Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Impostor  A year or more ago I saw a Lifetime movie called Who is Clark Rockefeller?  It was your typical ripped-from-the-headlines, movie-of-the-week type of fare.  It was brimming with over-the-top personalities and characters and situations that seemed too odd to exist in the real world.  Usually I prefer the schmaltzy romance of a Hallmark movie but the Lifetime movie starred Eric McCormack of Will & Grace fame so I figured it would be better than usual.  And it kind of was.  It was a crazy story about a man who emigrated from Germany, talked his way into high profile jobs in the finance industry despite having no actual experience or education in finance, and duped a lot of people including his incredibly accomplished and intelligent ex-wife into thinking he was a member of the storied Rockefeller clan.  Clark's carefully constructed set of lies fell apart after he kidnapped his young daughter after a bitter divorce ended in his ex-wife being awarded full custody.  The craziest part of it all was that the movie was based on real events.

In The Man in the Rockefeller Suit Mark Seal attempts to trace the rise and fall of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, aka Clark Rockefeller, aka Chip Smith, aka Christopher Chichester, aka Christopher Crowe, aka a bunch of other aliases.  He was the consummate pretender who successfully fooled and manipulated people into giving him things and doing his bidding for thirty or so years.  Even his wife of twelve years did not realize her husband wasn’t who he said he was until she tried to divorce him and her lawyers were unable to verify Clark's identify.   

Seal’s book was a quick and fascinating read.  If left me wondering how a person could perpetrate such an elaborate ruse for so long and the toll it takes on a person’s psyche.  If a person is constantly pretending to be something and someone else at some point does there cease to be a distinction between one's real identity and the character?  I wanted to get inside of Gerhartsreiter’s head and understand how and why Gerhartsreiter did what he did, and how he could have maintained such an elaborate charade for so long.  Seal’s book hints at this but didn’t quite delve as deep as I wanted.  This isn’t a criticism; I don’t think Seal could have found out much more than he did.   From what I understand Gerhartsreiter continues to stay in character such that we will probably never know the entire story about Gerhartsreiter. 

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