Robert Durst

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Robert Durst
Born
Robert Alan Durst

(1943-04-12) April 12, 1943 (age 78)
Other namesBobby Durst
EducationLehigh University (BA)
Criminal statusIncarcerated at Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, California[1]
Spouse(s)
Kathie McCormack
(m. 1973⁠–⁠1990)

Debrah Charatan
(m. 2000)
Parent(s)Seymour Durst
Bernice Herstein
RelativesDouglas Durst (brother)
Joseph Durst (grandfather)
Conviction(s)First degree murder, tampering with evidence, bail jumping, illegally possessing a firearm, misdemeanor criminal mischief.
Criminal penalty
  • Life imprisonment without parole (2021 conviction)[2]
  • Firearm charge 85 months (2016)
  • Tampering with evidence and bail jumping 60 months (2004).

Robert Alan Durst (born April 12, 1943) is an American convicted murderer, suspected serial killer, and real-estate heir.[3] He is the son of New York City real-estate magnate Seymour Durst and the elder brother of Douglas Durst, head of the Durst Organization. Robert Durst gained notoriety after the unsolved 1982 disappearance of his wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst; the 2000 murder of his long-time friend Susan Berman, for which he was convicted in September 2021; and the 2001 killing of his neighbor Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas, for which he was acquitted in 2003, albeit convicted of tampering with evidence for dismembering Black and dumping his body parts in Galveston Bay.

In October 2021, shortly after Durst's first degree conviction for the murder of Susan Berman, it was reported that the Westchester County, New York District Attorney's office would empanel a grand jury to consider charges against Durst in the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, although these claims were never confirmed by the District Attorney's Office.[4] Durst was sentenced to life imprisonment for Berman's murder.[2]

Early life[edit]

The eldest of four children, Robert Durst was born into a Jewish family on April 12, 1943,[5] and grew up in Scarsdale, New York.[6] He is the son of real-estate magnate Seymour Durst and his wife Bernice Herstein. His siblings are Douglas, Tommy, and Wendy Durst. Durst's paternal grandfather, Joseph Durst, who was a tailor when he emigrated from Austria-Hungary in 1902, eventually became a successful real-estate manager and developer, founding the Durst Organization in 1927.

When Robert was seven, his mother died as a result of a fall from the roof of the family's Scarsdale home; he later claimed that, moments before her death, his father walked him to a window from which he could see her standing on the roof. In a March 2015 New York Times interview, though, his brother Douglas denied that Robert had witnessed her death.[7][8] As children, Robert and Douglas underwent counseling for sibling rivalry;[9] a 1953 psychiatrist's report on 10-year-old Robert mentioned "personality decomposition and possibly even schizophrenia".[10]

Durst attended Scarsdale High School, where classmates described him as a loner.[9] 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 student newspaper, The Brown and White.[11][12] Durst enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) later that year, where he met Susan Berman, but eventually withdrew from the school and returned to New York in 1969.[9][13]

Durst had no interest in working for his father at the Durst Organization, instead preferring to open a small health-food store, All Good Things, in Vermont in the early 1970s. Durst closed All Good Things in 1973, when his father convinced him to return to New York and the Durst Organization.[14] Due to Robert Durst's inappropriate conduct, however, Seymour Durst broke tradition and appointed Durst's brother, Douglas, to take over the Durst Organization in 1992. Durst, who felt he was entitled to inherit the company despite his disdain for it, accused and blamed his brother Douglas for stealing what he believed he was owed, which caused a rift between Robert and the rest of the Durst family. Robert eventually sued for his share of the family fortune and was bought out of the family trust for US$65 million in 2006.[15]

Capital crimes for which Durst has been investigated[edit]

Police have directly questioned Durst, and sometimes conducted searches, in connection to the disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen "Kathie" McCormack, and the homicides of Susan Berman and Morris Black. He was tried and acquitted of murder in the Black case, but was convicted in the Berman case.

Disappearance of Kathleen McCormack Durst[edit]

In the fall of 1971, Durst met dental hygienist Kathleen McCormack. After two dates, he invited McCormack to share his home in Vermont, where he had opened a health-food store; she moved there in January 1972.[9] However, Durst's father pressured him to resettle in New York City to work in the Durst Organization.[16] The couple returned to Manhattan, where they married on April 12, 1973—Durst's 30th birthday.[9][17]

At the time of her disappearance, McCormack was a student in her fourth and final year at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in The Bronx, studying to be a pediatrician; she was only a few months short of earning her degree.[18][19] McCormack was last seen by someone other than Durst on the evening of January 31, 1982,[20][21] when she appeared unexpectedly at a dinner party thrown by her friend Gilberte Najamy in Newtown, Connecticut. Najamy noticed that McCormack was upset and was wearing red sweatpants, which Najamy found odd; McCormack had often dressed in much higher quality clothing. McCormack later left for her marital home in South Salem, New York, after a phone call from her husband.[22][19][20]

