You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

The Grocksters' Defense

So, is he insane or just lying?

Click here for Margo Howard's Week One coverage of the Clark Rockefeller case.

Click here for her coverage of the first two days of Week Two.


The witnesses today are mental health experts, hired by the defense, to convince the jury--aka “the kids”--that Grock is certifiably insane. An interesting sidelight about this incredibly young jury: Courthouse scuttlebutt has it that the defense was pleased with young jurors because they would be unlikely to have children … this being a kidnapping case and all.

Before the jury entered, motions were argued having to do with altering the charges in the criminal complaint. The defense wanted “intentional commission of a reckless act, assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon” to be eliminated because Grock wasn’t driving. Motion denied. Then they made the argument that the charge of providing a false name should be dropped because Grock really was Clark Rockefeller because he said he was. The judge didn’t sail for that one, either. (Had he ruled differently on this point, I could have cited it whenever I commanded people to believe that I am Marie of Rumania.)

The first expert witness was Catherine Howe, a psychologist. She had given Grock tests for “malingering” (faking symptoms of mental illness). Did he understood wrongfulness? Had she found disorder of thought, perception, orientation, or memory? Mention was made of the DSM-IV guidelines. She quoted from the CMR. Asked to explain what that stood for, she apologized for forgetting. (It is the Code of Massachusetts Regulation.) She spoke of the test for narcissistic personality disorder, which has nine qualifiers. Whereas a score of 5 is good enough to “qualify,” Grock scored all 9! According to her various tests, Grock’s mental apparatus played host to grandiosity, narcissism, fantasies of success, feeling special, requiring admiration, having a sense of entitlement, being exploitative, lacking empathy, believing oneself to be the object of envy, and having a haughty attitude.

Grock’s lawyer asked, “Were you able to form an opinion regarding his suffering from mental disease?” Oh, yes, she felt he was, according to both her testing and her observations. “And,” she added, “a further sign of mental disorder is that you can make the people around you crazy.” If one interprets “crazy” in the context in which I believe Howe made this remark, Grock’s ex-wife, Sandra Boss, ultimately proved this to be a true statement.

I will not bore you with the elongated discussions of the tests related to delusional disorder (overlapping but different from narcissistic disorder), criminal calculus, reinforcements for falsehoods, bizarre versus non-bizarre delusions, the difference between fantasy and delusion. Howe said Grock was always grandiose in his presentation. The DA challenged her, finding nothing grandiose about telling authorities that he earned no money, and letting his wife pay all the bills and provide him with pocket money. He also said he wrote term papers for students under the table.

Deakin ticked off an anthology of lies taken just from grand jury testimony:

Using the name Chip Smith in Baltimore. “Boat” schooling his daughter. Having baby formula flown to the ship (!). Promising skybox tickets to the Red Sox game. Calling Howard Yaffe, the court monitor, “a fiend of the family who was a cling-on.” Blaming his lies on Sandra, whom he said was telling him to make these things up. Howe agreed all these things were untrue. She and the defense wanted to call these fictions indicators of mental illness. The DA wanted to call them lies.

Grock acknowledged to Howe that when confronted with his Rockefeller identity, he would concede that he may not be of the Rockefellers. And it turns out that at some point he started reading about himself on Wikipedia where there was proof he was not born in New York. He then admitted he had to make up new stories. She said that he’d had an array of names (Chichester, Mountbatten, Crowe, Smith, Rock, and Reiter), but he knew he was not these people … ergo, they were not delusions … but she did believe he thought he was Clark Rockefeller.

Grock’s lawyer, Denner, was back. “Could we think changing identities was indicative of underlying psychosis?” “Yes,” she responded. Deakin, the DA, returned to quote back to Howe her statement that, “He may be a diagnosis unto himself,” and asked if there was a diagnosis for “liar” in either the DSM-IV or the CMR. (There wasn’t.)

