How can Honfleur make you happy? Visitors know the answer to this question – just be there! But for some people life is not that simple. Some people decide to leave lovely Honfleur and get up to all sorts of mischief.
Brave from Honfleur
We aren’t talking about Honfleur’s brave seafarers who sailed away to Greenland waters for the whales, or to the West Indies, Africa and Canada in search of trade and fortunes (although they are very interesting) we are talking about someone who was born in Honfleur not 50 years ago. And Honfleur did not make him happy.
This young man was born into poverty in 1967 to the sort of useless parents who have trouble looking after themselves, let alone a child. attractive 17 years old Annick Villers and Daniel Rocancourt, about 10 years older, married in the June, a month before Christophe was born on 16 July. By the time Christophe’s sister was born in 1968 they were living in a mobile home at Bec-Hellouin and were happy enough for a while.
Daniel left the small family to earn better money in Belgium. He was a housepainter, failed boxer and unfortunately an alcoholic. Often lonely and broke Annick soon went back to her old trade, working with her sister as a prostitute. She frequently left the children home alone.
A third child, a girl, was born in 1969 but tragically died soon afterwards. This and fears about Annick’s unfaithfulness gave Daniel the excuse he needed to leave for good. He would not see Christophe again for three years.
Annick moved with the children into her parent’s small home. In the summer the little two bedroom house was tolerable, in winter the lack of running water and electricity made it almost unbearable. She left the children temporarily with their grandparents. She did not return.
Christophe was five when his father reappeared into his life. After an unsuccessful relationship with Annick’s sister who doted on the children Daniel’s next girlfriend firmly rejected them. With grandparents unwilling or unable to continue their care, in October 1976 Daniel left Christophe and his little sister at the orphanage at Saint-Germain-Village. Daniel did not give up on alcohol quite so easily and would eventually die blind drunk in a snow drift not far from Lisieux cathedral in 1991.
Smiling on the outside
A bright child, Christophe was less interested in school work than bartering with the other children for toys or testing the limits of the local gendarmerie. In 1978 he confessed to vandalizing a local house and stealing fruit from the garden. But “whenever he got in trouble, he could charm his way out – always a bit of a talker, you know” recalled his former counsellor, Patrick Hnoy. A report filed at the orphanage a 1979 says how the abandoned Christophe talked endlessly of being reunited with his father.
What happened next could have been the making of Christophe if the authorities hadn’t got it so horribly wrong.
The wrong family
Christophe was adopted by what can only be described as the wrong family. For a young man with such a disruptive childhood placing him with a strong disciplinarian may have seemed like a good idea. A new father with a military background who could give him firm guidelines for life. But of course it was much too late for that sort of parenting.
Christophe had been bringing himself up for years and creating his own rules. His uncle Joel said to Christophe’s father “if this was my son I would never let him go with this man”. Christophe continually tried to run away from his new family. As soon as he turned 18 in 1985 he bolted to Paris, telling his uncle he would “come back a big man”.
In Paris Christophe decided he needed more than just a change of scenery.
Meet Prince de Galitzine
With little to offer the world and nothing in his background to be proud of Christophe chose to build himself up, at least in his own eyes. He claimed to be a student at ENA, the Paris college for French elite, and became ‘Prince de Galitzine’ a Russian nobleman. Apparently few were convinced but the role play gave Christophe a huge feeling of confidence he would not forget.
There are records in Paris that show Christophe was jailed five times between 1987 and 1991 for minor crimes, a bit of petty theft, some fraud, no violence. He stole a cheque from his stepfather’s Paris flat, borrowed a Porsche against the cheque and with a pretty girlfriend paraded his apparent wealth across Normandy, visiting every place he had ever felt unhappy. His crimes were escalating but this time he did return the car.
Fun with forgery
Next was forgery. He faked the deed to a smart townhouse owned by his girlfriend’s father and sold it. For $1.4m. Other scams followed until September 1991 when Christophe became a likely suspect in the hostage taking of a woman at her home in Geneva. She worked in a jewellery shop. The gang forced her back to the shop to open the safe taking $400k of rings, necklaces and watches. Alerted, the police gave chase. The gang were forced to abandon their car, jewels and quite a bit of evidence. Christophe could be facing serious jail time. He fled to the United States. He was 24.
