Robert Durst

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Robert Durst
Born Robert Alan Durst
(1943-04-12) April 12, 1943 (age 71)
Education Scarsdale High School
Alma mater Lehigh University (B.A. Economics, 1965)
Spouse(s) Kathie Durst (Kathleen McCormack) (m. 1973–90)
Debrah Lee Charatan (m. 2000)
Parent(s) Seymour Durst

Robert Alan Durst (born April 12, 1943)[1] is a son of New York City real estate mogul Seymour Durst and a brother of commercial developer Douglas Durst. He came to media attention in the 1980s when his wife disappeared, and again in the early 2000s when he was the subject of a multi-state manhunt and acquittal of murder.

On March 14, 2015, Durst was rearrested in New Orleans on a first-degree murder warrant signed by a Los Angeles judge. If convicted in California for the murder of Susan Berman, Durst could face the death penalty for "special circumstances of murder of a witness and lying in wait".[2]

Early life[edit]

One of four children, Durst grew up in Scarsdale, New York. He is the son of real estate investor Seymour Durst and his wife Bernice Herstein. His siblings are Douglas, Thomas, and Wendy. Durst's paternal grandfather, Joseph Durst, a penniless Jewish tailor who immigrated from Austria-Hungary, eventually became a very successful real estate manager and developer, founding the Durst Organization in 1927. His father Seymour became head of the family business in 1974 upon Joseph's death.[3] Durst claimed that at the age of seven his father walked him to a window where he saw his mother on the roof of the family's Scarsdale home prior to her death, which resulted when she fell or jumped. In a 2015 HBO documentary, his brother Douglas denied this.[4] As children, Durst and his brother Douglas underwent counseling for sibling rivalry.[5] He attended Scarsdale High School, where classmates described him as a loner.[6]

He earned a bachelor's degree in Economics in 1965 from Lehigh University, where he was a member of the varsity lacrosse team and the business manager of The Brown and White student newspaper.[7][8] He enrolled in a doctoral program at UCLA later that year, but eventually withdrew from the school and returned to New York in 1969.[6][9] Durst went on to become a real estate developer in his father's business; however, it was his brother Douglas who was later appointed to run the family business. The appointment in the 1990s caused a rift between Robert and his family, estranging him from them.[10]

Confirmed linked crimes[edit]

Disappearance of Kathleen McCormack Durst[edit]

In the fall of 1971, Durst met Kathleen "Kathie" McCormack, a dental hygienist. After two dates, Durst invited McCormack to share his home in Vermont, where Durst had opened a health food store; she moved there in January 1972.[11] However, Durst's father Seymour pressured him to move back to New York to work in the family real estate business.[12] Durst and McCormack moved back to Manhattan, where they married in 1973.[11]

Kathie Durst was last seen alive on January 31, 1982.[13] She had been treated at a Bronx hospital for facial bruises three weeks before, telling a friend Durst beat her; she had asked Durst for a $250,000 divorce settlement.[14] At the time she went missing, Robert Durst had been dating Prudence Farrow for three years and living in a separate apartment.[11][14][15] In 2000, New York State Police re-opened the criminal investigation into Kathie Durst's disappearance.[13]

Death of Susan Berman[edit]

On December 24, 2000, Durst's longtime friend, Susan Berman, who was believed to have knowledge of Kathie's disappearance,[16] was found murdered execution-style in her Benedict Canyon house in California. Although Durst confirmed to the Los Angeles Police Department that he had recently sent Berman $25,000, and faxed investigators a copy of Berman's 1982 deposition in the case, he declined to be further questioned about Berman's murder.[17] According to prosecutors, Durst moved to Galveston, Texas in 2000, lived in a boarding house, and began posing as a mute woman to avoid questioning concerning Kathie's disappearance.[18] Durst had been tipped off to the re-opened investigation on October 31, 2000, and immediately began planning for life as a fugitive.[16]

Morris Black death and dismemberment[edit]

On October 9, 2001, Durst was arrested in Galveston shortly after body parts of his elderly neighbor, Morris Black, were found floating in Galveston Bay, but was released on $300,000[19] bail the next day. Durst missed a court hearing on October 16 and a warrant was issued for his arrest on a charge of bail jumping. On November 30, 2001, he was caught in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania at a Wegmans supermarket, after trying to shoplift a chicken salad sandwich, Band-Aids (Durst had removed them from a box and placed one under his nose, attracting the attention of store surveillance), and a newspaper, even though he had $500 cash in his pocket.[13][19] A police search of his rented car yielded $37,000 in cash, two guns, marijuana, and Black's driver's license.[20]