After the lunch break was showtime! Dr. Keith Ablow was called to the stand. He agreed he wears a lot of hats. He is a forensic psychiatrist, news commentator, frequent Howard Stern guest, author (Inside the Mind of Scott Peterson), New York Post columnist, blogger at, and … a novelist! He is called by some “the fake Fox doc” and “rent-a-shrink.” He stated all his schools, board certifications, etc. He did not list AFTRA.

Somewhat problematic was that he’d written a blog entry titled “Inside the Mind of Clark Rockefeller” without examining him. But that was just “journalism slash entertainment,” he said. Once engaged by the defense, however, Ablow interviewed Grock on six occasions in 2009 looking for an evolution of symptoms, then he read all the records and testing results. What he found was that Grock “was trying to seem the opposite of malingering. He was trying to be seen in a more favorable light, underreporting, if you will. He wanted to appear to be well.”

According to Ablow, Grock went through “a migration” during their visits. He remembered more childhood trauma, and even cried on occasion. People become narcissistic, he said, because they feel bad about themselves. He stressed that one need not be crazy all the time--just as if you had pneumonia you wouldn’t be coughing every minute of every day.

Grock told Ablow he set the table for two, even when the kid had already gone to England. He told him that if the street light said “Walk,” or if he saw a green car, it meant he was going to see his daughter at the next corner. And their secret language was “Elephantian.” They had “written” a book in this language, except that it wasn’t in writing … meaning, I guess, they thought a book together. Ablow said the loss of the kid was like withdrawal from cocaine.

But what abut the clear-thinking that went into the planning of the abduction? “One can be a clear-thinking insane person. And trying to seem less mentally ill is a sign of mental illness?”

The DA returned to stress that Ablow was an entertainer (with a ten grand retainer, and counting, for this case.) “Don’t people lie in their own self-interest?” He got Ablow to admit that experts can disagree regarding diagnoses. Deakin had Ablow read from his blog: “Never having examined him, I can tell you a great deal about him.” He went on, “The things I went looking for in Clark Rockefeller I found. I was looking for childhood pain, and after three or four interviews, found them.”

Deakin then asked if he know the term “interviewer bias.” That is, might he have felt the need to support what he had already written? “Not even close,” Ablow replied. He went on to say that people with clinical delusions of grandiosity are not always grandiose. “He can be humble.” Deakin asked if Grock told a lot of lies? “His disorders cause him to say things that are untrue.” As an example, he mentioned that Grock talked about riding to hounds. What the DA called “a litany of lies” Ablow preferred to call “things that were seemingly untrue.”

Ablow said he’d heard many sad stories about Grock’s father who had called him “human refuse,” among other things. (I guess the antidote to that is to go to America and become a Rockefeller.) But, the DA asked, “Didn’t the father send him, in 1978, $250 a month plus health insurance?” This was from an affidavit from the father. Ablow admitted that “when confronted, he will back off of being a Rockefeller.”

“So it’s a fairly flexible delusion,” remarked the DA.

Ablow admitted that the idea of Grock and the little girl communicating “telepathically” was in no other records but his own. Ablow accepted what Grock said to be credible because he was crying. And just because he postulated childhood trauma on his blog had nothing to do with anything.

So, Deakin continued, whatever Ablow wrote in a report was based solely on the defendant’s say-so. Ablow’s conviction that Grock loved his daughter more than he loved himself looked a little flimsy when reminded that Snooks’ father canceled one visit entirely, called off one day of a three day visit, and lied about their going to a Sox game. Were his eight made up names delusions or lies? Ablow thinks that for Grock the Rockefeller name became a delusion ... though he agreed with the DA that he did not think he was Chip Smith.

Court adjourned.


The courtroom circuit’s Dr. Phil is back today. Dr. Ablow and the defense need to clean up his previous testimony about his basically diagnosing Grock on his blog for Fox News. Denner gave him the chance to say that he really offered no diagnosis, but was, rather, “thinking out loud.” Of course he would never offer a diagnosis without seeing the patient, because his professional organization would find that unethical. The opinion he gave in court, Ablow said, was rendered after reading the documents and affidavits and his own jailhouse interviews with Grock. It just happened that the basic thesis of his blog turned out to be right.