Although the couple argued and fought that evening,[17] Durst maintained that he put his wife on a commuter train to New York City at Katonah station, had a drink with a neighbor, and spoke to his wife at their Manhattan apartment by telephone later that evening.[23] Durst later admitted he just went home and went to bed. "That's what I told police," Durst later told documentary filmmakers of The Jinx. "I was hoping that would just make everything go away."[23]

After McCormack had left Najamy's house, the two were supposed to meet at a pub called The Lion's Gate in Manhattan. When she failed to appear, Najamy became concerned and repeatedly called the police for several days. Later that week, Durst filed a missing person's report, as well. Both a doorman and the building superintendent at the couple's apartment on Riverside Drive claimed to have seen McCormack there on February 1, the day after she was last indisputably seen, but the doorman also said that he had seen her only from behind and from half a block away and could not be certain that it was her.[22] A private investigator, hired by Durst's own criminal lawyer, later reported that the doorman said he had not seen McCormack arrive at all, and may not have been working the night she disappeared.[24][25] Only three weeks after Durst reported McCormack missing, the superintendent at the Riverside Drive apartment found her possessions in the building's trash compactor.[26][27]

McCormack had been treated at a Bronx hospital for facial bruises three weeks before her disappearance. She told a friend that Durst beat her, but did not press charges over the incident.[22] McCormack asked Durst for a $250,000 divorce settlement.[28] Instead, Durst cancelled his wife's credit card, removed her name from a joint bank account, and refused to pay her medical school tuition.[29] At the time McCormack disappeared, Durst had been dating Prudence Farrow for three years and was living in a separate apartment.[9][28][30] Durst initially offered $100,000 for his wife's return, then reduced the reward to $15,000. When one of McCormack's friends and her sister found out that she had been reported missing, they broke into her cottage, hoping to find her. Instead, they found the cottage ransacked, McCormack's mail left unopened, and her belongings in the trash.[19]

Investigation and aftermath[edit]

After McCormack's disappearance, the New York City Police Department said that Durst had claimed to have last spoken to her when she called him at the Riverside Drive apartment. He claimed that the last time he had seen her was at Katonah station,[31] where she was planning to board a 9:15 pm train to Manhattan. He also claimed that on February 4, the supervisor at McCormack's medical school called him and said that she had called in sick on February 1 and was absent from class for the entire week. If it was indeed McCormack who made the call is uncertain. The day after Durst received the call from McCormack's medical school, he reported her as missing. The police found his stories to be full of contradictions.

Eight years after McCormack disappeared, Durst divorced her, claiming spousal abandonment.[17][32] In 2016, the McCormack family asked to have Kathleen declared legally dead, a request that was granted the following year.[33][34] Kathleen's mother, Ann McCormack, attempted to sue Durst for $100 million, alleging that he killed McCormack and deprived them of the right to bury her.[35][36] McCormack's parents are now deceased.[37] Her younger sister, Mary McCormack Hughes, also believes that Durst murdered her.[38] The New York State Police quietly re-opened the criminal investigation into the disappearance in 1999, searching Durst's former South Salem residence for the first time.[17] The investigation became public in November 2000.[17][22][30]

In August 2019, a wrongful death lawsuit against Durst filed by another of McCormack's sisters, Carol Bamonte, was dismissed on the grounds that she had waited too long to file the suit.[39] Already in 2018, a U.S. Court of Appeals had revised the exact date of McCormack's death to match the day she actually disappeared in January 1982.[40] On May 17, 2021, during Durst's trial for the murder of Susan Berman, Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah announced that McCormack's disappearance had been reclassified as a murder and would be reinvestigated.[41] In October 2021, shortly after Durst's first degree conviction for the murder of Susan Berman, the Westchester County NY District Attorney’s office announced they would empanel a Grand Jury to explore charges against Durst in the disappearance of Durst's first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst. Officially charged October 22nd, 2021 in her death. [4]

Murder of Susan Berman[edit]

Susan Berman, a long-time friend of Durst's who had facilitated his public alibi after McCormack's disappearance, was the daughter of David Berman, a reputed gangster who in the late 1940s operated the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. On December 24, 2000, Berman was found murdered execution-style in her home in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles, California, after her neighbors called the police to report that her back door was open and her three fox terriers were loose.