Trial[edit]

In 2003, Durst went on trial for the murder of Morris Black. He hired defense attorney Dick DeGuerin and claimed self-defense. During cross-examination, Durst admitted to using a paring knife, two saws, and an axe to dismember Black's body before bagging and dumping his remains in Galveston Bay.[21] He was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, which the defense argued explained his behavior.[22][23] Durst claimed he and Black, a cranky and confrontational loner, struggled for control of Durst's .22-caliber target pistol after Black threatened him with it and the pistol discharged, shooting Black in the face. The jury acquitted him of murder.[24]

In 2004, Durst pleaded guilty to two counts of bond jumping and one count of evidence tampering. As part of a plea bargain, he received a sentence of five years and was given credit for time served, requiring him to serve about three years in prison.[25] Durst was paroled in 2005. The rules of his release required him to stay near his home; permission was required to travel.[26] That December, Durst made an unauthorized trip to the boarding house where Black had been killed and to a nearby shopping mall. At the mall, he ran into the presiding judge from his murder trial, Susan Criss.[23] Due to this incident, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles determined that Durst had violated the terms of his parole, so he was returned to jail.[26] He was released again from custody on March 1, 2006.[27]

Asked in March 2015 whether she believed Durst murdered Morris Black, former Galveston trial judge Susan Criss commented: "you could see that this person knew what they were doing and that it was not a first time. The body was cut perfectly like a surgeon who knew how to use this tool on this bone and a certain kind of tool on that muscle. It looked like not a first-time job. That was pretty scary."[23]

Documentary[edit]

In early 2015, a six-part HBO documentary titled The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst described circumstantial evidence linking Durst to the 2000 slaying of Susan Berman, who was believed to have knowledge of Kathie Durst's 1982 disappearance.[28][29] The documentary detailed the disappearance of Kathie, Berman's subsequent death, and the killing of Durst's neighbor Morris Black.

The Associated Press reported that a March 1999 letter from Durst to Berman, discovered by Berman's stepson and turned over to filmmakers during their research,[30] provided "key new evidence" leading to the filing of murder charges.[31]

Arrest for Berman murder[edit]

A few days after a first-degree murder warrant was signed by a Los Angeles judge, Durst was arrested by FBI agents on March 14, 2015, at the Canal Street Marriott in New Orleans, where he had registered under the false name "Everette Ward".[32][33] Durst, who had been tracked to the hotel after making two calls to check his voicemail,[34] was observed wandering aimlessly in the lobby and mumbling to himself, having driven to New Orleans from Houston four days before.[34][28][35][36] In addition to a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver loaded with four live rounds and one spent shell casing, police recovered five ounces of marijuana, Durst's birth certificate and passport, a map showing Florida and Cuba,[32] a "flesh-toned" latex mask covering the face and neck (with salt-and-pepper hair attached),[34] the fake Texas ID used to check into the hotel, a new cellphone, and $42,631, mostly in $100 bills stuffed into small envelopes.[33][37][38][39] Police discovered a UPS tracking number which led to an additional $117,000 cash, in a package seized after Durst's arrest.[32][33] Bank statements found in one of Durst's Houston condominiums revealed cash withdrawals of $315,000 in little more than a month.[39]

Douglas Durst said he was "relieved" and "grateful" in a statement shortly after his brother's arrest. He added, "We hope he will finally be held accountable for all he has done."[35]

On March 15, 2015, New York State Police investigator Joseph Becerra, long involved with the Kathie Durst case[13] and said to be working closely in recent months with FBI and Los Angeles detectives,[40] removed some sixty file boxes of Durst's personal papers from the home of a Durst friend in Campbell Hall, New York, where they had been sent by Durst's wife three years before for safekeeping.[41]

On March 16, 2015, attorney Dick DeGuerin, who also represented Durst during his 2003 trial for the killing of Morris Black, advised court authorities in New Orleans that his client waived extradition and would voluntarily return to California "to get it on".[42] Late the same day, Louisiana State Police filed charges against Durst for being a felon in possession of a firearm and for possession of a firearm with a controlled substance, which could delay his return to California.[43] Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro commented that, in light of prior convictions which could influence Durst's sentencing, "[j]ust for those gun charges here in Louisiana, [Durst] could face up to life in prison".[39]

