In Cornish, Satisfaction with Rockefeller Verdict
Cornish — Residents in the former hometown of the man who called himself Clark Rockefeller described the con man yesterday as “evasive,” “odd” and “horrible,” and several expressed relief that Christian Gerhartsreiter had been convicted of a decades-old murder in California.
“I worried that in a case this old based on circumstantial evidence, he might figure out how to wiggle his way out from under,” said Peter Burling a former state senator who now serves on the Democratic National Committee. “It sounds like the jury understood what was being told to them. I think that is gratifying.”
Burling also expressed sympathy for Gerhartsreiter’s ex-wife, Sandra Boss, who Gerhartsreiter had deceived for years.
Gerhartsreiter and Boss lived in Cornish from 2000 to 2007. Their home, a Cornish Colony house, was the former summer place of Judge Learned Hand. Cornish residents knew Gerhartsreiter as Clark Rockefeller, just one of many fake names the German immigrant adopted over the past several decades.
During his years in Cornish, Gerhartsreiter’s behavior led some residents to suspect he was not who he said he was. But “lots and lots and lots of people” fell for Gerhartsreiter’s lies, Burling said.
“In my view, he is a sociopath. Like many clever sociopaths, he can twist and turn things and make people believe him,” he said. “Look at the record all the way across the country.”
Selectboard member John Hammond recalled noticing a slight accent when Gerhartsreiter used certain words, and said he “was very good at being evasive” about the details of his history, including his professional life, education and family.
“There always seemed like there was a missing piece that I didn’t know about,” Hammond said.
Cornish residents aren’t prone to prying into other people’s backgrounds, Police Chief Doug Hackett said. But with Gerhartsreiter, “there was always that oddity that made you question who he was and what he was about.”
Hackett said Gerhartsreiter placed old cop cars on the road near his house for “security reasons,” and frequently asked him for the names of police officers he might hire to work private duty.
“They’d call him, and he would find some reason why he couldn’t do it,” Hackett said. “Toward the end, you sort of took what he said with a grain of salt.”
Other behaviors seemed more sinister.
After arriving in Cornish, Gerhartsreiter went after him, Burling said. “He decided that I was the big cheese in the little town and he wanted to be done with me, so he spent quite a bit of effort darkening my reputation among my neighbors.”
At the same time, he copied aspects of Burling’s life, such as buying an old fire engine that had formerly belonged to him.
He also tried to convince the Burlings’ housekeeper to rifle through their papers “and bring him anything that might be of use to him” in maligning them, Burling said.
Once, Gerhartsreiter entered Burling’s unlocked home.
“He ... left a note saying he had come in to leave us some honey as a peace offering,” Burling said. “Let’s just say I took the shotgun out of the case that night and kept it next to the bed.”
Hackett said he wasn’t worried that Gerhartsreiter might return to Cornish. “I figured he was either going to jail or be deported.”
Still, the verdict marks the end of a chapter for the town.
“Sometimes it takes longer to get to the bottom of the story than others,” Hammond said. “I think in this situation, the stars lined up and the truth came out.”
Aimee Caruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3210.