|Born||Susan Jane Berman
May 18, 1945
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
|Died||December 23, 2000
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Home of Peace Cemetery|
|Alma mater||University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, Berkeley
|Subject||Mob, Las Vegas|
|Notable works||Easy Street|
|Spouse||Mister Margulies (divorced)|
|Relatives||Davie Berman, father|
Susan Jane Berman (May 18, 1945 – December 24, 2000) was an American journalist, author, and the daughter of Davie "Davie the Jew" Berman, a Las Vegas mob figure. She wrote about her late-in-life realization of her father's role in that criminal empire.
Berman became a longtime friend and confidant of billionaire Robert Durst, who was suspected of foul play in the 1982 disappearance of his wife. She was found dead on Christmas Eve 2000 in her home in Benedict Canyon, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Fifteen years later, on March 14, 2015, Durst was arrested in New Orleans and charged with first-degree murder in connection with Berman's slaying.
Berman was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1945, the only child of the former Betty Ewald, a traveling dancer who had adopted the stage name Gladys Evans, and Davie Berman. Her father was born into a Jewish family in Odessa, Ukraine, during the Russian Empire, the son of a former rabbinical student. Berman moved with her parents to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1946. Berman always maintained that her father — a mob figure who replaced Bugsy Siegel at Las Vegas' Flamingo Hotel after Siegel's gangland murder — died under mysterious circumstances on an operating table when Berman was twelve, but all indications were that he died of a heart attack during surgery. She also believed uncertainty surrounded her mother's presumed suicide by overdose a year later.
Berman grew up in Las Vegas and, later, in Hollywood, California, where high school classmates included Jann Wenner and Liza Minnelli. She received a bachelor of arts degree in 1967 from UCLA, where she met Robert Durst. In 1969, she graduated with a master of arts in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley. At age 21, 25 and 30, Berman was paid a total of $4.3 million by the Mafia for her father's interests in casinos and other properties.
Berman was a novelist and author of two memoirs. Her first memoir, Easy Street, detailed her life as a mobster's daughter. While representing her in the 1970s, the William Morris Agency talked with several Hollywood producers interested in adapting the book into a screenplay. The movie rights were ultimately sold for $350,000, but no film project ever got off the ground. For a time, Berman attempted to finance a musical based on the Dreyfus affair, in which Durst declined to invest.
In San Francisco, Berman also wrote for various media, including The San Francisco Examiner, Francis Ford Coppola's City Magazine, the Westinghouse Evening Show on KPIX-TV and the People show on CBS. Berman was a contributing writer for New York, Cosmopolitan and Family Circle. She also wrote Driver, Give a Soldier a Lift! and Lady Las Vegas, accompanying the 1996 release of an A&E documentary, for which she was a co-writer and nominated for a Writers Guild of America award.
Berman lived just off the Sunset Strip on Alta Loma Road in West Hollywood for several years prior to her final residence in Benedict Canyon. Her manager Nyle Brenner later told the Los Angeles Times that "many details of Ms. Berman's personal life are unclear" and added "she had been married once in the 1980s, and later helped rear the two children of a boyfriend." She was married only once, to a Mr. Margulies, in June 1984 at the Hotel Bel-Air; Durst walked Berman down the aisle. Margulies died of a heroin overdose in 1986. Berman kept close ties to friends on Alta Loma Road, at the Las Vegas Strip and in New York City, including Durst.
On March 14, 2015, Durst was arrested in New Orleans on a first degree murder warrant issued out of Los Angeles. Although Durst's presumed victim was not immediately named by authorities, the Los Angeles Times first reported that he had been detained in connection to Berman's slaying. Three days after his arrest, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey said that if convicted, Durst could face the death penalty in California for "special circumstances of murder of a witness and lying in wait." Durst was transferred to and arraigned in California in early November 2016.
Various published accounts, including Murder of a Mafia Daughter by author Cathy Scott, have reported possible connections between Berman's murder and the 1982 disappearance of Durst's first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst. Berman became a confidante of Durst, an heir to a New York real estate fortune, at UCLA in the late 1960s, and came to know Kathleen after later moving to New York. In a review of Scott's book, True Crime Zine wrote that "detectives came to suspect one of [Berman's] long-time friends but have never been able to charge him with murder." Durst was also considered a prime suspect in his wife's disappearance, but was never charged in the case.
Berman initially acted as a media spokesperson for Durst, and is believed to have facilitated his public alibi. She supplied a deposition in the case in 1982, which Durst faxed to investigators after her murder.
Berman had remained Durst's friend and received two large cash gifts totaling $50,000 from him in the months before her death; Berman had last written to Durst on November 5, 2000, expressing hope that her financial entreaties would not ruin their friendship. Earlier in 2000, New York State Police, at the request of Jeanine Pirro, the district attorney at the time in New York's Westchester County, had re-opened an investigation into Kathleen's 1982 disappearance, and was urged by Kathleen's friends to contact Berman for an interview. Berman was killed weeks after the re-opened investigation was publicized.
