Rockefeller Mystery Deepens

Authorities say Clarke Rockefeller, the man suspected of kidnapping his daughter in Boston, is a person of interest in the disappearance of a California couple in the mid-1980s. The Boston Globe's Michael Levenson says the man is German-born and has taken many aristocratic-sounding names.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

OK. Accuse me of paying attention to a story plainly unworthy of public radio, your station, this program, my time. But I just can't help myself. There are some tabloid sagas so peculiar, so rich in sinister, implausible detail that I just can't resist them. In fact, as a token of self-restraint, I'll start with two stories that we will not dwell on today.

First one: An American woman named Bernann McKinney clones her beloved pit bull, Booger, in South Korea. She is photographed with the five genetically-engineered puppies. Someone in England sees her picture and recognizes her. She used to be known as Joyce McKinney, a one-time Miss Wyoming. And it turns out she's a fugitive from British justice still wanted for jumping bail in 1978. Ms. McKinney was accused in those days of chloroforming and kidnapping a Mormon missionary, taking him to a cottage in Devonshire and sexually abusing him there.

I will say no more about that nor about the late William Milliken Vanderbilt Kingsland, who died two years ago in New York City. Kingsland was an eccentric, amateur genealogist whose estate turned out to include many stolen artworks, including a Giacometti sculpture.

William Milliken Vanderbilt Kingsland's name might also qualify as a stolen artwork. He was evidently born Melvin Kohn. The FBI is trying to figure out how he came by the stolen art. So much for him.

Clarke Rockefeller is the one I can't get over. He hit the news pages in late July, when he was accused of kidnapping his 7-year-old daughter in Boston. She lives with his ex-wife. Father and daughter were found a few days later in Baltimore. But the man called Clarke Rockefeller continued to amaze, and to provide reporters like Michael Levenson of the Boston Globe with grist for one story after another.

Michael Levenson, who is Clarke Rockefeller?

MICHAEL LEVENSON: That's a very good question. Authorities have just now said that the man who's been calling himself Clarke Rockefeller is in fact not a member of the famed Rockefeller family, but is Christian Carl Gerhart Streiter who was born in Germany. He's 47 years old, and his family says he came to the United States when he was 17 years old, seeking fame and fortune, and according to the authorities has proceeded to take a number of aristocratic-sounding aliases and adopt a series of identities as he's sort of traversed the United States.

SIEGEL: Yes. The man known as Clarke Rockefeller was also known as Christopher Chichester.

LEVENSON: That's correct. That, authorities say, was the alias he was using in the mid 1980s, when he was living in San Marino, California. This is a key period in his life because he was living in a guest house that was rented to him by a young couple, John and Linda Sohus. That couple went missing in 1985, never seen again. And at that time, Chichester, as he was calling himself, also disappeared.

Nine years later, workers are digging a pool in the back of the home and they discover bones that authorities believe are those of John Sohus. And once again, now that they've caught up and discovered that Chichester is, in fact, this man here in Boston...

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

LEVENSON: The authorities would like to interview him about that disappearance and presumed slaying.

SIEGEL: He was also Christopher Crowe at one time.

LEVENSON: He lived in the late 1980s in Greenwich, Connecticut, and in New York City, where somewhat amazingly, he worked as a Wall Street bond salesman. And his former colleagues say he didn't seem to know much about corporate finance but nevertheless, landed these jobs and was even mentioned briefly in some trade publications offering his market analysis.

SIEGEL: The plot thickens a bit now. His lawyer, Christian Gerhart Streiter, Clarke Rockefeller's lawyer, says that his client doesn't remember things from before, I think, 1993 or so.

LEVENSON: His lawyer, initially after interviewing him in jail here in Boston, said that his client can't remember anything before 1993. It was only very small snippets of his childhood, a trip to Mount Rushmore in a station wagon, for example, and the fact that - he said he had a Scottish nanny when he was a child. Yesterday, he interviewed the client again and says that now he's beginning to remember larger pieces of his background.

He does remember using this Chichester alias when he was living in San Marino. He does remember the couple who subsequently disappeared. So, we're hearing more and more of his back story. And more and more of his back story seems to be returning to him and in his memory.

SEIGEL: Well, you're saying - according to the lawyer, the lawyer says, you're Christian Gerhart Streiter from Bavaria, and he says, oh, I just remembered. That's right.

LEVENSON: Yeah. That's the one piece he has not yet acknowledged.

SIEGEL: Aha.

LEVENSON: He says he does not remember being Christian Gerhart Streiter from Germany. He does speak German, but he doesn't remember growing up in Germany. He only remembers about as far back as the alias in the mid-1980s in California.

SIEGEL: Well, Michael Levenson of the Boston Globe. Thank you very much for talking with us.

LEVENSON: Thank you. It's been a pleasure.

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