The bizarre life, disappearances, and deaths surrounding millionaire Robert (Bob) Durst
// March 18th, 2015 // Unsolved
It’s not difficult to see that Robert (Bob) Durst is different. Born April 12, 1943 in New York City, the oldest of four children, he is the son of New York City real-estate moguls Seymour and Bernice Durst and brother of commercial developer Douglas Durst of the Durst Organization – and an heir to the enormous Durst skyscraper fortune. The first thing you will notice about Bob Durst is his coal black eyes which give him an unusual, otherworldly appearance. Throw in the occasional stutters, a habit of mumbling to himself, frequent squinting and blinking of his eyes, and intermittent references to himself as “we” and it becomes near impossible to see him as anything but different. His unusual physical and behavioral quirks are compounded by what Durst deems “bad luck”. Robert Durst has been implicated in the decades-old disappearance of an ex-wife, a suspect in the murder of his best friend, and convicted of murdering and dismembering his neighbor in Galveston – yet as of 2015, remained free to walk the streets of New York City.
Who is Robert Durst?
The Durst family’s fortunes exploded after Manhattan farm land owned by their grandfather was used to develop apartments, stores, and buildings in the area around Times Square. Today, the Durst Organization owns and manages several of New York City’s largest buildings including the new Freedom Tower in the new World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan. The family-owned business is considered one of the top five real-estate holders in Manhattan and the Durst family is one of the richest families in New York City. Although still enjoying his share of a huge family trust fund, Robert Durst, who admits he has trouble getting along with people, has little to do with his family – particularly his younger brother Douglas. Robert says that he and Douglas had a strong sibling rivalry since they were small children. When Douglas was appointed to run the family business in 1990, it created a rift between Robert and his family and he became estranged from them. However, Robert adds that his personal pain began long before his status as heir to the Durst thrown was taken from him.
The death of Robert’s mother Bernice Durst
According to Robert in an interview for HBO, on November 8, 1950 his father woke him in the middle of the night and called him to a window where he saw his mother perched on a roof across the way. Seymour Durst excitedly told his sons, “Come here, I want you to see mommy”.
Robert recalls seeing his mother wearing a “nightie” and standing near the ledge of the roof of their three-story mansion. At seven years old, Robert was unable to understand what was about to take place. He waved to his mother, thinking nothing of the precarious situation or why she would be on the roof in the middle of the night wearing nothing but a nightgown. He recalls a maid shouting, “She’s [jumped] off the roof!” as Bernice Durst fell to her death.
Despite appearing on top of their home wearing a nightgown in the middle of a cold, winter night, Bernice’s death was officially ruled an “accident”. Years later, reports from the New York Times disclosed family members had privately confirmed that Bernice’s death was indeed a suicide.
Claiming that the violent, untimely death of his mother set off a series of personal psychological problems, Robert remembers people at his mother’s funeral pointing at the casket, telling him “Mommy will be safe now, she’s right here.” Robert recalls that when they began to lower the coffin into the ground, he realized his mother was “in the box” and began clawing his way towards the coffin shouting, “Get Mommy out of the box! I don’t want mommy in the box!”
According to one of Durst’s closest friends, he was dramatically transformed after witnessing the violent death of his mother (“she cracked her head open like a walnut when she hit the driveway”).
Kathleen McCormack – Robert Durst meets, marries, and separates from his true love
When Robert turned 29, he met and moved in with his first true love, Kathleen McCormack, in January 1972. Together they ran a small health food store in Vermont, a venture that was none-to-pleasing to the “overbearing” patriarch of the Durst family, Seymour Durst. Kathleen, or Kathie as Robert referred to her, was a dental hygienist. Born on June 15, 1952, she stood a petite 5’ 5”, 120 lbs., with beautiful blonde hair and engaging brown eyes. Robert says she was outgoing and social which worked well for Durst who others saw as antisocial and difficult to get along with. According to Robert, it was at this time that his father insisted he return to New York City to help with the family business. A little more than a year later, in 1973, Robert and Kathie were married and settled in South Salem, a hamlet in Lewisboro, Westchester County, New York, one of the wealthiest counties in New York State (it’s also home to Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards).
Kathleen’s family recalls that Robert remained distant. Robert himself recalled how he was “forced to spend time with the average American family” which he says he was “just not interested in”. According to Durst, he could not engage in the conversations that the family found interesting. To his credit, he says if he were to see them today, he would apologize for the way he treated them.
Durst begins physically abusing Kathie
Friends and family noticed that “Bob” controlled Kathie, always insisting on knowing where she was and requiring his permission before visiting friends or attending dinners with her family. Robert says she finally grew tired of being bossed around and simply stopped caring about their relationship. The breaking point in the marriage may have been when Kathleen became pregnant and Robert insisted that she have an abortion. According to Robert, he had told her early in the marriage that he never wanted kids, admitting to her that he would never be a good father to their children. The incident created tension in the relationship and as a result, the couple separated, only seeing each other occasionally on weekends.