La La land for Christophe
Los Angeles, home to Hollywood that maker of dreams, bought out Christophe’s creative side.
Good looking in a town built on make-believe Christophe wasted no time creating his own myths. He claims to have learned English from a bible he found in his motel room. Over the next few years he would also claim to be a movie producer, an ex-boxing champion, a venture capitalist, the son of Sophia Loren, nephew of Oscar de la Renta and Dino De Laurentiis. And a French Rockefeller.
His looks, dangerous charm and exotic accent were a lot more successful in Los Angeles than cynical Paris. Christophe quickly worked to meet and ingratiate himself with people who had what he wanted – money.
Soon after arriving Christophe overheard a French accent in Café Maurice, a now closed French restaurant in West Hollywood. He introduced himself to Charles Glenn a French born wine salesman, as the reigning European boxing champion in town for a fight that night. Of course with Christophe’s finely honed charm they quickly bonded and Charles happily agreed to give him a lift to the fight.
During an increasingly strange journey with Christopher unable to recall the fight location, and after many calls at public phones to his ‘manager’ he declared the fight had had been cancelled. The other boxer had forfeit and Christophe declared winner. This was clearly a time before good mobile phones and google as Charles believed every word.
Christophe then carried out a key part of all his cons. He flashed some real cash. Giving Charles $500 for his trouble they agreed to go back to the restaurant and announce that the fight was won by a knockout in the first round. Charles later said “I took it. I’m not rich. So that’s what I told everybody. We had quite a celebration that night.”
Taking pity and completely taken in by the young fighter Charles invited him to stay.
Christophe was soon offering to buy the Bel Air house of another friend, Pierre Lange who was in financial trouble. Christophe explained some complicated finances and asked that Pierre travel to Geneva then Portugal where the money would be transferred to him.
Christophe paid for his flights, they would later discover he did so using the credit card belonging to another of Charles’ friends. In LA Christophe, the championship boxer, threw some great Hollywood parties. When Pierre finally threatened to return after some weeks Christophe quietly moved out of the house just as the bank foreclosed.
Flash and phoney
Charles later said “He would have sold his parents to get something he wanted”. To highlight his systematic phoniness Charles described how “whenever there was a photographer, Christopher would throw money around. But he did not give a dollar to park the car when there was no one to see it. He was no Robin Hood. He was abusing everyone”.
But thanks to Charles, Christophe had Hollywood friends and a veneer of respectability. He talked his way into staying at the Beverly Wiltshire Hotel, at a cheap rate because of renovations. The address, the friends, gave investors’ confidence in his ‘opportunities’. It was here that he took his new wife.
Christophe did not restrict his charm to investors, he always liked to have a beautiful woman on his arm and could be a devastating and patient paramour. During an evening at LA’s Bar One with Charles in June 1992 Christophe met classically lovely blond Gry Park, working as a hat check girl. A born again Christian, she filled in quiet times reading the bible. He told her his name was Christopher De Laurentiis, nephew of the film producer. Initially she resisting his efforts to woo her but Christopher would not give up.
For six weeks he sat next to her as she worked, speaking persuasively in broken English of his love and the life they would have together. Then he said “I will go to church with you” and he did. By August Gry and Christophe were on holiday together in Hawaii. On 28 October they married in Vegas. She looked lovely on his arm as he wined and dined investors.
Marriage not made in heaven
Unfortunately daily reality did not serve the marriage well. A constant stream of creditors called and Gry soon realised how little she knew about her husband. He claimed to be the son of a diplomat but they never heard from his family. Money kept coming in but it was not clear where from, could he be a drug dealer? Pregnant and unhappy Gry demanded some answers. Christophe wept and told her he was a criminal, Italian mafia. It was not an answer Gry could live with. She left.
He did not take Gry’s departure well, calling and messaging constantly. One evening he turned up at her home as she led a bible study class. He created a terrible scene shouting “my life is a living hell, I need God”. Rebuffed he sat on the curb and wept. Gry could not forgive or trust him. She loved the charmer, hated the criminal.
