Several members of the wealthy Rockefeller family live in the Hamptons. But they tend to keep a low profile. You never hear about them in the news or at fundraisers. I don’t know what it is about the Rockefellers.
Or maybe I do. In all the years I have been here, the only Rockefellers who come to the Hamptons that make headlines turn out to be fake Rockefellers.
Perhaps the most famous of them was a man claiming to be Christopher Rockefeller, a man with a French accent and an entourage who came out to the Hamptons in the summer of 2000 claiming to be a member of the London branch of that family.
He famously persuaded about a half-dozen people out here to give him money—usually about $50,000 or more—in exchange for which, he said, he would turn that money into $200,000, because the Rockefellers in London knew all the good investments to make and they surely told him about them.
While he was here, which was for about three weeks, he conned a down-on-his-luck stockbroker, a Dutch woman working as a masseuse, and several others into giving him close to a quarter-million dollars.
I recall the stockbroker, who I will not name, telling me that the Mr. Rockefeller he befriended had asked him to play some tennis with him one morning at the Maidstone Club in East Hampton. When morning came, Rockefeller’s assistant called to tell him all the courts were booked that day, but they could play tennis at the public courts in Reutershan Park in the center of town, which they did.
It was only when this Rockefeller and his entourage skipped out without paying at the Pink House Bed & Breakfast and another establishment that police arrested him. He was charged with false impersonation and theft of services and released on $45,000 bail, and off he went. He was only finally arrested for good, at a Vancouver hotel, when he tried to bilk an elderly couple.
His real name was Christophe Rocancourt, he was a French citizen, and he’d been bilking people all over the place. He was sentenced to two years in jail in Canada, where he wrote a book called I, Christopher Rocancourt, Orphan, Playboy, Prisoner about his exploits. He later wrote another book, Christopher Rocancourt: My Lives, while serving a four-year prison term in the U.S.
Now a new book has come out about the exploits of another fake Rockefeller. This man, a German citizen as it turns out, had been pretending to be Clark Rockefeller, also with the London branch of the Rockefeller family.
His connection to the Hamptons is through his success in New York City. In the early 1990s, he worked as a vice president for Nikko Securities and, briefly, in the international bond division of Kidder, Peabody. In 1995, he married Sandra Boss, a high-powered financial executive. She had worked in the debt marketing division of Merrill Lynch and at Trammell Crow. During much of their 12-year marriage, she was a partner in McKinsey & Co., management consultants, and did a study for Michael Bloomberg and Senator Schumer about the competitiveness of New York City with London. In any case, they had a daughter they named Reigh, and when Boss filed for divorce, Clark Rockefeller kidnapped the daughter. She was 7 years old at the time. This was in 2008.
Clark Rockefeller was seen with Reigh in Grand Central Station about seven hours after the kidnapping; a friend claimed she’d been asked by Rockefeller to give them a ride to New York City from Boston so he could visit his newly purchased ship Serenity. Almost immediately, any ship with the registered name Serenity was looked into by the Coast Guard, including one in Sag Harbor that sat anchored just outside the jetties.
This boat was owned by a local woman, Kali Moore. The Coast Guard circled the boat and looked it over. But they never went aboard. Told what had happened by cell phone from someone in an adjacent boat, she said she was really glad she wasn’t on board at the time.
In any case, Rockefeller was soon arrested and charged with kidnapping and assault. At trial it turned out he had been using a variety of names other than Clark Rockefeller, that his real name was Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, and he was the 48-year-old son of a Bavarian house painter.
Really weird things happened after this. A book called Who Is Clark Rockefeller came out. It was turned into a Lifetime cable-channel movie starring Eric McCormack as Clark and Sherry Stringfield as Sandra Boss. (A reviewer for The New York Times wrote “…as a mystery and a police procedural, Who Is Clark Rockefeller? attains glossy mediocrity, but every few minutes Mr. McCormack shows up and says something like, ‘You were very tedious about money when I married you, and you’re still tedious,’ and it feels like Will & Grace all over again.”)
The marriage between Boss and “Rockefeller” was declared invalid not because he was not who he said he was, but because it took place as a Quaker ceremony and papers were never properly filed. Sandra Boss moved with her daughter to London and became CEO of McKinsey, and is there today. And then, after all this, Clark Rockefeller, while serving a five-year sentence in a Massachusetts prison for his misdeeds, was charged by California authorities with a cold-case 1985 murder they believed he committed while pretending to be a man of royal lineage named Chris Chichester. He was convicted and is now serving a 27-years-to-life sentence.
(He allegedly cut his victim into three pieces and buried him in plastic bags in the yard behind the house he was renting. He drove off in his victim’s pickup, which investigators later discovered. There was the victim’s blood in his house, it was reported. The body was discovered nine years later, when the homeowner was excavating for a swimming pool. A book bag from a college the accused attended was found with body remains inside.)
Now a new book has come out called Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade, which is a memoir by a prominent novelist named Walter Kirn (he wrote Up in the Air.) Kirn met Clark Rockefeller when Rockefeller called Kirn at his ranch in Montana to say he was interested in adopting a dog that Kirn had put up for adoption. Kirn’s wife was a supporter of the local humane society. Rockefeller sounded so interesting over the phone—this was when he was working on Wall Street—that Kirn decided to drive the dog from Montana to New York to bring it to him.
“He told me he didn’t drive and his wife was abroad in his private plane, shopping,” Kirn told Terry Gross on NPR in March.
So Kirn did that, and became Rockefeller’s friend, fascinated with knowing a Rockefeller, right through to his murder trial, when he sat in the courtroom watching, hoping to catch Gerhartsreiter’s eye.
All fascinating stuff.
There have been other attempts at being a Rockefeller out here.
A woman named Adela Holzer, who had successfully produced several Broadway shows, including Hair, told people in East Hampton she was secretly married to David Rockefeller, as she attempted to arrange bogus investments from the local summer citizenry. She pleaded guilty to defrauding people of $400,000.
And in 1984 there was a woman passing herself off as the daughter of Governor Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia; she was arrested after allegedly charging thousands of dollars on expensive hotel suites, bodyguards and a new car.
What is it about pretending to be a Rockefeller? A Robert S. Feldman (not a Rockefeller), who is Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, told this to ABC News:
“They may be treated far better than they normally would be, may be unhappy with their own lives, or simply like duping other people. Obviously there’s also a potential gain—they can get access to people, to parties, to events that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to go to….”
Keep your heads down, you Rockefellers.