The mysterious disappearance of Kathleen McCormack Durst
29-year-old Kathleen McCormack Durst was last seen alive on January 31, 1982. She was supposed to meet a friend in the city but never showed up. The following day, Robert called family members asking if they knew where Kathie was. They of course, did not. When Durst reported her missing on Thursday February 4, 1982, five days after she was last seen alive, he claimed that the last he saw of Kathie was her boarding an evening train to the City.
A friend’s account of Kathie’s last movements
One of Kathie’s friends, Gilberte Najamy, was the last to speak to her (other than Robert). She says Kathie attended a party at her home that day and left hurriedly after receiving a phone call from who she believed was Robert Durst. Najamy told ABC News in 2001,
“The last conversation that I had with Kathie was a very powerful conversation and as she was leaving my house, she turned to me and said ‘Gilberte, promise me if something happens to me you’ll check it out. I’m afraid of what Bobby might do.’”
Najamy added that Kathy had told her that she was planning on leaving Durst but wanted to become a doctor and save up some money first. Given her intimate knowledge of the relationship, Najamy immediately became suspicious that something bad had happened to her friend.
Robert Durst’s account of Kathie’s last movements
According to Robert Durst and documented in 20th Precinct’s Case #1524 files, on the night of her disappearance he and Kathie had gone to a South Salem grocery store to get a newspaper. Kathie then drove her Mercedes to a party at a friend’s house. According to Robert, he did not wish to go to the party and did not want Kathie to attend either. Kathie returned to South Salem around 7:30 PM. Durst says she appeared to have been drinking but was not drunk. She told him that she wanted to “go to the city”. They argued and Bob refused to give her the keys to the car. He admits that they “pushed and shoved” during the argument before Kathie finally agreed to take a train into the city. They ate a sandwich together and left for the Katonah train station to catch the 21.15 train for Manhattan. Durst claims that the last time he saw Kathie, she was boarding the train bound for her apartment in New York City.
Durst says that he then returned home, noticed a neighbor that was still awake, and had a drink with him. He then went for a walk and called his wife at around 11:30 PM that evening. According to Robert, Kathie said she was fine and was hanging around the apartment watching TV.
Police fail to recognize cracks in Durst’s account
Although the story sounds convincing enough at first blush, problems soon arose with Durst’s version of the events. First, the neighbor claims that Bob never stopped by his house for a drink and that he never saw Bob at all that night. Years later, Durst admitted to reporters that he had made up the story explaining that he had told the police the tale so they would “just go away.” Stunningly, Robert also admits that he never called Kathie from the payphone either and that this was added to his tale as a means to “put her location in the city”. He told reporters:
“That’s what I told the police. I was hoping that would make everything go away.”
When asked what really happened, Durst says that after dropping Kathie off at the train station he simply went home and went to sleep.
Witnesses confirm Durst’s story
The police did not initially question Robert’s story because two other witnesses seemed to confirm what he had told them. A doorman at 37 Riverside Drive said he saw Kathie arrive about 11:30 PM that Sunday evening and head toward her apartment.
At the time, Kathie was a four-year medical student at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine. She planned on becoming a pediatrician and was only four months from graduation when she disappeared. A professor at the school told police that Kathleen had called him on February 1 to let him know that she was not feeling well and would not be attending class that day. It would be years later before the two critical confirmations of Kathie’s whereabouts would come into question in a most surprising and unusual twist.
No evidence of foul play?
According to missing persons report #KNMP08387, there was no evidence of foul play in her disappearance. Authorities knew Robert and Kathie Durst had been separated and in fact, Robert had already begun dating another woman, Prudence Farrow, when Kathie went missing. Detectives suspected Kathie may have voluntarily fled from an unhappy marriage.
Family and friends take matters into their own hands
Regardless of what detectives saw as an innocuous series of harmless events, Kathie’s diary notes that Robert was physically abusing her and that his abusive actions were beginning to escalate. Friends and family grew angry, feeling little was being done to find Kathie, and thus took it upon themselves to investigate her disappearance on their own. They rode NYC-bound trains and showed passengers pictures of the missing woman. They looked for Kathie at area hospitals and searched for tire tracks near lakes around the Dursts’ lakeside home. They even rummaged through Robert Durst’s garbage for any clue to where their friend may have gone. During the search through Durst’s trash, they noticed Robert had begun throwing out Kathie’s belongings as if he expected her never to return. They also found a heart-stopping handwritten “to do list” in Robert’s trash that read:
“Town dump, bridge, dig, boat, other | shovel or? car-trunk | rest.”
To them, it appeared to be a hastily written note on how to dispose of a body (with a check-mark next to “car trunk”).
New information from a snitch prompts reopening of the Kathleen Durst disappearance case
Nearly 20 years after the disappearance of Kathleen McCormack Durst, a man unrelated to the case was arrested in New York City for indecent exposure. After the man was convicted, his attorney contacted the police telling them that his client wished to feed them information on an old murder that had occurred in the Westchester town of South Salem. The snitch had heard that a woman named Kathie Durst had been murdered at her cottage in Westchester. The case was reopened and Robert Durst once again found himself under a magnifying glass.