A few days later, a letter addressed to the Beverly Hills Police Department, postmarked December 23, contained Berman's address and the word "cadaver". On the envelope "Beverly" was misspelled as "Beverley".[25] Durst is known to have been in northern California days before Berman was killed, and to have flown from San Francisco to New York the night before Berman's body was discovered.[17][42] Berman had recently received $50,000 from Durst in two payments.[22][43] Although Durst confirmed to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) that he had sent Berman $25,000, and faxed investigators a copy of her 1982 deposition regarding his missing wife, he declined to be further questioned about the murder.[44]

Durst stated in a 2005 deposition that Berman called him shortly before her death to say that the LAPD wanted to talk to her about McCormack's disappearance.[45] A study of case notes by The Guardian cast doubt on whether the LAPD had made such a call, or whether then-Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro had scheduled an interview with Berman at all.[43] On October 31, 2000, after being tipped off by his sister Wendy that the McCormack investigation had been reopened, Durst went into hiding and moved to Galveston, Texas, disguising himself as a mute woman to avoid police inquiries.[46][43] Berman biographer Cathy Scott has asserted that Durst killed her because she knew too much about his wife's disappearance.[47]

Killing and dismemberment of Morris Black[edit]

On October 9, 2001, Durst was arrested in Galveston shortly after body parts belonging to his elderly neighbor, Morris Black, were found floating in Galveston Bay. He was released on $250,000 bail, missed a court hearing on October 16, and a warrant was issued for his arrest on a charge of bail jumping.[48] On November 30, he was caught inside a Wegmans supermarket in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, after trying to shoplift Band-Aids, a newspaper, and a chicken-salad sandwich, though he had $500 cash in his pocket.[22][49] A police search of his rental car yielded $37,000 in cash, two guns, marijuana, Black's driver's license,[50] and directions to Gilberte Najamy's home in Connecticut.[22][51][52] Durst also used his time on the run to stalk his brother Douglas, visiting the driveway of his home in Katonah, New York, while armed.[52] Durst employed defense attorney John Waldron while he was held on charges in Pennsylvania. He was eventually extradited to Texas for trial.

2003 trial[edit]

In 2003, Durst was tried for the murder of Black. On the death of Black, the prosecution presented the jury with only a premeditated first degree murder and no lesser murder or manslaughter charges. He employed defense attorney Dick DeGuerin and claimed self-defense; DeGuerin conducted two mock trials in preparation for the case.[53] Durst's defense team had difficulty communicating with him, so they hired psychiatrist Dr. Milton Altschuler to find out why. Altschuler spent over 70 hours examining Durst and diagnosed him with Asperger syndrome, saying, "His whole life's history is so compatible with a diagnosis of Asperger's disorder." His defense team argued at trial that the diagnosis explained his behavior.[54]

Durst claimed Black, a cranky and confrontational loner, grabbed his .22 caliber target pistol from its hiding place and threatened him with it. During the struggle for the pistol, the pistol discharged, shooting Black in the face.[55][54] 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.[55] Black's head was never recovered, so prosecutors were unable to present sufficient forensic evidence to dispute Durst's account of the struggle.[53] As a result of lack of forensics, the jury acquitted Durst of murder on November 11, 2003.[56]

On December 21, 2004, Durst pleaded guilty to two counts of bail jumping and one count of evidence tampering (for his dismemberment of Black's body). As part of a plea bargain, he received a sentence of five years and was given credit for time served, requiring him to serve three years in prison.[57] Durst was paroled on July 15, 2005. The rules of his release required him to stay near his home; permission was required to travel.[58] 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 former Galveston trial judge Susan Criss, who had presided over his trial.[53] Due to this incident, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles determined that Durst had violated the terms of his parole and returned him to jail.[58] He was released again from custody on March 1, 2006.[59]

Asked in March 2015 whether she believed Durst murdered Black, 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."[53]

The Jinx TV 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 murder of Berman, who was believed to have knowledge of McCormack's disappearance.[60][61] The documentary detailed the disappearance of McCormack, Berman's subsequent death, and the killing of Black. Against the advice of his lawyers[62] and his wife, Debrah Lee Charatan, Durst gave a number of interviews and unrestricted access to his personal records to the filmmakers.[63][64][65] The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested Durst in New Orleans on the same day as the final episode was broadcast.

The documentary ends with Durst moving into a bathroom, where his microphone records him seemingly saying to himself: "There it is. You're caught! .... You're right, of course. But you can't imagine. ... Arrest him ... I don't know what's in the house ... Oh, I want this ... What a disaster ... He was right. I was wrong. And the burping ... I'm having difficulty with the question ... What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."[66][67] It was later learned in 2019 the filmmakers altered the sequence of Durst's comments, increasing the apparent severity of his musings in the bathroom.[68][69]

The Associated Press reported that a March 1999 letter from Durst to Berman, discovered by her stepson and turned over to the filmmakers during their research,[70] provided "key new evidence" leading to the filing of murder charges against Durst.[71]

Berman trial[edit]

2015 arrest[edit]

A few days after a first-degree murder warrant was signed by a Los Angeles judge in relation to the Berman killing, 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".[72][73] Durst, who had been tracked to the hotel after making two calls to check his voicemail,[74] was observed wandering aimlessly in the lobby and mumbling to himself, having driven to New Orleans from Houston four days before.[74][60][75][76]