Durst's March 2015 arrest warrant mentioned a previously undisclosed typewritten letter, mailed from New York on January 9, 2001 to a West Los Angeles police station, titled, "Possible motive for Susan Berman murder." The letter said Berman suspected Durst was involved in his wife's disappearance, and specified that Durst was planning to visit Berman in late December. Berman biographer Scott told the New York Post in February 2017, before witnesses were to testify against Durst in a pre-trial hearing, that the evidence points to his guilt in Berman's murder.
Berman was interred at Home of Peace Memorial Park in East Los Angeles, California.
- The Underground Guide to the College of Your Choice (Signet, 1971), ISBN 0451078373
- Easy Street: The True Story of a Mob Family (The Dial Press, 1981), ISBN 978-0385271851
- Lady Las Vegas: The Inside Story Behind America's Neon Oasis (TV Books, 1996), ISBN 978-1575000206
- Driver, Give a Soldier a Lift (Putnam, 1976), ISBN 978-0399117046
- Fly Away Home (Avon Books, 1996), ISBN 978-0380781799
- Spiderweb (Avon Books, 1997), ISBN 978-0380781805
In popular culture
In the 2010 film All Good Things, the character Deborah Lehrman, portrayed by Lily Rabe, is inspired by Susan Berman. The film depicts Lehrman being murdered by the character Malvern Bump, who is inspired by Morris Black. It is implied that Bump murders Lehrman on the orders of David Marks, inspired by Durst, in order to prevent her from revealing incriminating information about Marks.
- DePaulo, Lisa (March 12, 2001). "Who Killed the Gangster's Daughter?". New York Magazine. Archived from the original on July 17, 2006.
- Holly Yan and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN (16 March 2015). "Robert Durst of HBO's 'The Jinx' charged with murder - CNN.com". CNN.
- Richard Winton, Matt Hamilton and Shelby Grad (March 15, 2015). "Robert Durst arrested in slaying of L.A. writer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 15, 2015.
- Paul Walsh (March 18, 2015). "Robert Durst confidante Susan Berman was only child of Twin Cities mobster". Star Tribune. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
- "Las Vegas mob boss had ties to N.D". bismarcktribune.com.
- "Minnesota history: Recent arrest brings to life a Minneapolis mobster". startribune.com.
- Ned Zeman (February 2002). "The Fugitive Heir". Vanity Fair. Retrieved March 17, 2015.
- "Susan Berman". Online Nevada Encyclopedia. 2009-03-20. Retrieved 2012-12-14.
- Tom Hawley. "Video Vault - Murder of a Mafia Daughter, Part 1". mynews3.com.
- Carolyn Kellogg (March 17, 2015). "The literary life (and death) of Susan Berman, alleged Robert Durst victim". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 17, 2015.
- Kevin Fagan (March 16, 2015). "Durst case slaying victim had titillating Bay Area history". SFGate. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
- Susan Berman (November 14, 1977). "Bess Myerson Is One Tough Customer". New York Magazine. Retrieved March 18, 2015.
- "Mobster's Kin Killed: Writer was daughter of Bugsy's partner". 5 January 2001. Retrieved 2012-12-14.
- Charles V. Bagli, Vivian Yee (March 15, 2015). "On HBO's 'The Jinx,' Robert Durst Says He 'Killed Them All'". The New York Times. Retrieved March 15, 2015.
- "Mister Margulies". FindAGrave. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
- John Bacon and William M. Welch (March 17, 2015). "Prosecutors charge Durst with murder; death penalty possible". USA Today. Retrieved March 18, 2015.
- Book Probes New Evidence in Mob Daughter's Murder | Psychology Today
- Susan Berman book: Murder in Beverly Hills by Cathy Scott | True Crime Zine
- "Search Warrant for Robert Durst's Houston Home". Los Angeles Times (link to online public document). March 18, 2015. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
- Andrew Gumbel (March 29, 2015). "Did Robert Durst's nemesis ignore clues before following his trail to California?". The Guardian. Retrieved March 29, 2015.
- Andrew Blankstein and Hannah Rappleye (March 18, 2015). "Robert Durst Had Latex Mask, Fake ID and $42,000 Cash When Arrested". NBC News. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
- Johnson, Richard (7 February 2017). "Friend of Robert Durst's alleged victim is certain he'll be convicted".
- "Susan Berman". FindAGrave. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- This American Life episode 76: "Mob"; linked RealAudio file includes a reading by Berman from Easy Street.
- Homicide Special: A year with LAPD's Elite Detective Unit, Miles Corwin (2003) Chapter 14
- Scott, Cathy (February 2004). "Cold Case: Who Killed Susan Berman?". Las Vegas CityLife. Archived from the original on 2004-09-27.
- A Deadly Secret: The Strange Disappearance of Kathie Durst (2003) by Matt Birkbeck
- Murder of a Mafia Daughter: The Life and Tragic Death of Susan Berman (2002) by Cathy Scott
- Susan Berman at Find a Grave