Marjorie, a member of the group took pity and took him in. He shared a version of his troubled past with her and regularly attended church. After some weeks Marjorie was convinced he was a changed man but Gry was not so sure. Time would prove Gry completely correct.
Love conquers all again
In 1996 Christophe married playboy playmate and actress Pia Reyes and failed to pay his rent at the Beverly Wiltshire hotel near Rodeo Drive. “He talked a good game,” said Peter O’Colmain, general manager of the Beverly Wilshire, where Christophe avoided a $60,000 bill. “He told us he was the son of [fashion designer] Oscar de la Renta.”
What’s yours is mine
His next good fortune was paid for by new friend Shahram Moussazedeh. Shahram owned a number of smart clothing stores, some on Rodeo Drive and Beverly Boulevard. Away from Shahram Christophe claimed to be their part owner. Unaccountably over the next few months Shahram handed $250k of cash, clothing and cars to Christophe.
A list found by investigators in Christophe’s Beverly Wiltshire suite listed items given to Christophe by Shahram; $89k Ferrari, $20k Bentley, thousands of dollars of designer clothes and more than £100k in cash. He used these ‘gifts to widen his Hollywood circle of friends.
My mate Mickey
By 1997 he could name Mickey Rouke as one of his best friends. They were often photographed by the paparazzi, spending freely in high end bars, hosting lavish parties, buying cars and indulging in best of everything. Over the winter of 1997-8 Christophe moved in with Mickey and convinces his mate Jean Claude van Damme that he would invest $40k and produce Jean-Claude’s next movie. Jean-Claude claims not to remember this but of course there are so many promises made in La La land.
There was talk of a deal with the Jackson family, Jermain Jackson was in talks with Christophe to produce a range of perfumes named for Michael’s songs; ‘thriller’ and ‘bad’. A picture of Michael signed by the star hung in Christophe’s suite.
That winter Christophe has a new companion. Rhonda Rydell is a model, sometimes topless, who enjoyed brief fame in an episode of Baywatch. Like all of Christophe’s women Rhonda was gorgeous, and strangely unquestioning of her partner. They had met in Monaco during the World Music Awards. He told her he was French royalty and, flashing a ring with a family crest, spoke fondly of the family chateau.
We aren’t quite sure what was happing with Pia during this time but Rhonda paints a poetic picture of their time together.
“After that I was with him every day for six months; we spent every second together,” says Rydell. “He was the love of my life. We could not deny each other. We just connected on a really deep, you know, soulful level. We could communicate without speaking.” She described her lover as “a modern-day philosopher, a teacher of life.” Indeed.
Not everyone was convinced. One potential ‘mark’ Nancy Lorenzen liked him enough to agree to a few games of tennis. When he then claimed to be able rich investor who could triple her savings, she resisted his increasingly pushy offers of financial help. What made her suspect him? Why would such a rich man, she thought, be playing on the East Hampton public tennis court that sit between the railway line and Waldbaum’s grocery shop car park?
Both rich and poor
You don’t have to be rich for Christophe to notice you. He cheerfully fleeced struggling actor Buddy Ochoa, promising him untold of wealth for a down payment of $20k. Buddy handed over his total savings of $10k then convinced his aging parents to part with $10k they barely had themselves. The transactions were all in cash, perhaps to help Buddy avoid tax. Christophe tells an elaborate tale of investments in Japan. And disappears. When Buddy talks to the police he realises just how badly he has been duped. There is no paper trail, it is just Buddy’s word against Christophe. The police do nothing.
Lillian Pinho gave him $100k to invest. When she complained he apparently warned her “better not snitch on me or you will take a very long nap”. But more trouble came from a hired bodyguard who claimed to police Christophe took $2k for a fake passport, was sneaking in diamonds from Zaire and had an illegal cache of weapons. A warrant to search his apartment found evidence for none of those things but did reveal some questionable investment ideas and passport fraud. Then he annoyed the wrong people.
Shame and secrecy of the scammed
Often, investors made to feel foolish for believing this coarse, tattooed Frenchman was a well-connected Hollywood heir, tended to keep it to themselves when they discovered he had duped them out of thousands. But the California drug traffickers are less inclined to be forgetful. Furious at being scammed they began closing in on Christophe. He hired a bodyguard but after a car chase and shoot out on Santa Monica Boulevard he took refuge in a police station.