In addition to a .38 caliber revolver loaded with four live rounds and one spent shell casing, police recovered five ounces of marijuana, Durst's birth certificate and passport, maps of Louisiana, Florida, and Cuba,[72][77] a "flesh-toned" latex mask,[74] the fake Texas ID card used to check into the hotel, a new cellphone, and cash totaling $42,631.[73][78][79][80] Police discovered a UPS tracking number, which led to an additional $117,000 cash and a pair of shoes in a package sent to Durst by a friend in New York,[45][81] which was seized after his arrest.[72][73] Bank statements found in one of Durst's Houston condominiums revealed cash withdrawals of $315,000 in little more than a month.[80] Durst is believed to have planned to flee to Cuba after the HBO documentary aired, since the U.S. and Cuba have no extradition treaty.[82]

On March 15, 2015, New York State Police investigator Joseph Becerra, long involved with the McCormack case[22] and said to have been working closely with the FBI and Los Angeles detectives,[83] removed some 60 file boxes of Durst's personal papers and effects from the home of Durst's friend, Susan T. Giordano, in Campbell Hall, New York. All of these items had been sent to Giordano for safekeeping three years prior by Durst's then-wife, Debrah Lee Charatan. Also stored at Giordano's residence were videotaped depositions of Durst, his brother Douglas; and Charatan, all of which were related to the Black case.[63]

Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, in charge of prosecuting Durst, immediately flew to New Orleans after Durst's arrest. With Durst's permission, Lewin interviewed him for three hours without a lawyer present. The recorded questioning was later introduced as evidence in the Berman murder trial. In regards to the investigation, Lewin claimed to have found information uncovered by the filmmakers in the HBO documentary The Jinx to be compelling, and repeatedly flew to New York to interview witnesses, including friends of Durst and Berman's.[84][85]

Firearm charge[edit]

On March 16, 2015, defense attorney Dick DeGuerin advised court authorities in New Orleans that his client waived extradition and would voluntarily return to California.[86] Later that 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, forestalling his immediate return to California.[87] Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro commented, in light of prior convictions that could influence Durst's sentencing, "[j]ust for those gun charges here in Louisiana, [Durst] could face up to life in prison".[80]

On March 23, Durst was denied bail by a Louisiana judge after prosecutors argued he was a flight risk.[72] In an effort to hasten his extradition to California and avoid a protracted Louisiana court battle,[88] 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.[89][90][91] While communicating with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and conducting an inventory of Durst's hotel room possessions, "[t]he FBI ... held him there, incommunicado, for almost eight hours".[89] According to DeGuerin, Durst was questioned extensively by a Los Angeles prosecutor and detective, without a lawyer present, on the morning after his arrest.[72][74]

In failing to produce the arresting officers subpoenaed for a probable cause hearing, Durst's attorneys charged that Louisiana prosecutors engaged in a "misguided attempt to conceal the facts from the court, the defendant, and the public".[88][92] Peter Mansfield, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, said that his office instructed the two FBI agents and arresting officer not to appear, arguing that DeGuerin's subpoenas were issued in an attempt to conduct "actions against them in their official capacities for the purpose of obtaining testimony, information and material maintained under color of their official duties".[93]

On April 8, a day after the U.S. Attorney filed an independent federal weapons charge,[94] Durst was formally indicted by a Louisiana grand jury for carrying a weapon with a controlled substance and for the illegal possession of a firearm by a felon.[93][95] Later that month, Durst's lawyers requested that more than $161,000 seized by authorities during their searches be returned, saying the cash "is not needed as evidence, is not contraband, and is not subject to forfeiture".[96]

After negotiations with Durst's defense team, Louisiana authorities ultimately dropped weapons charges against Durst on April 23, 2015.[97] Durst's trial on the federal weapons charge was scheduled for September 21, 2015.[98] DeGuerin confirmed rumors that Durst was in poor health, stating that he suffers from hydrocephalus and had a stent put into his skull two years before, as well as spinal surgery and a cancerous mass removed from his esophagus.[74][99]

Durst's attorneys requested a later date for the federal weapons-charge trial, saying they would need more time to prepare after rulings on pending motions. U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan later rescheduled the trial to January 11, 2016.[100] On November 16, 2015, a New Orleans federal judge ordered Durst rearraigned on the weapons charges and scheduled a hearing for December 17. When asked, Durst's attorney said only that Durst did not kill Berman, and that he wanted to resolve the other charges to expedite Durst's extradition to Los Angeles to face that charge.[101]

On December 16, 2015, prosecutors and defense attorneys told Berrigan in a joint motion that scheduling conflicts ruled out all dates before a January 11 trial date. Berrigan ultimately rescheduled the trial for February 3, 2016, and Durst changed his plea to guilty to the federal gun charge and received an 85-month prison sentence.[102][103]

Incarceration[edit]

Durst (BOP Number 45101-079) was originally placed in USP Terre Haute, but was later transferred to a Los Angeles County Jail awaiting trial.

