Mark Seal’s The Man In The Rockefeller Suit Lays Bare The Tale Of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, Who Stole A Famous Name, Abducted His Child And Is Now On Trial For Murder
Cover of The Man In The Rockefeller Suit, written by Mark Seal and published by Penguin Group.
By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine
April 8, 2013 — For more than 30 years, Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter — a German who emigrated to the U.S. in his teens — beguiled and conned numerous communities across the United States, utilizing a keen wit and brilliance to develop multiple aliases and personalities. From California old money to New York securities brokers, no one saw past the facade. In The Man in the Rockefeller Suit, veteran journalist Mark Seal chronicles the German’s unbelievable tale, which ultimately led him to impersonate a Rockefeller and kidnap his own daughter.
Seal definitely did his due diligence, meticulously putting together the finest details from Gerhartsreiter’s childhood and the long con he pulled on the United States. The journalist travelled to Bergen, Germany — the subject’s childhood home — to speak with any resident who would have him. While the reclusive family had become fed up with the media’s attempts to shed light on the town’s most infamous son, Seal managed to put together his subject’s childhood through testimony from the town’s old guard at the local bier garden.
Seal then breaks down the story of Gerhartsreiter’s eventual move to the United States, scene by scene. He illustrates how the young man successfully obtained a temporary visa from the United States and began attending high school in Pennsylvania.
From the moment he came to the U.S., the young German began developing his false persona, one that would serve him well and change minorly over the next 30 years. He became obsessed with American television, wealth and the upper echelon of society. He soon became determined to ensconce himself within the American wealthy elite.
He travelled from the place to place, most notably San Marino, Calif. and New York City, lying his way into great jobs, fancy apartments, and exclusive clubs.
Despite his improbable lies and the constant shifting in his backstory, Gerhartsreiter continually befriended members of super rich communities and tricked these people into putting him up and vouching for him.
From the super successful to the extremely bright, everyone — including his business consultant ex-wife — fell for the con.
His former friends and victims continually described the man as infectious, personable, brilliant, and eccentric. People wanted to be around him and excused his flaws as the eccentricities of the super rich.
After establishing several discrete personas across the country, Gerhartsreiter made his most audacious move in New York when he claimed to be a distant Rockefeller cousin, and rode that name to the top.
The man’s downfall finally came when, following his divorce, he kidnapped his own daughter.
Seal details the life, rise, and fall of the greatest man no one ever knew in extreme detail. The victims, all of whom fell for one of his many fake identities, exhibit a mixture of awe, anger and exasperation when relating the story of the polite, confident, seemingly rich young man.
While Seal sometimes diverges off into opinion and can use excessively flowery language at times, the facts behind the book shine through. The minor asides from the author are not really necessary and add to the book’s heft as it weighs in around 300 pages.
Seal is at his best when compiling facts and interviews.
Seal’s generally straightforward style and simple construction make this an easy read. The author mirrors the subject in that he is at his best when Gerhartsreiter is at his most complex. Seal expertly navigates the intertwining stories, players, and identities, giving the reader a roadmap to navigate the german conman’s unbelievable path to infamy.
Over and over again, the people Seal interviews express complete and utter exasperation as they attempt to explain how a man with little experience, money, or actual relations, could convince them that he was a successful financial professional, a British royal, a film producer or a Rockefeller.
Even more improbable than Gerhartsreiter lies are his truths. Every single time he seemed to get caught in a lie, the man managed to wiggle his way out by producing just enough truth to cover them up. Seal documents these instances, showing the reader how the man conned the country with sociopathic efficiency.
While it is not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, Seal has created a solid addition to the true crime genre. Seal does no disservice the incredible story he is trying to tell. Rather than weaving together a story of his own creation, Seal expertly connects the dots in a complex tale that is so improbable that it has to be true.
The only reason why this book is in the bargain bin is because he is still on trial for killing a couple in California in the 1970s so it doesn’t really have a conclusion, yet. Otherwise, though, this is a great telling of a curious tale.
Wayne Schutsky is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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