Robert Durst and his mafia-connected best friend Susan Berman
As the case against Durst heated up once again, police received word that they should talk to a woman in Los Angeles named Susan Berman, a close personal friend of Robert’s. Robert and Susan were known to be best friends – they had both lost a parent as children and both were from rich and powerful families. However, Berman’s family fortune was not obtained via shrewd business endeavors. Her father, David Berman, was a Las Vegas mobster (he partnered with Bugsy Siegel at the Flamingo Hotel and was potentially involved with Siegel’s unsolved murder), something Berman did not learn until her teenage years when a friend pointed out her father’s name mentioned in a gangster book about the infamous crime syndicate, Murder Inc.
Berman became a notable author of a popular true-life crime book, Easy Street: The True Story of a Mob Family, describing her time as the daughter of an important crime boss in the famous Las Vegas crime syndicate. She was far from ashamed of her heritage and proudly displayed a framed picture of her mobster-linked father in her living room.
Suddenly the Manhattan doorman’s claim that he had seen Kathie at her apartment the night she disappeared was called into question. Could his testimony have been bought by the mob? Police pondered whether Berman could have impersonated Kathie during the phone call to her professor the day she vanished. If both critical confirmations of Kathie’s movements before her disappearance were called into question, it was quite possible that Kathie had never even left South Salem.
As a result of this new knowledge, police returned to the South Salem cottage and searched the home finding, for the first time, a secret area in the back of a closet that the current owners had not even known existed. But for a few cobwebs, the hidden storage space was now empty.
Detectives examined phone records and discovered a series of collect calls made to the headquarters of the Durst Organization during the days surrounding Kathleen’s disappearance. The calls were unusual because only Seymour and Robert Durst were ever known to place collect calls to the family business headquarters. They traced the calls to a payphone in a laundromat in Ship Bottom, New Jersey and noted that the piney woods around Ship Bottom has famously (and frequently) been used by NYC mob bosses to dispose of victim’s bodies.
Adding further fuel to the fire, the current resident of the Dursts’ South Salem cottage came forward recalling a time last year when she found Robert Durst standing on the dock behind the home at Lake Truesdale, seemingly lost in thought. She pointed out that the day in question was exactly 19 years after Kathleen had disappeared.
Kathleen’s body has never been found.
Convinced that Susan Berman possessed knowledge crucial to the case, or had possibly used her organized crime connections to influence the Manhattan doorman’s testimony (and maybe even impersonated Kathie during the call to report her absence from school), detectives made plans to visit the 49-year-old woman in Los Angeles for questioning. Susan Berman lived in a modest home at 1527 Benedict Canyon Dr. in Los Angeles, California. Her stepchildren noted that on the night of Christmas Eve, December 24, 2000, Susan did not arrive at a Christmas dinner they had carefully planned. This was highly unusual, Susan was always punctual and would never miss an appointment without calling.
Susan Berman murdered, execution-style
Police were responding to a call of an open door at a residence on Benedict Canyon Drive when they found Susan’s body on the floor of her bedroom in the southwest corner of the home. She had a single bullet wound to the back of her head – the traditional means of mob executions – and had been dead less than 24 hours. Westchester authorities were stunned to learn that their crucial “witness” to the events had been murdered just days before they were to arrive to question her.
There was no evidence of forced entry so police concluded that she knew her attacker. At the time of her death, Berman was working on a book about the Las Vegas mob. She had told friends that although she did not quite have all the answers yet (but knew where to get them), the book was “going to blow the doors off” of something big. Detectives surmised the murder was a professional mob hit.
“Her death was kind of out of the blue and kind of odd, but you figured the way she stuck her nose into things and with her mob background, it really wasn’t that surprising.”
The following day however, their initial assessment was snatched from under them.
On December 23, 2000, the day before detectives found Susan’s body in her home, the Beverly Hills Police Department received a letter with the misspelled address, “Beverley Hills Police” written in capitalized block letters. Inside the envelope was a single-page handwritten note that read, “1527 Benedict Canyon – Cadaver”.
Realizing that whoever sent the letter cared enough about Susan Berman to risk notifying police that she had been killed, they concluded a mafia-sponsored hit was unlikely.
Investigators examined her computer and found that she was having money problems and was months behind on her rent. On her computer they also found a list of names of people who had given Berman money (whether by loan, gift, or bribe is not known). Amongst the names was Robert Durst with $50,000 penned next to his name.
Police knew enough about Berman to know that she could be manipulative, especially if she were desperate or in dire straits. Had she attempted to bribe someone on her list? Given his status and means, Durst’s name obviously drew their interest.
Authorities attempted to compare Durst’s handwriting samples to the handwriting on the Beverly Hills “Cadaver Letter”. Although they felt the handwriting was close, they could not conclusively tie the handwriting on the note to Durst. Regardless, they discovered that Durst had been in the state of California during the time of his best friend’s death.
Did Robert Durst kill Susan Berman?