2020 trial[edit]

Durst's trial in the Berman killing was scheduled to begin in Los Angeles after Durst was arraigned in California, but his transfer was delayed by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons due to "serious surgery", according to DeGuerin.[104]

A conditional hearing was convened in February 2017, where Nick Chavin, a close friend of Durst's and at whose wedding Durst served as best man, testified that he had personally confessed to having murdered Berman.[105][106] A preliminary hearing was initially scheduled for October 2017,[107] but was postponed to April 2018 to accommodate Durst's defense team, some of whom suffered damage to their homes and offices from Hurricane Harvey.[citation needed]

The pretrial hearings included extensive testimony from a number of older witnesses who potentially would not be available when the trial itself began. In October 2018, Los Angeles County Superior Judge Mark Windham ruled that enough evidence existed to try Durst for the murder of Berman, and that he would be arraigned November 8, 2018. During his court appearance the following day, Durst pleaded not guilty.[108] In January 2019, Windham set Durst's trial date as September 3, 2019.[109]

At the same time, Judge Windham ruled that prosecutors could present evidence involving the Black murder. Prosecutors would try to connect Berman's death with McCormack's disappearance, which they argued was the foundation for the motive for the murder. In his ruling that prosecutors could use evidence from the Texas case, Judge Windham said the killings of Black and Berman seemed "to be intertwined". The murder charge against Durst includes the special-circumstance allegations of lying in wait and killing a witness to a crime. Also an allegation was made that he used a handgun to carry out the murder.[110]

In May 2019, a motion filed by Durst's attorneys claimed two handwriting samples (the anonymous "cadaver note" from 2000 informing Beverly Hills police that a body could be found at Berman's house, and a letter in 1999 from Durst to Berman), along with other evidence from his 2015 arrests, were illegally obtained. Durst's lawyers also claimed there a Fourth Amendment violation would exclude the New Orleans evidence and the search of his hotel room was unlawful.[111] On May 8, 2019, Los Angeles County prosecutors filed an affidavit replying to the motion. Prosecutor John Lewin charged that Durst was creating an elaborate conspiracy theory between the producers of the HBO documentary, law enforcement officers, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office to make Durst "incriminate himself and to time his arrest to maximize media attention and ratings. However, Defendant completely fails to acknowledge the most relevant fact leading to his arrest and the subsequent search of his hotel room and damning interview—law enforcement was on notice that Defendant was actively preparing to flee the country right after crucial evidence connecting him to Susan's (Berman) murder was widely publicized on national television. When viewed in this context, it is readily apparent that the actions taken by law enforcement were more than reasonable—they were absolutely necessary to prevent a murderer, who had already avoided apprehension for more than 30 years, from fleeing the country and evading justice".[112][113]

On May 17, 2019, Windham granted Durst's defense team a four-month postponement of his murder trial. The delay was granted after defense lawyers raised concerns about the volume of evidence in the case and conflicts with attorney schedules.[114]

On September 3, 2019, Windham rejected an attempt by defense attorneys for Durst to strip the producers of The Jinx of protection under California's journalist shield law by having them declared "government agents". A number of other procedural rulings also went against Durst. Lewin set another hearing on discovery and other matters for October 28.[115] Additional evidential hearings were held in December 2019 regarding the admissibility of statements Durst made in March 2015 just after his arrest in New Orleans, at an interview with Lewin.[116]

In a surprise move on December 24, 2019, Durst's lawyers contradicted his previous statements and filed court documents admitting that Durst wrote the "cadaver note".[117] In all previous statements about the note, Durst consistently denied writing the note, although the handwriting appears to be similar to his own as is the misspelling of the word "Beverley" contained in a prior letter to Berman that Durst admitted to authoring. During the filming of The Jinx, Durst told the filmmakers that the person who wrote the "cadaver note" was taking a "big risk" because it was something "that only the killer could have written". He told his godson, Howard Altman, "The person who wrote the note killed her". However, in August 2019, Durst's attorneys also argued, "What the note demonstrates is that the person who mailed it was aware that there was a body at the house, not that the individual murdered Susan Berman".[118]

On March 2, 2020, Durst appeared in court to begin his trial, which was expected to take several months.[119] However, the proceedings were postponed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.[120] In June 2020, a motion by the defense for a mistrial because of the delay was denied.[121] In July 2020, Windham ruled that a further delay until April 2021 was necessary due to the pandemic, but he would allow the trial to proceed if Durst agreed to a bench trial, without a jury. Durst declined this option and the trial was scheduled to resume on April 12, 2021.[122] It was then postponed until May 17, 2021.[123]

On May 13, 2021, Durst's lawyers filed a motion with the court saying Durst had developed bladder cancer, and moved the court to postpone the trial indefinitely and to release him on bail to receive medical treatment that is currently not being provided.[124] The motion was denied by the court and trial resumed on May 17, with Windham questioning jurors about whether they could still remain neutral in the case after a fourteen-month break.[125][126] One of the jurors was dismissed for ignoring court instructions to not follow the trial in the news during the pandemic break. While discussing opening statement content, DeGuerin and Lewin engaged in a shouting match and were separated by defense attorney David Chesnoff, and were subsequently admonished by Judge Windham.

