentials.
- When that went bust, reinvented himself again as Clark Rockefeller. Fooled much of New York society, dazzling them with his rococo stories about secluded mansions and regal dinners, jingling his "key to Rockefeller Center," and dazzling collectors and connoisseurs with his impressive works of art (which later turned out to all be fakes).
- "At the end of many a meal of beef ribs and succotash at the armory, Rockefeller would exclaim, 'Isn’t this grand!,' and if it was an extra-grand evening, he would add, 'It’s a peach-melba night!' Quigley recalls, 'And then he would order peach melba, and here we were, two grown men, sitting there eating parfaits.'"
- Played the didgeridoo.
- Rumored to speak five to seven languages.
- Sent text messages like: “In a submarine. Crowded. Strange. Thought of you a minute ago.” and “Sipping strange tropical drinks on Nantucket now. Would love to see you. This coming week perhaps go to Central Park and kiss. Sound good?”
- At five years old, his daughter Snooks drew the entire Periodic Table of Elements on a Boston sidewalk in chalk.