Authorities learned that Berman had told friends that Robert was going to meet with her sometime around the holidays. Flight records showed that Robert Durst had indeed flown from New York to San Francisco on December 19, 2000, only a few days before Berman’s death. It was determined that he had stayed in in Trinidad (300 miles north of San Francisco) where he owned a home.
LA detectives noted that two unusual calls appeared on Berman’s phone records. Both were made from a payphone in Garberville, just 80 miles south of Trinidad, on December 20. Both calls were made using an anonymous calling card. Despite being unable to tie the phone calls to Durst’s cellphone records, they noted that even though Durst routinely checked his cellphone for messages, during the five days he was in California, he had not used his phone once. Phone company officials told them it appeared as if his phone had been turned off.
Despite the fact that Durst was in the area at the time of Berman’s death, police could find no proof that he had been in Los Angeles the day Berman died. On December 24, 2000, the day Susan Berman’s body was found, Durst boarded Flight 18 at 10:00 PM, flying from San Francisco back to his New York home.
The months following the death of Susan Berman created yet more scrutiny over the enigmatic millionaire. In 2001 Robert Durst moved into a dilapidated $300-a-month apartment in Galveston, Texas. Seeking anonymity, he donned a wig and women’s clothes, posing as an elderly mute woman to avoid recognition.
Police find body parts in Galveston Bay
On September 30, 2001, mere months after Durst arrived in town, a group of kids found what they thought was a human torso along the shore of Galveston Bay next to a rock pier that jutted into the water at the end of Channelview Drive. Further investigation of the secluded area revealed several black plastic bags containing various human body parts. Every section of a complete male body was recovered – except for a head.
Police identify the victim as Morris Black
Inside one of the bags was an old newspaper with a recipient address on it – 2213 Avenue K – and there police found a trail of blood leading from the street to the entryway of a small apartment complex. The tenant of 2213 Avenue K was an elderly man, Morris Black, a grumpy loner-type who lived by himself in Apartment 1.
Blood in the hallway lead to Apartment 2 where a tenant named Dorothy Ciner lived. Described as “a real ugly deaf mute woman”, the landlord told police that she travelled a lot and kept to herself. He noted that she had paid the entire year’s rent in advance – and in cash.
Who was Dorothy Ciner?
Investigators wondered why an elderly woman who could afford monthly vacation trips would choose to live in a shabby $300-a-month apartment. They learned from neighbors that occasionally a “brother” would visit the apartment. Only ever seen from a distance, nobody could recall ever actually talking to the man. Police wondered if “Dorothy” could really be a man posing as a woman. “Dorothy” was presently out of town on a trip so police obtained a search warrant granting them legal authority to search the apartment.
Once inside Apartment 2, investigators found drop cloths covering the floors of the home. They pulled back the drop cloths to find many suspicious cuts and gashes in the linoleum flooring. Underneath the flooring they found dried blood which they later matched to Morris Black (fingerprints from the recovered human hands later confirmed that the body found in Galveston bay was indeed Black).
Additional evidence was collected from the garbage bins in the apartment’s backyard and there police found a curious receipt from a hardware store two blocks over. They noted that among the items purchased were drop cloths and a bow saw. Police also found an appointment receipt for eyeglasses that had been prescribed to a “Robert Durst”.
The capture of Robert Durst
Police contacted the optometrist and found that “Robert Durst” had not picked up his glasses. They requested to be contacted if by some chance he ever showed up. Unexpectedly, he did – only a few days later. Police arrived on the scene just as Durst was driving away from the doctor’s office. He was pulled over and detained. In the backseat of the car they noticed an out-of-place bow saw.
Robert Durst was formally arrested on October 9, 2001 and charged with homicide in the death of Morris Black. The booking officers informed Durst that his bond was set at $250,000. In a peculiar exchange, Durst asked the officer, “What do I do?” to which the detective jokingly responded, “Well, I don’t know. Do you have $250,000?” To the officer’s surprise, Durst said, “Not on me!”
The following morning, Durst was bailed out of jail by his wife, Debrah Lee Charatan. Shortly thereafter, police found that the alias “Dorothy Ciner” was a high school classmate of Robert Durst, appearing next to him in the high school annual.
Nationwide manhunt for Robert Durst
On October 16, 2001, Durst skipped his arraignment hearing becoming the first billion-dollar fugitive in U.S. history. Durst family members hired personal bodyguards while Robert’s wife, Debrah, suggested the family’s fearful actions were a publicity ploy intended to destroy Robert’s integrity and plant doubt in the public’s mind. Meanwhile, a nationwide manhunt was initiated while Robert traversed the country leaving a trail of false identities where he rented cars and motel rooms using various fake IDs. Durst would later tell reporters that he never intended to appear in court and that all along he intended to flee. “Goodbye $250,00! Goodbye jail!”, he said with a casual chuckle.