On June 10, 2021, Durst was hospitalized after being found "down and not in his wheelchair". Windham sent the jury home with plans to resume on June 14. Lewin expressed suspicion that the defendant was faking a medical crisis to force a mistrial because he was “on record” in his calls from county jail saying he intended to feign dementia or seek a mistrial due to COVID-19. "I have no idea whether this is legitimate or not, but obviously, given his history, it's certainly suspect as to what his actual condition is", Lewin said. Noting that Durst's lawyers had twice sought mistrials during the previous day's testimony, the prosecutor added, "It's very clear the defense and the defendant want this trial to go away".[127] Jail doctors determined Durst was able to appear in court after the emergency hospitalization, which was for a urinary tract infection and sepsis, and Judge Windham reconvened the trial on June 14. Durst was unable to dress himself and was in court in his wheelchair, jail uniform, with catheter bag and covered in a large blanket.[128]

As testimony continued, Durst's brother Douglas appeared as a prosecution witness on June 28, 2021. Saying he was reluctant to appear at the trial and was doing so under threat of subpoena, Douglas was asked about his relationship with his brother: "He'd like to murder me, I hired security today. I have fear that my brother has threatened to kill me, and I have fear that he may have the means to do so".[129]

On July 29, 2021, Durst's defense team asked again for an emergency halt to the case based on his poor medical condition, saying he was not able to testify on his own behalf, but was again rejected on August 2, with Judge Windham giving numerous examples of Durst's competency. The prosecution closed its case against Durst after 11 weeks of presenting evidence primarily consisting of friends and associates of Susan Berman's saying she told them she was the alibi for Durst when his wife Kathie disappeared, and that he had done something and she needed to do something and was going to. Perhaps most importantly, one of Durst's long-time friends, Nick Chavin, testified that Durst told him, "I had to. It was her or me. I had no choice."[130]

The defense opened up its case with extensive testimony of “false memory” expert Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, questioning the decades-ago recollections of prosecution witnesses. Although highly unusual for a murder case, Durst himself was expected to testify on his own behalf on August 5, 2021, but court was adjourned until August 9, 2021, due to a positive COVID-19 test of a relative of Durst's legal team who had been attending the trial.[131] Durst appeared on the stand for 14 days, under questioning from LA County Deputy DA John Lewin, who gave seemingly endless examples of Durst's propensity to lie. Lewin cornered Durst to the point he admitted lying while under oath in the Morris Black trial in Texas, and that he lied five times while on the stand in this trial. Durst and Loftus were the only witnesses the defense called. On September 14, 2021, the jury was charged with reaching a verdict by Judge Mark Windham.[132]

On September 17, 2021, the jury convicted Durst for the first degree murder of Susan Berman, thus facing the possibility of a life sentence. He was also found guilty of multiple special charges. Durst's lawyers said they were disappointed and would pursue "all avenues of appeal".[133]

On September 24, 2021, Durst's lawyers filed a motion with Judge Mark Windham to request a new trial. The reasoning was basically the same as they gave in Durst's trial defense: no physical evidence as presented, witnesses for the prosecution were not to be believed, and the entire prosecution case was nothing but an unproven theory. The court would rule on the motion on the same day scheduled for sentencing, October 14, 2021.[134]

On October 14, 2021, Durst was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for Berman's murder. The request of Durst for a new trial was denied by the court in view of the abundance of evidence ruling in favor of Durst's guilt for the crime.[2]

Other cases[edit]

Days after the Berman murder, police were reportedly examining connections between Durst and the disappearances of 18-year-old Lynne Schulze from Middlebury, Vermont,[135] and 16-year-old Karen Mitchell from Eureka, California.[136][137][138] Investigators are also looking into a possible connection between Durst and the disappearance of 18-year-old Kristen Modafferi, who was last seen in San Francisco in 1997.[139]

