Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Man In The Rockefeller Suit: The Amazing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor by Mark Seal

The Man In The Rockefeller Suit: The Amazing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor by Mark Seal
336 pages
Published June 2011 by Penguin Group
Source: the publisher

In 1978 a seventeen-year-old young man arrived in the United States from Germany, imposing on the kindness of a family he only just barely met. Though Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter arrived in Connecticut under his real name, already very little else about his life was real.
"Christian was too big for Bergen, all of the men seemed to be saying, and creating another persona was the only way he would ever leave the little town that nobody ever leaves."
Over the next several decades, Gerhartsreiter refined his act and charmed his way into society circles even as his arrogance grew.  While in Connecticut, he was such a rude house guest that he was kicked out of three homes. By the time he arrived in California (yet again imposing on people he had only briefly met in Germany), "he had clearly learned how to flatter and acquiesce, when to speak and when to remain silent, and how to work the American system." By then Gerhartsreiter had become Christopher Chichester, relative to Lord Mountbatten.

Leaving California, Chichester headed back to the East Coast, emerging on Wall Street as Christopher Crowe, executive while continuing to maintain that he has aristocratic ties. After repeatedly being exposed as a fraud in his jobs, and when law enforcement began asking questions about California, Crowe disappeared. Years passed before he again reemerged, this time as Clark Rockefeller, his greatest character yet.
"To his friends and acquaintances, Clark Rockefeller was a prince. He was so friendly, so attentive, so eager to please. He cared about people and seemed genuinely interested in them"
In the summer of 2008, Clark's perfect world came to an abrupt end. After a divorce, and the loss of his gravy train, Clark determined to get his revenge by kidnapping the couple's daughter bringing the FBI down on him. Gradually the world began to learn the truth about Clark Rockefeller. All of this is public records.

By the time Rockefeller was brought to trial, Mark Sea had been investigating him for almost a year but as the trial progressed, Seal discovered that he, too had been conned by Rockefeller. Wanting to finally learn the full story, Seal traveled to Germany then back and forth across the U.S. talking to everyone he could find who might be able to offer a glimpse into the man who would become Clark Rockefeller. The result was first an article in Vanity Fair magazine and then this book.

Seal may not have offered any new glimpses in the mind of a con artist (he doesn't cover the psychological aspect at all) and after nearly 400 pages there is no reason "why." I didn't need one; I've long ago learned that there is not always an easy answer.

What I did learn is that rich people are amazingly gullible and that if you act like you're better than some people, it will make them all the more anxious to be in your circle. Almost all of the people that Seal interviewed recounted some type of unusual behavior on Rockefeller's part. Apparently, if you're rich enough (or people think you are), people will write off these kinds of things as eccentricities.

Just for you, Mari, I took off my rose-colored glasses while I read this one; I'm perfectly willing to accept that there are people like Rockefeller out there in the world. It turns out that reading about one of them makes for highly entertaining reading. One reviewer called the book "cinematic;" NPR recently suggested that readers pick up this book before it's made into a movie. Sam Rockwell, I think this one has your name on it.


  1. I just recently "discovered" this book, and now dying to read it. Sounds interesting. Thanks for the review.

  2. This so intrigues me!
    Sam Rockwell DOES sound like a good fit.

  3. I was also thinking Sam Rockwell! I have heard that this is a fantastic and engrossing book, and though it's not my usual fare, I think I would really enjoy this one. It's hard to believe that someone like this could manipulate so successfully for so long. Glad you enjoyed it too!

  4. It was made into a movie, played by Eric McCormack, it was a Lifetime movie.

  5. I'm intrigued by how he pulled it all off!!!!

  6. Rich people are just people. A good con man will fleece them just as well!
    Thanks for the review.

  7. I can remember my dad telling me if you act like you belong in any situation, people generally won't question you. It sounds like he was right. This book sounds fascinating to me.

  8. I read this book too and was fascinated by everything about this man's story. He really was an odd duck and all in all very creepy. I also recently read The Psychopath Test, and he seems to fit the bill pretty clearly.