Brand new information came from Ablow that the childhood trauma underlying Grock’s disorders (of the insane variety) could be traced to his father telling his mother--in front of him--that “he maybe not even mine,” and he thought his son may be homosexual. The old man definitely didn’t like his son’s interest in music. Father wanted Grock on the vocational track, which to the young man was the next thing to going to a school for bricklayers.

Deakin, the dapper DA, is up now. ”Let’s get into evidence, Dr. Ablow. You’re stating as fact things that he only told you, and things that even you have previously spoken of as exaggerated claims. These are statements that have no other evidentiary standing in the record, correct?” He got him to acknowledge that what Grock told him about his father may not be true.

Then there were murmurs from both spectators and press when something quite unusual happened. The defendant was called, with the lawyers, to a sidebar with the judge. Was he going to waive his rights to testify? (This we thought we already knew.) Did he want to stop the trial now and accept the plea deal he had previously turned down? We were not, and could not be told what was going on, but we did know the trial wasn’t over because it resumed.

The next witness was the prosecution’s expert, Dr. James Chu. As my mother used to say, comparisons are odious, but if you’re an affiliation snob, McLean and Harvard trump Fox News and being a regular on Howard Stern. It was entered into the record that Dr. Chu has treated hundreds of delusional and narcissistic patients, the aberrations the defense was hanging its hat on. The test he chose to give Grock led him to believe that the exaggeration of symptoms he found did not make Grock seem credible. One question, for example, was: Do you ever find yourself in places you have no idea how you got there? Grock answered, Yes, 70 percent of the time. Chu found the responses contradictory, and concluded that the answers were more consistent with untruthful responses. Chu’s diagnosis from his interview and document review was that the defendant had a “mixed personality disorder.” He went on to say that personality disorders are characteristics everyone has. “Mixed” doesn’t meet the criteria for a single diagnosis. Grock only partially meets the criteria for narcissistic and anti-social disorders.

Now we are back to the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical manual), famous for its heft. If books were dogs, this would be a St. Bernard. Dr. Chu did not find the nine qualifiers that Dr. Howe did. He found that four applied, maybe five were arguably present, but they were “soft.” He wasn’t buying narcissistic personality disorder. Ditto for anti-social traits. He also rejected any delusional disorders. He saw no evidence of psychosis or grandiose delusions. Reviewing the reports of Drs. Howe and Ablow he found nothing to change his opinion about criminal responsibility. Chu says there is no evidence in current psychiatric thinking that narcissistic disorder morphs into delusional thinking.

Denner, Grock’s lead lawyer, tried to convince the jury that Dr. Chu was unqualified for this particular case. He established that this was the first time Chu had interviewed in a prison setting; that he was not certified as a forensic psychiatrist; and, really, he was an administrator. “There was, in fact, no time for you to be a forensic expert, right?” Chu agreed with him. He did feel confident in his diagnostic abilities, however, because he had seen mentally ill people for 30-plus years. Chu was essentially saying, in a non-defensive way, that he didn’t need all the testing the other side had administered because he knew what he was dealing with after reading all the records and having his two and a half hour interview.

Denner tried to depict Chu as unfamiliar with forensic guidelines because he couldn’t recite the Massachusetts definition of insanity and criminal responsibility.

As for the greater number of hours the defense had spent administering tests, he asked, “Do you feel they were over-visiting him?” Dr. Chu demurred and said he had no opinion on that matter. With his testimony ended, the trial part of the case was over. Both sides rested, and all that remained were closing arguments and jury deliberation. In Massachusetts, unlike many other states, the defense’s closing argument goes first. In more ways than one, I think the prosecution will, indeed, have the last word.

Margo Howard writes "Dear Margo" for and Creators Syndicate.

For more TNR, become a fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.