On March 23, 2015, Durst was denied bail by a Louisiana judge after prosecutors argued he was a flight risk.[32] Durst's attorney, Richard DeGuerin, raised questions about the validity of the New Orleans arrest and hotel room search, pointing out that a local judge did not issue a warrant until hours after his client was detained. According to DeGuerin, Durst was questioned extensively by a prosecutor and detective without a lawyer present the morning after his arrest.[32][34] Speaking to reporters, DeGuerin confirmed rumors that Durst was in poor health: he suffers from hydrocephalus and had a stent put into his skull two years before, and at the same time, a cancerous mass had been removed from his esophagus.[34]

Other cases[edit]

Days after the Durst case broke into national headlines, police were reportedly examining connections between Durst and the 1971 disappearance of 18-year-old Lynne Schulze from Middlebury, Vermont,[44] and the 1997 disappearance of 16-year-old Karen Mitchell from Eureka, California.[45][46][47] Investigators are also looking into a possible connection with the disappearance of 18-year-old Kristen Modafferi, last seen in San Francisco in 1997.[48][49]

Lynne Schulze, a Middlebury College freshman, patronized Durst's health food shop, All Good Things, on December 10, 1971, the day she disappeared.[47] Karen Mitchell was a volunteer in a homeless shelter which Durst was known to frequent, and Durst paid a visit to a shoe store managed by Mitchell's aunt. A witness sketch of Mitchell's presumed abductor resembled Durst.[47]

Personal life[edit]

In 1973, Durst married Kathleen McCormack. He divorced her in 1990, eight years after her disappearance.[50] On December 11, 2000,[16] shortly before Susan Berman was murdered in Los Angeles, Durst married Debrah Lee Charatan.[51][52][53] According to The New York Times, the couple briefly shared a Fifth Avenue apartment in 1990 but "have never lived together as husband and wife."[41][51] Durst once told his sister that it was "a marriage of convenience".[16]

The media has variously reported Durst's financial status as "real estate baron",[54] "rich scion",[54] "millionaire",[24] "multimillionaire",[55] and "billionaire".[26] The Durst family's real estate holdings are worth more than $4 billion, but his brother Douglas was in control of the company beginning in 1994, shortly before their father's death.[54] From about 1994 to 2006, Robert Durst waged a legal campaign to gain greater control of the trust and family fortune. During that time he received $2 million a year from the family trust. In 2006 the case was settled, with Robert Durst giving up any interest in the Durst family properties and trusts in exchange for a one-time payment of about $65 million.[56] It is unknown how much of that went to legal fees and taxes.[54] Durst was still active in real estate; he reportedly sold two properties in 2014 for $21.15 million after purchasing them in 2011 for $8.65 million.[57] At the time of his 2015 arrest in New Orleans, the FBI estimated Durst's net worth at approximately $100 million.[33][37]

In the summer of 2002, Durst signed over a power of attorney to his wife, a real estate investor,[51] and it is believed their holdings remain closely intermingled.[58] In 2006, Durst gave Charatan around $20 million of his $65 million trust settlement.[41]

In 2011, Durst purchased a $1.75 million townhouse on Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem and his family confirmed that he was living there at least some of the time.[54][59][60] Durst also owns three condominiums in a multi-story complex in Houston.[17] At the time of Susan Berman's murder in Los Angeles, Durst owned a home in Trinidad, California.[61]

Durst traveled and lived under "dozens" of aliases over the years,[62] using different identities to buy cars, rent apartments, and open credit card accounts.[59] “He had a scanner, copier and a laminating machine,” a former office employee of Durst told Newsweek. “What I didn’t realize is that I unwittingly saw what would have allowed Robert Durst to make a fake driver’s license.”[62] Durst was also a "prolific" user of private mailboxes, and apparently conducted business under a number of canine-themed names: Woofing LLC, WoofWoof LLC, and Igor-Fayette Inc.[59]

In the early 1980s, Durst owned a series of seven Alaskan Malamutes named "Igor", which according to Durst's brother, Douglas, died under mysterious circumstances. In December 2014, prior to the airing of The Jinx, Douglas Durst told an interviewer for The New York Times, "In retrospect, I now believe he was practicing killing and disposing his wife with those dogs."[59][63] Durst was once recorded saying he wanted to "Igor" his brother Douglas.[64]

Other legal issues[edit]

In 2012 and 2013, his family members had restraining orders taken out against him, claiming they were afraid of him. Durst was charged with trespassing in New York for walking in front of townhouses owned by his brother Douglas and other family members. He went on trial and was acquitted in December 2014. The judge also vacated the thirteen orders of protection his family members had taken out on him.[65][66][67]