Claiming to have been shot at, a cursory search of his car revealed the shots came from inside the car. Checking his name against records an old passport fraud comes to light and Christophe is held. Rhonda and Pia are called to the police station. Rhonda had not known he was married. Suddenly a lot more things made sense, she realised he had been living a double life. But when he is jailed she stuck by him, speaking for hours on the phone. When she realised Pia was receiving the same attention she finally gave up on her soul mate.
It took Pia three months to raise the bail money as Hollywood friends turned their backs. Once free Christophe didn’t stick around in LA to face charges. He has been stringing the town along for 7 years, clocked up two wives, two children and untold millions. Abandoning every material thing he owned, Christophe disappeared.
New York thinks itself less gullible than California. Happily for Christophe it is much the same. By late 1999 Christophe, Pia and baby Zeus are living in a $6,500 per month loft in Lower Manhattan, a small army of investors regretting the day they met this charming Frenchman. But not one of them has complained to the police.
During this time an investigator later uncovers a businessman who invested £175k, an Upper East Side shop that gave him $40k of goods he never paid for, $20k in unpaid rent, $40k life savings from another ‘investor’. Businesswoman Amanda Tayer, who rents out movie props to studios, gave Christophe $100k in advance of a business loan of $4.2m thinking him an entertainment industry executive.
Then his biggest known NY success, a woman so enamoured she is thought to have handed him $90k in cash, as well as watches and jewellery totalling more than $250k. But the rich are not like the rest of us. She refused to complain to the police and appeared, to the investigator, not overly worried about losing $350k.
Summer in the Hamptons
By the summer of 2000 New York feels a little hot so the family decides to holiday in the Hamptons. The Hamptons would be very good to Christopher. He dressed low key but just his name opened doors; “Rockefeller, but please, call me Christopher.” The Hamptons folk loved old money, French charm and they loved Christopher.
He put on an impressive show; chartering a helicopter to view a seaside estate worth millions ‘Christopher Rockefeller’ was thinking of buying, eating at the best restaurants and talking about his jet set life.
Everyone wanted to be friends with a Rockefeller and if a little financial advice could rub off? What harm could it do?
Masseuse to the rich, Corinne Eeltik, spotted his surname and Fifth Avenue address as he signed into a local high class gym. She introduced herself and soon opened up her impressive address book to the seductive Frenchman.
Corinne’s friends Kim Curry and her fiancé felt honoured to be invited for a lavish lunch with Christopher Rockefeller who picked up the bill using wads of cash. As the champagne flowed he entertained them with stories of his incredible wealth while right hand man Joseph Dante fielded constant mobile phone calls. Kim recalls “cellphones were going off all the time – the Kennedys are on the line, and Prince Albert was in that weekend…”
It’s okay he’s a Rockefeller!
Kim and her fiancé asked if he had any money making tips for them and amazingly he did. A great investment deal. Kim thought “It’s okay, he’s a Rockefeller”. All they had to do said Christopher was “give me $50,000, I will invest this money, I will in turn give you $500,000 back.” Over another extravagant meal he promised Corrine Eeltink a return of over $1m on an investment of $25k. In three months. She happily handed over her savings and thought what to do with the million coming her way.
A Hampton realtor showed Christopher around a $9million estate and was so impressed she handed over $100k of her savings for him to invest. Christopher’s investment opportunities became the worst kept secret of the Hamptons, everywhere people seemed to be whispering about “a great investment opportunity…”
Another of Corinne’s friends, New York stockbroker Mr Gregory, discussed over lunch and a few games of tennis some personal financial difficulties. Christopher borrowed his set of tennis whites and was rather ungainly on the court but Mr Gregory had no reason to doubt the offer of a $500k loan, for an upfront initial payment of $50k. They celebrated the deal over fine wines, cognac and the best Asian cuisine the Hamptons could offer. Christopher paid for it all.