After a month and a half on the run, Durst was captured on November 30, 2001 at a Wegmans Supermarket in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania when he was caught trying to steal a chicken sandwich. He had $500 in his pocket (and nearly $40,000 in cash in his car) and was found with his head and eyebrows shaved in a ridiculous attempt to disguise himself (Bob later said, “It worked great… you look weird without eyebrows.”). Inside his car police found two loaded guns and a driver’s license belonging to his dead next door neighbor, Morris Black. Police were certain there was more than enough evidence to convict him.
That same month, Kathleen Durst, who was still missing, was declared legally dead and police began treating her disappearance as a homicide. Lucian Chalfen, spokesman for the Westchester DA told reporters:
“It remains an open case, as does every unsolved homicide.”
The Morris Black trial
In 2003, Robert Durst’s trial for the murder of Morris Black began. Representing him were Houston-based Dick DeGuerin (who Robert was quite fond of) and Mike Ramsey (who his wife preferred to represent him) of Beaumont, Texas. “Am I supposed to be smiling or am I supposed to be grim?” Durst asked.
Durst admitted that he had fled to Galveston after hearing Westchester DA Jeanine Pirro had begun an organized campaign against him. He explained that he purchased a wig from a beauty supply along with women’s clothing and accessories from a local Wal Mart. He added that he decided to become a “mute woman” to disguise his gravelly voice.
Durst explained how he and Morris Black became friends, close enough that Durst stopped wearing his “mute woman” disguise in front of him. Durst claimed that they often drank coffee together and occasionally ate together at restaurants (a self-preserving claim that could not be collaborated by anyone else).
Durst says that one day Black showed him an eviction notice he had received from the landlord. Durst claims that he went to the bathroom and heard a gunshot erupt from the living room (both Durst and Black were avid gun owners and often carried their guns with them). He ran back into the room to find Black holding a pistol in his hand. Durst commanded Black put down the gun. Black explained that he shot the gun at the eviction notice out of anger. Durst told the jury that he demanded Black leave his home with instructions to never come back.
According to Durst, on September 30, 2001, he came home to find Black sitting in his house at his table, a gun laying on the nearby table. “I was concerned that Morris was going to shoot the gun, most likely at my face,” Durst testified, according to a court transcript.
Durst claims that Black grabbed the gun and they began to struggle for it. According to Durst, Black fell and the gun went off, striking him in the face and killing him. Durst later said he believed that Black, knowing Durst’s true identity, was going to demand money from him. Police on the other hand, believe Black had threatened to go to the police and tell them who “Dorothy Cine” really was.
The defense countered Durst’s self-defense claim noting that neighbors stated they had heard two gunshots. A bullet hole was found in the wall but Durst swears it came from the earlier incident when Black shot at the eviction notice. Police believe Durst shot at Black once and missed and that Black was killed with a second gunshot to the head (this of course, could never be confirmed since Black’s head has never been found).
Durst went on to explain how he had used a paring knife, two saws, and an axe to dismember Black’s body before dumping it in the bay. He told jurors that given his previous troubles, despite being an act of self-defense, he knew he had to get rid of the body. He noted that Black’s body was too heavy for him to carry out of the home so he decided to cut it up using (primarily) the axe with occasional use of the bow saw and another saw that Black had owned. Durst says he placed the torso in a “Wal Mart suitcase” and other bodyparts in black trash bags that he threw in the Bay near Channelview Drive. He explained that the next day he returned to the site and to his surprise, found the bags floating in the water. According to Durst, he panicked.
Police note that one bag found on the scene had been cut open with a sharp instrument. The bag was empty. They believe that bag had contained Black’s head and that Durst returned to the scene to retrieve the head to dispose of at another location.
When the case closed, the jury stunned the courtroom when, in an OJ Simpson-like scene, they rendered a verdict of not guilty. They later explained that they believed Robert Durst’s self-defense claim despite the ghastly dismemberment of Morris Black’s body.
When the judge announced the verdict, Durst turned to his lawyer, stunned, and asked, “Did they say *not* guilty?” The attorney confirmed that indeed he was free and again Durst asked his attorney, “Are you sure?” The jury later explained that the judge had required they discount what they knew about Durst’s dismemberment of the body and focus solely on the act of murder itself.
Despite being acquitted of murder, Durst plead guilty to two counts of bond jumping and one count of evidence tampering. He received a five-year sentence with credit given for time served resulting in a three year sentence behind bars. He was paroled after only one year.
In typical Durst fashion, Robert continued to dance outside the boundaries of the law. The conditions of his parole required that he stay near his home and obtain permission for any required travel. In December 2005, Durst travelled to visit the boarding house where he had killed Morris Black. Afterward, he went to a nearby shopping mall where he ran into the presiding judge from his murder trial, Susan Cross. His movements were considered a violation of his parole and he was returned to jail. Robert Durst was released from prison on March 1, 2006, after spending less than three months behind bars.
All Good Things – the movie
A movie based on his life, All Good Things, was released in 2010. Directed by Andrew Jarecki, it starred Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. According to movie producers, the Durst family refused to talk with them about the cases against Robert. However, after watching the movie, Robert Durst himself called the movie producers suggesting a personal interview might be beneficial to both parties. His lawyers warned him that one slip of the tongue could introduce new evidence and cause any of his prior cases to be reopened. Durst didn’t care. He allowed himself to be interviewed.
