Post by Graveyardbride on Mar 15, 2015 23:14:30 GMT -5
The Life, Times and Crimes of Robert Durst
Robert A. Durst (above), the scion of a New York real estate family, was arraigned Sunday morning in New Orleans after being arrested on first-degree murder charges in a 15-year-old murder. For years, questions have swirled around Durst concerning the unsolved murder of a close friend in Los Angeles in 2000, his first wife’s disappearance in 1982, and the shooting and dismemberment of a Texas neighbor in 2001.
Durst is the subject of an HBO documentary series examining the unsolved murders of the friend, Susan Berman, and the ex-wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst. The sixth and final episode of the documentary, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, is scheduled to air Sunday night (March 15, 2015).
Chip B. Lewis, Durst’s attorney, said in a telephone interview that the arrest of his client on Saturday in the lobby of the JW Marriott Hotel in New Orleans, was on murder charges in the death of Ms. Berman. The Los Angeles district attorney recently reopened the investigation into Berman’s death, tying it to the case of Durst’s missing wife in New York. Durst was tried in 2003 for the murder of Morris Black, his neighbor in Texas, but a jury acquitted him even though he admitted dismembering Black’s body.
Berman’s death investigation was reopened after the producers of the documentary contacted the Los Angeles district attorney more than a year ago to discuss new evidence they had turned up in the course of working on the series. In Episode 5, Berman’s stepson, Sareb Kaufman, showed the producers a 1999 note from Durst to Berman, in which the lettering was similar to an anonymous note sent to the Beverly Hills Police Department alerting them to a “cadaver” at Berman’s home. The 55-year-old woman was found dead December 24, 2000, at her house in Benedict Canyon. Investigators said she had been shot execution-style and there were no signs of forced entry.
Durst, in a telephone interview last week following Episode 5, said he felt increasingly bitter toward the producers – Marc Smerling and Andrew Jarecki – as well as Kaufman. Durst claimed he did not have the “faintest idea” who killed Ms. Berman, nor did he know what happened to his first wife, who has been declared legally dead. Speaking in a gravelly monotone, he did say he felt “complicit” in the disintegration of their marriage and the violent episodes that accompanied it.
Durst married Kathleen “Kathie” McCormack, a dental hygienist, in 1973 and the couple relocated to Vermont, however, Durst’s father, Seymour Durst, pressured his son to return to New York City to work in the family real estate business. At the time of his wife’s disappearance, Durst was living at a separate residence. Mrs. Durst’s remains have never been found. Many believe Ms. Berman knew something about Kathie Durst’s disapperance.
On Sunday morning, in an appearance at the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, Durst was arraigned on a charge of first-degree murder. He appeared in an almost empty courtroom wearing an orange jumpsuit and accompanied by two lawyers. Four FBI agents were also present. Judge Juana Lombard ordered him held without bail and an extradition hearing was scheduled for Monday morning. Lewis said earlier on Sunday that Durst would waive extradition. “We’re waiving extradition so that we can get back to Los Angeles so that we can get back and fight the charges,” Lewis claimed.
The details of the warrant were not released Sunday. A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said the warrant was issued by the Los Angeles Police Department. Officials did not return calls or emails seeking comment.
Joseph Becerra, the New York State Police investigator who reopened the case concerning the disappearance of Kathleen Durst in 2000 said his office and the Westchester County district attorney’s office were monitoring the developments in the Berman case. “We’ll proceed from there,” he said, adding, “Ours is a separate investigation.”
Following his arrest, Durst was booked into the Orleans Parish jail just before 11 p.m., according to an online record of his arrest. Craig Betbeze, a spokesman for the FBI in New Orleans, confirmed the arrest, but would not comment further. News of the arrest surprised hotel guests, who told a reporter they had not seen it take place and had never heard of Durst. The 487-room Marriott sits on the busiest stretch of Canal Street, right across from the French Quarter, and is bustling with tourists day and night. The first floor includes restaurants, bars and a barber shop.
John Lewin, the lead prosecutor in Durst’s case, declined to comment on Sunday. Lewin, who was not involved in the earlier investigation, has a reputation for getting convictions in cold cases, some of them decades old and some in which the victims’ bodies were never found. Durst’s brother, Douglas, chairman of the Durst Organization, said in a statement that the family was “relieved and also grateful to everyone who assisted in the arrest of Robert Durst. We hope he will finally be held accountable for all he has done.”
The Life and Times of Robert Durst. Robert Alan Durst, born April 12, 1943, was the son of Seymour Durst, a prominent real estate investor and son of an Eastern-European Jewish immigrant. He was brought up in Scarsdale, New York, and at age 7, claims he watched as his mother jumped, or fell, to her death from the roof. Durst received a degree in business and economics at LeHigh University and was studying at the University of California, Los Angeles, when he met Susan Berman, also the grandchild of an Eastern-European Jewish immigrant. Her father, David “Davie” Berman, was one of Bugsy Siegal’s cronies and involved in the development of casinos in Las Vegas. In the ‘70s, Susan Berman relocated to New York to further her writing career and renewed her relationship with Durst. In 1981, her memoir, Easy Street, was published and she became known as the “Jewish Mafia Princess.”