Outed by a Mazda
Through Corinne Christopher then met painter Gines Serran Pagan. Savvy Pagan sees through his Rockefeller disguise and invites Christophe for an evening meal with his friends, to secretly show off this disarming phoney. Over pasta Christophe talks wildly about his extravagant life, his helicopters, yachts his conversations with Clinton, but they are amused more than convinced. No Rockefeller would have mistaken cheap wine for a cooking wine Pagan presents at dinner, and surely a man so keen to show off his wealth would not arrive in a Mazda?
Although Pagan hints to Christophe he knows he is not all he appears, the next day Christophe calls for Pagan’s bank details, to transfer thousands of dollars into it, to buy some of Pagan’s art of course. Pagan demurs and they do not speak again. Years later when reminded of the incident Christophe declares he was well aware the painter was lying to him but he was too polite to mention the appalling quality of Pagan’s wine…
The end of Christophe’s summer
Summer cannot last and after yet another fine dinner and some impressive chat Kevin McCrary joins the growing ranks of those who pass on the opportunity to invest. Kevin was not convinced the Rockefellers even had family in France and went online to discover the last Christopher Rockefeller died in 1790.
Just too many unpaid bills at expensive restaurants and upmarket hotels pile up and enough angry people complain to the East Hampton police for Christophe to be arrested on 2 August 2000. A computer check reveals aliases and fake identities; Fabien Ortuno, Christopher Lanencourt, James Fox, Christophe Lloyd, Christopher De Laurentis, and Christopher Reyes.
He did what?!
Christophe’s record from Los Angeles says he is wanted for questioning in connection with a shooting, smuggling diamonds from Zaire, possessing hand grenades, money laundering, bribery and perjury. The hand grenades were found in an apartment he borrowed, along with an assortment of other weapons.
In the Hamptons he is wanted for questioning in 17 cases involving grand larceny, scheming to defraud and theft of services. Unfortunately for the good folk of East Hampton Christophe is released on a $45k bond before the full list of his misdemeanours is revealed.
As cool autumn winds blow across the Hamptons Christopher Rockefeller and several millions of investment cash are nowhere to be found.
Christophe headed north and crossed the border into Canada without any problems. He is now Michael Van Hoven, a former pilot, Formula 1 driver and occasional Swiss businessman.
A long con did for Christophe in Canada. He was living well in a hotel paid for by an investor, local businessman Robert Baldock who had already parted with $100k to ‘unlock’ a promised $5m. But the con went awry. Not when Baldock spent a week in Geneva waiting to meet Christophe’s ‘father’ who never appeared. Not even when he failed to produce the promised investment funds. It was when Baldock noticed some ‘irregular payments’ on his credit card and discovered a man meeting Michael Van Hoven’s description had used it, that he went to the police.
No way out of this one Christophe!
By now Christophe is on FBI and Interpol lists and they identify just who Michael Van Hoven really is. When Christophe Rocancourt was arrested on 26 April 2001 the police note that he is wearing a Rolex watch worth $28k and in his wallet had receipts for two more watches totalling $148,450.8.
Pia convinced the authorities she knew nothing of her husband’s fraudulent activities and is released. Christopher pleads guilty. His lawyer Susan Wishart was asked how she thought Christophe convinced the Canadian Businessman to give him so much money. She said he told Robert Baldock he was a race-car driver. “No one checked him out” she said.
Within a few weeks of his incarceration he claims to have become spokesperson for prisoners to the administration, taking his coffee regularly with the guards.
As he said to a New York Times journalist in a phone interview that year, when his notoriety made him as popular as his charm; “I would not consider myself a criminal – I steal with my mind. If I take things, if that is your definition of a criminal, then I am a criminal” He revealed no remorse, no guilt towards his victims just the comment “I feel sorry for their greed.”
Extradition to the USA
After 6 months in Canadian prison for identify theft, Christophe is extradited to the US in March 2002. Here he passes the remaining years of his sentence for theft, smuggling, perjury, fraud, forgery and use of false passport, illegal possession of firearm and hit and run. He is also banned from Switzerland until 2016 for his suspected part in a jewellery theft. To the annoyance of the Swiss authorities there is not enough evidence to prove his guilt for the 1991 crime.
Back to France. Oh lucky France
On his release in October 2005 Christophe returned to France. A Vanity Fair expose on his life in 2001 and time on his hands had given him the idea to write an autobiography in 2002. Back home he publishes a refreshed version in 2005.
