The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal

Thursday, February 14, 2013


The Man in the Rockefeller Suit
Suddenly, Rockefeller pushed his pursuer away, put his daughter down, yanked the car door open, and pulled the child into the limo so fast that she hit her head on the doorframe. "Go! Go!" he shouted, and the driver stepped on the gas, dragging the social worker, who had hold of the back-door handle, several yards before he let go and fell to the pavement.

On July 27 2008, Clark Rockefeller was to spend the day with his daughter, Reigh. Having lost custody of her to his wife, after their nasty divorce, Clark is allowed only three supervised visits a year. This was however not going to be a regular visit. Instead, it was going to be the incident that finally unmasks this supposedly wealthy person with a famous surname. After making small conversations and pretending to be on a stroll with Reigh, he manages to violently shake off the social worker and jump into his private limousine, having duped the driver as well. After six days of a wild goose chase, Rockefeller is finally arrested. But the real story is just beginning, as the world waited to hear the story of Clark Rockefeller and his countless number of aliases and astonishing journey from a small town in Germany to a posh residence in Boston.

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit is a true story of how a man duped hundreds of people over the course of 30 years. He had taken up multiple aliases, occupations and background stories. He was barely ever questioned nor were his stories ever checked for facts. He even managed to get a visa to enter the United States and a green card to stay in the country without any roadblocks. Most surprisingly, he managed to survive 30 years without holding a job (for most of the time) - in fact, he lived like a rich man mostly. His wife never guessed that he was another man entirely, though to be fair, pseudo-Rockefeller had been living his disguise for a good long period and never gave any hints of having been anybody else. In this book, the author chronicles the story of the man behind the con - Christian Gerhartsreiter - where he was born, how he arrived in the US and what he did during his 30 years here.

I have to admit - I had never heard of the name Rockefeller before. Apparently, it's a famous surname, plus everyone in this book seemed to drop his/her jaw whenever the name Rockefeller was mentioned. I must probably be living in a cocoon. The fact that pseudo-Rockefeller took on a super-famous alias and managed to make everyone believe that he was one, was quite astounding to me. Probably, most of the people he duped didn't have the means or the desire to verify his identity. Why should they? If someone told me that they were the President's first cousin, I would just say Oh Nice. I wasn't going to contact White House to verify if it's true. Of course, there were a lot of people who mentioned, after the fact, that they always knew he was a con. Their stories usually indicated the opposite.

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit made for an intriguing read. I'm a big fan of the movie Catch Me If You Can and that's the main reason I picked this book. I guess the fact that a man managed to con people for 30 years shouldn't be too shocking. 30 years is a long enough period for anyone to establish an identity. He was Clark Rockefeller for only around 15 years - still a sufficient period to be somebody. To me, it was his extravagant lies and boastful nature that seemed too laughable. Pseudo-Rockefeller had a personality no one would want to hang out with. But apparently, a lot of women loved him. I simply felt my skin crawl whenever he tried to charm a woman - or maybe that was because of the terrible miming by the narrator.

Which brings me to one of the things that really bugged me about this book - the narrator's imitation of the protagonist was done poorly and for a long audiobook such as this one was, it got onto my nerves. Or maybe the protagonist really spoke like that. There's only so long I could sit and listen to someone's voice, especially one as annoying as pseudo-Rockefeller. I also felt that this book was way too long and at some point, I began to care less about the book.

At the end of the book, I didn't feel any more contented about all the answers that came out. I still had a ton of questions - how did this guy get the money to fund his elaborate show of richness, at least until he married a rich woman? why did he abduct his daughter when that would definitely involve the cops and bring a curtain on the long-running Rockefeller Show? - but even the author admitted that the answers to these were not available. Since the whole book was put together after interviewing the many witnesses to the rise and fall of pseudo-Rockefeller but not the man himself, I strongly felt the absence of a crucial perspective - that of the con artist himself. Having read this book, it would be hugely entertaining and revealing to read a memoir written by the criminal himself.


I borrowed this audiobook from the good old library.


8 comments:

bermudaonion(Kathy) said...

Rockefeller is a well known name in the US but I'm not sure it's jaw dropping. It sounds likke this book would be better in print.

Athira / Aths said...

This book is definitely better in print. Or, at least, if you get through audiobooks faster than I do, then it should be fine. 45 minutes of audiobook a day is certainly not enough.

zibilee said...

I have seen this book around, and most seem to think it was a good read, but like you, I would want to know where all his money came from, and how he managed to live the lifestyle that he had going on for so long. A memoir in companion to this book would be just what I need to grab this one. Seeing things from all perspectives would be crucial to the enjoyment of this story, I think. Excellent review today, Aths!

Helen Murdoch said...

I am amazed that people get away with living a lie, but I guess it happens all the time. This book sounds like it has such potential, too bad it didn't live up to the expectations

Athira / Aths said...

Yeah, it astounded me that he lived a lie for so long. It's not like he didn't commit crimes during that period either.

Athira / Aths said...

I definitely would look forward to a memoir of this guy. I don't see him yielding or acting remorseful at all, most likely his book would have more tall takes, but it would still be fun to read, I guess, or maybe not.

Lisa Sheppard said...

It would definitely be interesting to hear what "Clark Rockefeller" has to say for himself but I'm under the distinct impression that we wouldn't be able to believe a word of it no matter what he said.

Athira / Aths said...

I bet. That's why it would be entertaining to read his memoir - to see how much he will boast and how many lies he will keep telling. Will truly change the definition of memoir, lol.