After the release of All Good Things, interest in the Durst cases gained steam once again. In 2011, a joint probe by the FBI, LAPD, New York State Police, NYTD, and Westchester County (NY) was started. It was at this time that Robert Durst again agreed to be interviewed for an HBO documentary about his colorful life. Durst was interviewed twice during the making of the documentary which was to be titled The Jinx.
Family restraining orders
During 2012 and 2013, after the release of All Good Things, Durst family members took out restraining orders against Robert Durst claiming they were fearful of him. After his first HBO interview, during a period when the producers were attempting to convince Durst to do a second interview, filmmakers received word that Durst was once again behind bars, this time for violation of a restraining order. It was learned that Robert had been arrested for walking up the steps of a townhouse that was owned by his brother Douglas (his actions were captured on security cameras). Durst again went on trial and again he was acquitted. In addition to being cut loose, the judge vacated 13 orders of protection that the Durst family had taken out on him.
Durst urinates on candy rack
Apparently no longer content to lay low, the 71-year-old Durst was arrested in July 2014 in Houston for allegedly exposing himself and urinating on a rack of candy inside a CVS store. Witnesses say that after the incident, Robert left the store and walked casually down the street. He was charged with misdemeanor criminal mischief and released on $5,000 bond. He plead “no contest” and was fined $500.
Once again the beginning of the end seemed to arrive for Robert Durst during the filming of the HBO documentary, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. The trail of unsolved disappearances and murders that seemed to follow Robert Durst prompted interest in the documentary. Filmmakers Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling took on the project producing “a six-part examination of the reclusive millionaire at the heart of three killings spanning four decades”.
The Jinx aired between February 2015 and March 2015 in six parts. Filmmakers spent nearly 10 years researching Mr. Durst’s story (including research for the movie, All Good Things) and after persistent effort, convinced Durst to participate in two separate interviews. The information they gleaned, and the statements that slipped from Durst’s lips during the making of the documentary, would serve to reopen one of the cases against Durst.
The Ed Wright report
One piece of evidence uncovered by The Jinx filmmakers was the Ed Wright Report. When Kathie Durst disappeared, the Durst family took the “classic lawyering up” approach, hiring a criminal attorney and private investigator before suspicion was ever directed towards Robert. The Durst’s private investigator, Edward (Ed) Wright, researched the case and produced a confidential report for the family’s eyes only. HBO filmmakers obtained a copy of Ed Wright’s confidential report. The report listed discrepancies in Durst’s statements both to police and to his own attorneys. Most importantly, the report noted that the Manhattan doorman who claimed to have seen Kathie the night she disappeared, told Durst’s private investigators that he did *not* see Kathie at all that night. Thus, one of the two people who confirmed Kathie made it to the city the night she disappeared had been struck down.
That members of the Durst family almost certainly sat in on these private investigative meetings left them in an odd position – they could be considered complicit in knowing about Durst’s involvement in the disappearance Kathie Durst. In addition, it was only after Kathleen’s disappearance, that the heir-apparent was replaced by his younger brother as the future leader of the Durst Organization giving the impression that they may have known more about the situation than they let on. The HBO documentary took a hard stance against the Durst family, particularly Douglas Durst, and seemed to portray them as secretive and uncooperative. In fact, Douglas Durst came forward in January 2015 lambasting the documentary. Further distancing his company from Robert Durst, he told filmmakers:
“Your docudrama relies on Robert’s self-serving, revisionist, and fictitious account of the past. This makes you an enabler of a sick and dangerous man and helps him in his attempts to re-write history and blame others for his misdeeds.”
The Susan Berman letter
Susan Berman’s stepson, Sareb Kaufman, agreed to work the show’s Director, Andrew Jarecki, during the filming of The Jinx. Kaufman had been close with his stepmom even choosing to leave his birth father to live with her after they separated. He knew Robert Durst for most of his life and always thought of him as a kind, intelligent (albeit “unusual”) man.
As Kaufman was rummaging through some of Susan’s items he ran across a letter that Susan had received from Robert Durst many years earlier (1995). Closer examination of the letter’s envelope produced a stunning revelation. There, on the face of the envelope, were the words “Beverley Hills” written in the same distinctive block lettering as the infamous cadaver letter. The writing was identical down to the misspelling of Beverly Hills as “Beverley”. He told the filmmakers that it was then that Kaufman realized “he may be dancing with the devil”.
Jarecki and Smerling struggled with whether to bring the letter to law enforcement authorities. If they did so too soon, their lawyers told them, they could be considered “law enforcement agents” in the event of a prosecution, possibly jeopardizing the material’s admissibility in court. In addition, they wanted to preserve a journalistic privilege not to disclose sources or testify in court. Still, Mr. Smerling said in an interview:
“We had a moral obligation and an obligation to the families of the dead to see that justice was done.”