In July 2014, Durst was arrested after turning himself in to police following an incident at a Houston CVS drugstore in which he allegedly exposed himself without provocation and urinated on a rack of candy. He then left the store and casually walked down the street. Durst was charged with misdemeanor criminal mischief.[68][69] In December 2014, he pleaded "no contest" and was fined $500. His lawyer described the incident as an "unfortunate medical mishap".[70][71]

In popular culture[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Collins, Marion (November 18, 2002). Without a Trace. New York: McMillan. ISBN 0312985029. 
  2. ^ John Bacon and William M. Welch (March 17, 2015). "Prosecutors charge Durst with murder; death penalty possible". USA Today. Retrieved March 18, 2015. 
  3. ^ Wall Street Journal: "Taking the Helm to Change City Landscape" by Dana Rubinstein December 10, 2011
  4. ^ Jonathan Bandler (February 7, 2015). "Robert Durst admits lying about wife's disappearance on HBO". The Journal News. Retrieved March 15, 2015. Robert Durst addresses her 1950 suicide at the family's home in Scarsdale when he was 7. Durst claims his father, Seymour, walked him over to a hall window and showed him Bernice Durst standing on the roof. "I waved at Mommy. I don't know if she saw me," he said. "It never went through my mind that, 'What is she doing on the roof in her nightie?'" He didn't see her fall but said he heard the maid shouting, "'She's off the roof.'" "I never forgot it," he said. "It never left me." 
  5. ^ Charles V. Bagli and Kevin Flynn (October 21, 2001). "A Two-Decade Spiral Into Suspicion; Long After Wife Disappears, Heir Vanishes After Texas Murder". The New York Times. Retrieved March 15, 2015. In any event, Robert's childhood battles with Douglas prompted their father to send both boys to a counselor. 
  6. ^ a b Bagli, Charles V.; Flynn, Kevin (October 21, 2001). "A Two-Decade Spiral Into Suspicion; Long After Wife Disappears, Heir Vanishes After Texas Murder". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ Freeman, Sarah (January 28, 2011). "Alum's Deadly Decisions: The killer story that inspired the new movie, 'All Good Things'". The Brown and White (Lehigh University). 
  8. ^ Charles V. Bagli and Susan Saulny (December 2, 2001). "Millionaire Fugitive Has Been Caught, but Mysteries Remain". The New York Times. Retrieved March 15, 2015. He had spent four years at Lehigh University, graduating in 1965. 
  9. ^ Cartwright, Gary (February 2002). "Durst Case Scenarios". Texas Monthly. 
  10. ^ Bruno, Anthony. "All about millionaire murderer Robert Durst". truTV. Retrieved 2015-03-16. 
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  12. ^ Charles V. Bagli and Kevin Flynn (November 24, 2010). "That's Me on Screen, but I Still Didn't Do It". The New York Times. Retrieved March 15, 2015. 
  13. ^ a b c d Ned Zeman (February 2002). "The Fugitive Heir". Vanity Fair. Retrieved March 17, 2015. 
  14. ^ a b Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein (March 28, 2015). "Woman who inspired The Beatles' 'Dear Prudence' once dated Robert Durst". New York Post. Retrieved March 29, 2015. 
  15. ^ Hewitt, Bill (December 4, 2000). "Resuming the Search". People (magazine) 54 (24). Retrieved March 15, 2015. 
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  17. ^ a b "Search Warrant for Robert Durst's Houston Home". Los Angeles Times (link to online public document). March 18, 2015. Retrieved March 20, 2015. 
  18. ^ Rosenberg, Rebecca; Greene, Leonard (October 24, 2011). "Cross-dressing 'murderer' Robert Durst moves into Harlem townhouse". New York Post. 
  19. ^ a b Todt, Ron (December 1, 2001). "Fugitive heir Robert Durst arrested in Pennsylvania". Spartanburg Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, South Carolina). 
  20. ^ Bagli, Charles V. (January 26, 2002). "Durst Waives Extradition To Texas Trial In Murder". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-03-14. 
  21. ^ Springer, John. "Prosecution forces Durst to admit his many lies". truTV. Archived from the original on October 30, 2003. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  22. ^ Leung, Rebecca. "The Mystery of Robert Durst". CBS News. Retrieved 2014-12-14. 