Schulze, a Middlebury College freshman, visited Durst's health-food store on December 10, 1971, the day she disappeared,[138] and was last seen that afternoon near a bus stop across from the store.[140] DeGuerin characterized the Schulze investigation as "opportunistic" and said he would not permit his client to be questioned by Vermont police.[141] Author and investigative journalist Matt Birkbeck reported in 2003, and again in his 2015 book A Deadly Secret, that credit card records placed Durst in Eureka on November 25, 1997, the day Mitchell vanished.[10][142][143] Mitchell may have volunteered in a homeless shelter that Durst frequented;[142] Durst, dressed in women's clothing, had visited the Eureka shoe store owned by Mitchell's aunt.[10][138][142][143] Mitchell was last seen walking to work from her aunt's store and possibly speaking to someone in a stopped car;[142][143] a witness sketch of Mitchell's presumed abductor resembles Durst.[138]

Although the FBI ultimately could not connect Durst to the Long Island serial murders (in which some victims were disposed of in a similar manner to the Black killing), the bureau created an informal task force in 2012 to work with investigative agencies in jurisdictions where Durst was known to have lived in past decades, including Vermont, New York, and California.[10][144] In the wake of his recent arrest, the FBI encouraged such localities to re-examine cold cases.[144] Texas private investigator Bobbi Bacha has also traced Durst operating under stolen identities in Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Virginia.[145]

Personal life[edit]

On December 11, 2000,[43] shortly before the Berman killing, Durst married Debrah Lee Charatan.[146][147][148] 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."[63][146] Durst once told his sister Wendy that it was "a marriage of convenience";[43][52] "I wanted Debbie to be able to receive my inheritance, and I intended to kill myself," Durst said in a 2005 deposition.[45] When arrested for the Morris Black killing in 2001, Charatan wired Durst the $250,000 bail the court required.[149] She also visited Durst in jail and spoke with him on the phone on a regular basis, discussing his legal strategy and other personal and business issues. Since the Black trial, Charatan reportedly has distanced herself from Durst and his affairs, legal and otherwise. In particular, Charatan specifically told Durst not to get involved with the HBO documentary, to which he disagreed at the time. Charatan's friends said that, after Durst's arrest in March 2015, she had not spoken with him since the documentary had begun airing in February.[150]

In spite of still being married to Durst, Charatan was reported to be living with Stephen I. Holm in 2015. Holm was a noted real-estate attorney in the NYC area, and public records show Holm handled transactions for both Durst and Charatan.[151] It was reported in Real Estate Weekly that Stephen I. Holm died on October 17, 2019, and Charatan was his wife.[152] After years of being referred to as Holm's wife in public, Charatan was called Holm's wife at his funeral, in his obituary on line, and in the obituary in The New York Times. Shortly after, Charatan sent the Times a letter saying she and Holm were not married and asked them to print a retraction.[153][154] Charatan and Holm were involved with a number of philanthropic ventures together.[155]

Shortly after Durst was convicted of murdering his friend Susan Berman in September 2021, a lawyer for the family of Kathie McCormack Durst sent New York District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. a letter claiming the marriage between Durst and Charatan was a sham solely to aid Durst's criminal acts of financial crimes and two murders, and to conceal those acts and frustrate investigation into same. The letter wants Vance's office to investigate these claims, and also the issue of Durst being a bigamist because of Charatan's publicly claimed marriage to Stephen I. Holm. The letter was the second time the McCormack family asked for the NY DA's office to look into these issues, the first time was in March 2020.[134]

Durst traveled and lived under dozens of aliases over the years,[156] using different identities to buy cars, rent apartments, and open credit-card accounts.[157] "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."[156] 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.[157]

In the early 1980s, Durst owned a series of seven Alaskan Malamutes, all of which were named Igor and all of which died in mysterious circumstances, according to his brother Douglas. In December 2014, prior to the airing of The Jinx, Douglas told The New York Times, "In retrospect, I now believe he was practicing killing and disposing [of] his wife with those dogs."[157][158] Durst was once recorded saying he wanted to "Igor" Douglas.[159] Durst, however, has disputed the assertion that he owned seven dogs named Igor; he owned three, he said, one that was run over and another that died in surgery after eating an apple core, "before the Igor that lasted forever."[29]

In late 1981, while Durst was still married to McCormack, he was nearing the end of an alleged three-year affair with Prudence Farrow, who was also married at the time. According to the New York Post, a few months before McCormack's disappearance in January 1982, Farrow called her and asked that she give Durst up, as friends said she wanted him all to herself. After Durst was acquitted of murdering Black in 2003, Farrow contacted law-enforcement authorities with concerns for her safety, as she said Durst was angry with her for terminating their relationship three days before McCormack disappeared.[160]

Durst has had a number of significant medical issues since 2015, including major surgeries for esophageal cancer, having a shunt installed in his brain for hydrocephalus, and cervical spinal fusion.[161] When arrested in New Orleans in 2015, he was found to be in possession of a variety of drugs, including the sleep aid melatonin, a muscle relaxant, and medications for high blood pressure, blood flow, and acid reflux.[162] Most recently, during the Susan Berman murder trial in May 2021, Durst's lawyers told the court he had bladder cancer.[163]