The books are a huge success and in the media Christophe is frequently portrayed as a ‘gentleman thief’ who just cheated the greedy. Which is of course rubbish, a thief is a thief.
Michel Polnareff the French singer is loudly furious at Christophe’s legitimate success. He was down by $250k after Christopher agreed to arrange a gun permit for him that never materialised. News that Christophe has arranged film rights to his life for $1m do nothing for the singer’s blood pressure. In the media Christophe is called ‘crook to the stars’.
Love is in the air, again
10 days back in Paris and Christophe finds love again. Former Miss France Sonia Rolland finds him irresistible and gives birth to their daughter, Tess in January 2007. The couple appear on the cover of celebrity magazines Gala and Closer and are frequently snapped at red carpet events.
Their separation is announced in Voici and the both hope to stay friends, for their daughter. When asked about her time with Christophe Sonia later recalls “beautiful moments”. “I lived an extraordinary story with Christophe”…”It made me grow up” adding “I do not forget how Christophe supported me during my pregnancy. It was the happiest time of my life. ”
Cruelty of the con
In contrast his cons are relentless and spiteful. A girlfriend cheated out of her car. Rent seldom if ever paid.
Paris 2011 and Christophe is again at the centre of an investigation for an alleged crime dating from 2009. That summer the editor Flammarion rented him three months in an apartment on Rue de la Paix, while he wrote another story about his dangerous life of lies. The apartment belongs to American Jeff Ward, who was out of the country.
Once the three months were up Christophe tried every story he could think of to convince Jeff to let him stay in the apartment. Then in June 2010 Jeff sees €19k has disappeared from his French bank account and flies over to Paris. He discovers his apartment stripped bare. Gone are the precious carpets, antique furniture, art, even the curtains. Jeff estimates over €100k of damage has been done by his freeloading guest. All that is left is a Christmas tree, a box of condoms and some papers. Amongst them he finds a death certificate in his own name.
An abuse of weakness
Catherine Breillat is a respected film producer who suffered a life changing stroke in 2005. Just into her 50’s, the stroke scarred her mentally and physically. She was still partially paralysed and appallingly vulnerable when Christophe charmed his way into her life. They planned a film ‘Bad love’ to star him with Naomi Campbell. The two stars walk the red carpet at Cannes in May 2008. Catherine pays him €25k for a screen play “La vie amoureuse de Christophe Rocancourt” (The Love Life of Christophe Rocancourt).
Then in July 2009 he is accused of taking advantage of Catherine, to the tune of €678k. November heralds the release of her book that explains all. ‘Abuse of weakness’ recounts the growing horror of their relationship. Initial generosity is replaced by fear as Christophe threatens her life and that of her son if she will not hand over increasing amounts of cash.
On 19 December 2009 he is indicted, on 20 December placed in custody. He denies the accusations but on 17 February 2012 is found guilty of abusing the weakness of Catherine Breillat and he is sentenced to 16 months in prison.
Just a bully
Christopher Rocancourt’s reputation as a gentleman thief, that ‘crook to the stars’ is in tatters as the conviction reveals him to be a bully of sick women. His fine is set at €578k. A police investigations can find no evidence of Christophe undertaking paid work in France and they suspect he may hold several bank accounts abroad. But there is nothing they can do when Christophe happily announces to the court he can afford €20 a month so it will take him more than 2000 years to pay his fine.
France did not have long to relax as Christophe was soon released and there are suggestions he did not waste his time in prison, building up some handy contacts. In October 2014 he is arrested along with his lawyer, 23-year-old girlfriend, and a member of the French police he has allegedly bribed to supply him with genuine passports and visas to be sold on for extortionate sums.
Could it be that incarceration has little effect on this incorrigible conman? Only time, and the courts will tell.
The last word, from Christophe Rocancourt
“I seem to sleep, to doze, and this is when those around me make their biggest mistake. They relax their vigilance and this is when I am the most dangerous.”
Want to know more?
Just type ‘Christophe Rocancourt’ into google. You will find more than you thought possible. The world has not heard the last of this unique, charming, fearless, mendacious Honfleurais!