Jarecki and Smerling began speaking to Los Angeles investigators in early 2013.
Robert Durst wrings his own neck – the “open mic” goof
With all the twist and turns in Durst’s life, you would figure his luck was bound to turn. Instead, the LAPD stumbled across a pot of gold when Durst made a series of very interesting comments which were captured through the open microphone that he failed to realize was still recording him mumbling to himself.
The second HBO interview had concluded with the filmmakers confronting Durst over the similarities between the cadaver letter and the letter he sent to Susan Berman in 1995. Durst admitted that he had sent the personal letter to Susan and that the address on the envelope was written by his hand. He also admitted that he recognized the similarities between his handwriting and the handwriting on the cadaver letter. He declined however, to admit that he had written the cadaver letter (which ten years earlier, had notified authorities there was a dead body at 1527 Benedict Canyon Drive). The interview concluded with a visibly uncomfortable Durst squirming in his seat.
The filmmakers turned off the lights and began packing up their equipment when Durst asked if he could use the restroom. A microphone Durst was wearing remained live while he went to the bathroom (admittedly, a well-known journalistic trick – and even more suspicious after the filmmakers say two years elapsed before they stumbled upon Durst’s private comments at the end of the tape). While in the bathroom, Durst was recorded whispering 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. [a reference to his frequent burping during the interview]”
Then as if fate stepped in to deliver the final blow, Robert Dursts mutters this astounding confession:
“I’m having difficulty with the question. What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”
That Durst allowed the hot mic to capture his private comments is even more confounding given he had already been caught whispering repeatedly to himself on a “hot mic” during a break in the first HBO interview. After camera crew left for a break, he could be heard repeating to himself.
“I did not intentionally lie. I did not intentionally lie. I did not intentionally lie.”
In that instance, Durst’s lawyer quickly stepped in and informed him that everything he was saying was being picked up, and recorded, through the open mic he was wearing. Durst brushed it off saying he was only trying to find the right voice.
Durst is arrested for the murder of Susan Berman
Investigators involved in the case say they feared renewed attention brought by “The Jinx” would lead Durst to try and flee the country. Durst however, had no fear that his comments would renew interest in any of his cases. He told reporters:
“It’s so long ago. Some D.A. would have to commence a budget-busting investigation. I don’t see that happening.”
Regardless of his cavalier attitude toward his acquittal in the Texas killing and the lack of law enforcement prosecution in the disappearance of his wife or the death of his best friend, the filmmakers from HBO did what investigators failed to do for over 30 years. On Saturday, March 14, 2015, Durst was arrested at the Canal Street Marriot in New Orleans where he had registered under the false name “Everett Ward” using a fake ID (not the first time he used this particular fake identity) and paying for the room with cash. The final segment of the HBO documentary aired the next day.
The warrant for his arrest was issued by Los Angeles County in connection with the Berman case. Authorities say Durst was found wandering toward the elevator mumbling to himself when FBI agents arrested him. He had driven to New Orleans from Houston in a Toyota Camry just a few days earlier, on March 10, 2105 (the FBI tracked his location using a trace of his cellphone). Sources admit that filming and preparation for the HBO series bolstered the prosecution’s case. In fact, the investigation had been reopened in earnest when it was learned that Durst had agreed to a series of interviews with the producers of The Jinx.
At the time of his arrest, Durst was apprehended with a neck-t0-head latex mask (with hair attached), a fake ID, his birth certificate and passport, and nearly $43,000 in cash (in 100-dollar bills). A loaded .38 revolver was also found in his hotel room. Among his possessions he also had a UPS tracking number on his person. The FBI intercepted the package and found it contained clothing and more than $100,000 in cash. It is believed he was preparing to flee the country. A law enforcement source told People Magazine:
“It was obvious that he planned to get the hell out of Dodge. It was the first day that the New Orleans airport was offering flights to Cuba, so that’s where we think he was going.”
Robert Durst’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin, expressed his confidence that Durst would once again win the battle:
“The rumors that have been flying for years will now get tested in court.”
Jeanine F. Pirro, the former Westchester County district attorney, whose office investigated Kathleen Durst’s disappearance for six years, praised the producers of The Jinx saying:
“These two producers did what law enforcement in three states could not do in 30 years. Kudos to them. They were meticulous. They were focused. They were clear.”
Ties to additional missing persons?
In the days following the arrest of Robert Durst, news outlets began speculating about Durst’s involvement in other missing persons cases. Two in particular, the disappearances of 18-year-old Kristen Modafferi and 16-year-old Karen Marie, are indeed intriguing.
Modafferi disappeared on June 23, 1997 after leaving work for the day at a coffee shop in a San Francisco mall. Durst reportedly owned a home in the city at the time and in 2003, the Galveston County Daily News reported that an investigative journalist who wrote a book about the disappearance of Durst’s wife Kathleen believed Durst knew something about Modafferi.