  23. ^ a b c Pamela Chelin (March 17, 2015). "Judge who presided over Robert Durst acquittal in Texas murder: 'He's very dangerous'". Mashable. Retrieved March 20, 2015. It was said at the trial that Durst has Asperger's. Do you think he does? Susan Criss: I don't believe he has Asperger’s. I do believe there are people who do have it, but people were just starting to hear about that and there was not as much information then as now. They [the defense team] needed something to put a label on to him to explain his incredibly bizarre behavior, to explain what he does without making him responsible for what he does. They did a good job of it. 
  24. ^ a b John Springer. "Millionaire Durst acquitted of neighbor's murder". truTV. Archived from the original on April 3, 2005. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
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  30. ^ Meredith Blake (March 9, 2015). "D.A. reopening inquiry into death of 'The Jinx's' Susan Berman, report says". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 18, 2015. 
  31. ^ Janet McConnaughey and Brian Melley (March 17, 2015). "Durst's letter helped prosecutors bring murder charge". Associated Press. Retrieved March 17, 2015. 
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  41. ^ a b c Charles V. Bagli (March 20, 2015). "Robert Durst's Papers Are Seized From Hudson Valley Cellar". New York Times. Retrieved March 21, 2015. 
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  46. ^ Candase Chambers (March 20, 2014). "Family friend recalls missing Eureka teen". KRCR-TV. Retrieved March 24, 2015. 
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  50. ^ Charles V. Bagli and Kevin Flynn (December 22, 2001). "Heir Divorced His Missing Wife 11 Years Ago". The New York Times. Retrieved March 15, 2015. Robert A. Durst, heir to a real estate fortune, quietly divorced his long-missing wife in 1990 without the knowledge of her grieving family or friends. 
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  57. ^ Jennifer Gould Keil (July 14, 2014). "Cross-dressing killer now making a killing in NYC real estate". NY Post. Retrieved March 15, 2015. 
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  60. ^ Reilly, Richard Byrne (February 4, 2011). "Cross-Dressing Convict Robert Durst Returns to New York". New York. 
  61. ^ Jonathan Bandler (March 9, 2015). "Anonymous note suggests Durst link to pal's LA murder". The Journal News. Retrieved March 23, 2015. 
  62. ^ a b Polly Mosendz (March 20, 2015). "What it was like to work for Robert Durst". Newsweek. Retrieved March 23, 2015. 
  63. ^ Jim Dwyer (January 1, 2015). "Real Estate Chief Fears Troubled Sibling Has New Weapon: TV". New York Times. Retrieved March 23, 2015. “Before the disappearance of my sister-in-law, Bob had a series of Alaskan Malamutes, which is like a husky,” Douglas Durst said. "He had seven of them, and they all died, mysteriously, of different things, within six months of his owning them. All of them named Igor. We don’t know how they died, and what happened to their bodies. In retrospect, I now believe he was practicing killing and disposing his wife with those dogs." What led him to that conclusion, Douglas said, was that Robert turned the word "Igor" into a verb and inflected it with a menace: “When he was in jail in Pennsylvania, he was recorded saying, 'I want to Igor Douglas.'" 
  64. ^ Jim Dwyer (March 24, 2015). "For Durst Family, Arrest Brings a ‘Tremendous Sense of Relief’". The New York Times. Retrieved March 24, 2015. 
  65. ^ Charles V. Bagli (December 11, 2014). "Robert Durst, Troubled Scion of Real Estate Family, Is Acquitted of Trespassing". The New York Times. Retrieved March 15, 2015. 
  66. ^ "Judge Acquits Robert Durst In Trespassing Case". CBS New York. December 11, 2014. Retrieved March 15, 2015. 
  67. ^ Sebastien Malo (December 11, 2014). "New York real estate scion acquitted of trespassing on family property". Reuters. Retrieved March 15, 2015. 
  68. ^ Rice, Harvey (July 22, 2014). "Durst accused of urinating on candy at CVS". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2014-07-24. 
  69. ^ Diebel, Matthew (July 24, 2014). "Robert Durst: From riches to allegedly peeing on candy". USA Today. Retrieved 24 July 2014. 
  70. ^ Brian Rogers (December 16, 2014). "Durst pleads 'no contest' in CVS urination incident". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved March 15, 2015. 
  71. ^ "Robert Durst fined $500 after urinating on candy at CVS". KHOU. December 16, 2014. Retrieved March 15, 2015. 
  72. ^ Rubinstein, Dana (August 8, 2008). "Ryan Gosling Is Robert Durst". The New York Observer. Retrieved 2008-08-15. 
  73. ^ Jones, Leigh (August 22, 2008). "Movie based on Durst's wife's disappearance". The Galveston County Daily News. Retrieved 2008-08-25. 

Further reading[edit]