In 1971, Durst met Kathie McCormack, who was a tenant in a building he owned, and the two married in 1973. For a time, they operated the All Good Things health food store in Middlebury, Vermont. When things began to sour between the Dursts, Kathie started taking courses at Western Connecticut State College and obtained a nursing degree. When she disappeared January 31, 1982, Mrs. Durst wasn’t living with her husband. Durst was dating Prudence Farrow – sister of Mia – and Kathie was living in a stone cottage on Lake Truesdale in South Salem, New York. She was attending Albert Einstein College of Medicine and was very close to obtaining her medical degree when she vanished.
Following his wife’s disappearance, Durst threw out all her belongings. He couldn’t seem to keep his stories straight when talking to police and was soon the prime suspect. Susan Berman remained his steadfast friend and stood by him through the ordeal. Mrs. Durst’s body was never located, there were no witnesses to a crime and the case soon faded from the headlines and was shelved by police.
In 1994, when Seymour Durst informed Robert that his second son, Douglas, would be his successor, Robert walked out of his office and severed ties with his family. He became something of a nomad, traveling around the country, smoking marijuana, disguising his appearance by wearing wigs and false moustaches and sometimes dressing as a woman. But during all this time, he remained in touch with Susan Berman and on several occasions, gave her large sums of cash. Then in 2000, a New York policeman reopened the Kathleen Durst case in which Durst was still the most viable suspect.
To avoid scrutiny in Berman’s death, Durst created the identity of deaf mute “Dorothy Ciner” and moved into a rooming house in Galveston, Texas. He also passed himself off as “Diane Winn” in New Orleans, another deaf mute. He made his female alter-egos deaf mutes so people wouldn’t question his male voice. In Galveston, Dorothy had a cantankerous neighbor, Morris Black, with whom she had confrontations and in September 2001, plastic bags containing Black’s body parts were discovered floating in Galveston Bay. Durst was arrested, but released on bail. When he missed his court appearance, he was listed as a fugitive. Shortly thereafter, a man was arrested in Pennsylvania for shoplifting – he stole a chicken salad sandwich, a newspaper and a Band-Aid – and the perpetrator turned out to be Durst. At the time of his arrest, he had more than $500 in his pocket and another $37,000 in cash in his vehicle.
Robert Durst was tried for the murder of Morris Black in 2003 and pled self-defense. Durst took the stand and on cross-examination, admitted using a paring knife, two saws and an axe to dismember Black’s body before dumping the remains in the bay. His attorney argued that his client suffered from Asperger’s syndrome, claiming this explained his bizarre behavior. The jury found Durst not guilty. Nevertheless, he was found guilty of bail-jumping, tampering with evidence and transporting a firearm across state lines while a fugitive from justice and sentenced to five years. With time-served subtracted from his sentence, he was paroled in 2005. After making an unauthorized visit to the rooming house where he had killed Black, he encountered the judge from the murder trial in a nearby mall and was ultimately sentenced to another year in jail for parole violation. He was released in March 2006.
On July 20, 2014, Durst picked up a prescription at a CVS pharmacy in Houston, then unzipped his fly and proceeded to urinate on the counter and a rack containing candy. Again, his lawyers blamed their client’s alleged Asperger’s and he was fined $500 and made restitution for the ruined candy. By this time, Durst knew about the HBO special and that the DA in Los Angeles had reopened Bermer’s murder case. More than likely, he was laying ground to prove he wasn’t responsible for his actions in the event of an indictment.
The Robert Durst cases have inspired two Law and Order episodes. The first, “Maledictus,” aired in 2002 as the 19th episode in Season 1 of Law and Order: Criminal Intent. The episode concerns the murder of a Russian mobster’s daughter, who was rumored to be writing another book, supposedly about the Russian mafia. However, it turns out the book was actually about the supposed suicide of a woman, who had two children, a son and daughter, and the son, Kenny Strik (David Thornton), is a transvestite and close friend of the murdered woman. The other Law and Order episode based on the Durst case was called “Hands Free” and aired during Season 14 in 2004. A man is dismembered by his deaf mute girlfriend, who turns out to be Eli Marsden (Henry Stram), member of a rich and influential family, disguising himself as a woman.
Sources: Ashley Southall and Charles V. Baglimarch with Joseph Goldstein, Katy Reckdahl and Campbell Robertson, The New York Times, March 15, 2015; A Gender Bias Who’s Who; Jane Lerner, The White Planes Journal News; The New York Post, and IMDb.