Mitchell was last seen on Nov. 25, 1997 leaving her job in Eureka. Witnesses said she left in a blue sedan driven by a 60-70-year-old man with light gray or sandy blonde hair. Gawker points out a 2003 article that lists friends of Durst who knew him to drive such a sedan. The friend said Durst lived near and may have even visited Mitchell’s place of business.
Check out the pictorial below featuring a variety of photos of the victims, crime scenes, and evidence in the criminal cases surrounding Robert Durst.
Complete timeline of Robert Durst’s life, movements, and related crimes
1970: Robert Durst moves back to New York City after graduating from UCLA where he met Susan Berman.
January 1972: Kathleen McCormack moves to Vermont with Durst. Together they run a health food store.
1973: Durst marries Kathleen McCormack in New York City.
Jan. 31, 1982: According to Durst, Kathleen got on a Metro-North train near the couple’s home in South Salem, Westchester County, headed for their upper West Side apartment. Her doorman first told investigators he saw her arrive at the apartment but later told cops he never saw her.
Feb. 5, 1982: Robert Durst reports his wife missing at the 20th Precinct in Manhattan, five days after she went missing.
1990: Durst divorces Kathleen Durst without notifying the McCormack family. Durst repeatedly publishes notice of the divorce in a Westchester County weekly newspaper as part of a legal requirement that he attempt to notify his spouse.
Spring 2000: Kathleen Durst’s disappearance case is reopened.
Dec. 19, 2000: Robert Durst flies from New York to San Francisco.
Dec. 24, 2000: Susan Berman is found dead in her Benedict Canyon Road House in Los Angeles, killed by a single bullet to the back of her head. The bullet is from a 9mm gun. Durst flies back from San Francisco to New York that same day.
Sept. 28, 2001: Robert Durst shoots his 71-year-old neighbor in the head, killing him.
Sept. 30, 2001: Children and a fisherman find torso, arms and legs of Morris Black, 71, in Texas’ Galveston Bay. Black’s head is never recovered.
Oct. 9, 2001: Durst is arrested and later indicted for Morris Black’s murder.
Oct. 10, 2001 Durst posts $300,000 bail and is released.
Oct. 16, 2001: Durst skips his arraignment hearing in Galveston and becomes the country’s first billion-dollar fugitive. A grand jury indicts him on charges of murder.
Nov. 30, 2001: Police arrest Durst in Hanover Township, Pa., for the theft of a sandwich, a newspaper and a Band-Aid from Wegmans grocery. Police seize two guns, Morris Black’s South Carolina driver’s license, nearly $40,000 in cash, and an undisclosed amount of marijuana from the rented car.
Nov. 11, 2003: At Durst’s two-month trial, and after five days of deliberation, the jury finds Robert Durst, 60, not guilty of murder.
Oct. 26, 2004: Durst pleaded guilty to federal gun charges in exchange for a sentence of up to nine months, but served 5½ months
Dec. 18, 2005: Durst was arrested after returning to Galveston to visit the home of deceased Morris Black. This was in violation of the terms of his supervised release. He was sentenced to 60 days for the parole violation, but only served 26 days.
2006: Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling begin research for the feature film, All Good Things.
2007: Jarecki and Smerling reach out to Durst and are turned down for an interview.
November 2010: Durst meets with filmmaker Andrew Jarecki before his fictionalized film about his life, “All Good Things,” premiered.
April 2012: Second interview with Durst. Jarecki films Robert Durst walking around outside of Durst Tower in Manhattan.
April 2012: Douglas Durst takes out a restraining order on his brother Robert Durst.
2013: Jareck and Smerling begin speaking to Los Angeles investigators about the cases against Robert Durst.
June 2, 2013: Robert Durst approaches the steps of his brother Douglas Durst’s house, violating the orders of protection.
August 16, 2013: Robert Durst is arrested for violating the orders of protection.
June 12, 2014: Bathroom audio recorded on an accidentally open mic are discovered by filmmakers during the editing of The Jinx.
Dec. 16, 2014: Durst was fined $500 for urinating on a checkout counter and candy rack at a CVS pharmacy in Houston.
March 8, 2015: In the last episode of HBO’s “The Jinx,” Berman’s stepson Sareb Kaufman discovered a letter written from Durst in March 1999 in a box of his old stuff. The letter was written in an almost identical font and had an identical misspelling as the cadaver letter that arrived at the Beverly Hills Police Department on December 24, 2001.
March 10, 2015: Durst leaves Houston in a Toyota Camry and drives to New Orleans.
March 14, 2015: Durst is arrested in New Orleans for the slaying of Susan Berman.
March 16, 2015: Jarecki gives interviews to The New York Times, CBS This Morning, and Good Morning America before cancelling all remaining media appearances.
Below are a collection of official documents and original news articles related to the Robert Durst cases.
Sources: HBO, The Jinx, All Good Things, CNN, NBC News, Fox News, Murderpedia, Lohud, Wikipedia, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, ABC News, Slate Magazine, KHOU Houston, Capital New York, New York State Missing Persons, DOE Network, New York Post, San Francisco Gate, People Magazine, Rolling Stone Magazine
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