Friends and co-workers are often asking me what I'm reading. This book, everybody, close to a dozen people, replied something like "Oh, THAT! Yes, I've heard about that!" The case was so weird that it has captured lots of people's imaginations.
It's the story of a fellow born Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter in Germany, but who decided he'd rather be The Sociopathic Mister Ripley, basically. When our hero, novelist and crime writer Walter Kern, met him in the late '90s, he was in the early days of his lengthy cover identity of "Clark Rockerfeller," paying what turned out to be a princely $500 for Kern to transport an incontinent, wheelchair-bound dog halfway across the country to him. Kern thought the guy was fascinating and odd enough to stick around, reasoning that inspiration for novels is a good reason for keeping eccentrics in your orbit. But over time, he figured out that there's not a very thick line between "eccentric oddball" and "honkin' great liar."
As the years went on and their friendship deepened, "Clark Rockerfeller" and his story started developing holes, and previously-believed long-dead relations got resurrected for new, casual anecdotes, his phony life of art treasures, social clubs, and celebrity pals started falling apart. In the end, Clark got himself on the news when he attempted to abduct his daughter from his estranged wife and spirit her off to South America, leading a spokesperson for the Rockerfeller family to flatly deny any link between this fellow on the news and any actual Rockerfellers.
Then it turns out he's wanted in connection with a grisly murder in California in the mid-80s...
I hugely enjoyed reading this book. It's a well-crafted, intricate study of lies and identity, of creating illusions and maintaining them. Since I didn't know much about the case and the trial of "Rockerfeller," I was surprised by each new revelation - Hitchcock and Star Trek come into the story more than I was expecting - but even if I had followed it on the tabloid news, there would have been so much here I couldn't have guessed about. It's a really fascinating, weird, and compelling story, and comes highly recommended.