On October 16, 2021, Durst tested positive for COVID-19 and was placed on a ventilator. At his sentencing two days prior, his defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said Durst was in "very bad condition", having a hard time breathing and speaking. It is currently unknown as to how Durst contracted the virus and whether anyone else at the sentencing had been infected.[164][165]

Financial status and residences[edit]

In mid-2002, Durst signed over a power of attorney to Charatan,[146] and their holdings are thought to remain closely intermingled, although the current status of their relationship is unknown.[166] In 2006, Durst gave Charatan around $20 million of his $65 million trust settlement.[63]

In 2011, Durst purchased a $1.75 million townhouse on Lenox Avenue in Harlem. A source close to the Durst family confirmed that he was living there at least some of the time, and they were keeping him under surveillance.[157][167][168] Durst also owns three condominiums in a multistory complex in Houston,[44] and after filing suit, received a $200,000 settlement in 2006 from a Houston developer who refused to let him move into a unit newly purchased by his wife, which she had then immediately resold to Durst for $10.[169][170] At the time of Berman's murder in Los Angeles, Durst had just sold a home in Trinidad, California,[42][142] but maintained an office in Eureka while renting in nearby Big Lagoon.[171]

Media have variously reported Durst's financial status as "real-estate baron,"[167] "rich scion,"[167] "millionaire,"[56] "multimillionaire,"[172] and "billionaire."[58] As of 2021, the Durst family's real estate holdings are worth more than $8 billion, but Durst's brother Douglas has been in control of the Durst Organization since the early 1990s.[167] From about 1994 to 2006, Durst waged a legal campaign to gain greater control of the family trust and fortune. During that time, he received $2 million a year from the trust. In 2006, the case was settled, with Durst giving up any interest in his family's properties and trusts in exchange for a one-time payment of about $65 million.[173] How much of that went to legal fees and taxes is unknown.[167] Durst remained active in real estate; he reportedly sold two properties in 2014 for $21.15 million after purchasing them in 2011 for $8.65 million.[174] At the time of his 2015 arrest, the FBI estimated Durst's net worth at approximately $100 million;[73][78] The New York Times estimated his net worth at $110 million.[94]

On May 1, 2015, the New York Post reported that Douglas had settled litigation against Jinx filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, having confirmed that Robert was the source of videotaped depositions that appeared in the documentary. Robert's disclosure apparently violated the terms of his 2006 agreement with the Durst family, which had dispersed to him a lump sum of family trust assets. Although whether Jarecki confirmed Durst as his source was unclear—The New York Times reported in March 2015 that Jarecki was given "unrestricted access" to Durst's personal records, including the videotaped material—the settlement paves the way for Douglas to reclaim as much as $74 million of his brother's assets, effectively freezing those assets pending court judgment. This could affect Durst's ability to pay for high-caliber legal representation without tapping into real estate or other investments. The Post reported that Douglas was "mulling his next move", but as of 2021, no legal action has been taken.[175][176]

In November 2015, nearly 34 years after her disappearance, McCormack's three sisters and 101-year-old mother sued Durst for $100 million, citing his apparent role in her murder and his denial to her family of the "right to sepulcher", a New York law that grants immediate relatives access to a deceased person's body and the opportunity to determine appropriate burial.[177] If successful, the lawsuit could deprive Durst of most or all of his inherited fortune.[177] McCormack's brother James had attempted in October 2015 to file a wrongful death suit against Durst on behalf of his mother, but was challenged by one of his sisters, who holds her mother's power of attorney.[177] DeGuerin said, "there is no evidence that Robert Durst had anything to do with Kathleen's disappearance. Anybody can file a lawsuit, but eventually they'll have to come with evidence."[177] On December 7, 2015, the same family members filed a suit asking the court to freeze Durst's assets. The family's attorney, Robert Abrams, called Durst the "poster child" for why courts block defendants from disposing assets while civil lawsuits are pending.[178] In July 2016, the McCormack family asked the Surrogate's Court in Manhattan to "declare that Kathie died on January 31, 1982, when she was murdered by her husband, Robert Durst" so the sepulcher lawsuit could proceed.[179] The court granted the request and Kathleen was declared dead, in absentia in 2017.[34]

Other legal issues[edit]

In 2012 and 2013, Durst's family members sought and received restraining orders 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 13 orders of protection his family members had taken out on him.[180][181][182]

In July 2014, Durst was arrested after turning himself in to police following an incident at a Houston CVS drug store 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.[183][184] In December 2014, he pleaded "no contest" and was fined $500. His lawyer described the incident as an "unfortunate medical mishap," as Durst had just been released from a hospital where he had undergone two medical procedures.[185][186][187][failed verification] A recording of the incident was released on videotape in 2015.[why?][187][failed verification]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]