Robert Durst, estate heir convicted of murder, dies at 78
Robert Durst, the wealthy New York real estate heir and failed fugitive who was pursued for decades on suspicion in the disappearance and death of those around him before being convicted of murdering his best friend and sentenced to life in prison, died. He was 78 years old.
Durst died Monday in a hospital at Stockton State Prison, attorney Chip Lewis said. He said the death was of natural causes due to a number of ailments.
Durst was convicted in September of shooting Susan Berman at close range in her Los Angeles home in 2000. He was sentenced Oct. 14 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Durst had long been suspected of killing his wife, Kathie, who disappeared in New York in 1982 and was declared legally dead.
But it wasn’t until after Los Angeles prosecutors proved the motive for Berman’s death was to silence her for helping him cover up Kathie’s murder that he was charged by a New York grand jury in November for second-degree murder in the death of his wife.
Los Angeles prosecutors told jurors Durst committed murder in Texas after shooting a man who discovered his identity while in hiding in Galveston following Berman’s murder. Durst was acquitted of murder in that case in 2003, after testifying that he shot the man as they fought over a gun.
Los Angeles Assistant District Attorney John Lewin said jurors told him after the verdict they believed Durst murdered Morris Black in Texas and killed his wife.
Durst discussed the cases and made several damning statements, including a stunning confession during an unguarded moment on HBO’s six-part documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.”
The show brought his name to a new generation and renewed scrutiny and suspicion from the authorities. He was arrested in Berman’s murder the night before the final episode, which ended with him mumbling to himself in a bathroom while still wearing a hot mic saying, “You’re taken! What did I? I killed them all, of course.”
It was later revealed that the quotes had been manipulated for dramatic effect, but the production – made with the cooperation of Durst against the advice of his lawyer and friends – collected new evidence, including an envelope linking Durst at the scene of Berman’s murder as well as incriminating statements. he did.
Police had received a note directing them to Berman’s house with only the word “CADAVER” written in block letters.
In interviews between 2010 and 2015, Durst told the creators of “The Jinx” that he didn’t write the note, but whoever did it killed it.
“You write a note to the police that only the killer could have written,” Durst said.
His defense attorneys acknowledged as the trial approached that Durst wrote the note, and prosecutors said it was a confession.
Clips from “The Jinx” and the 2010 film “All Good Things,” in which Ryan Gosling played a fictionalized version of Durst, had starring roles at the trial.
Just like Durst himself. His lawyers again took the risk of putting him on the stand for what turned out to be about three weeks of testimony. It didn’t work like in Texas.
Under devastating cross-examination by prosecutor John Lewin, Durst admitted he had lied under oath in the past and would do it again to get out of trouble.
“‘Did you kill Susan Berman?’ is strictly hypothetical,” Durst said on the stand. “I didn’t kill Susan Berman. But if I had, I’d be lying about it.”
The jury quickly returned a guilty verdict.
For a long time it looked like he would avoid such condemnations.
Durst fled in late 2000 after New York authorities reopened an investigation into his wife’s disappearance, renting a modest apartment in Galveston and disguising herself as a mute woman.
In 2001, the body parts of a neighbour, Morris Black, began washing up in Galveston Bay.
Arrested in the murder, Durst skipped bail. He was arrested for shoplifting a sandwich six weeks later in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he had attended college. Police found $37,000 in cash and two handguns in his car.
He would testify that Black had pulled a gun on him and died when the gun detonated during a struggle. He told jurors in detail how he purchased tools, dismembered and disposed of Black’s body. He was acquitted of the murder. He pleaded guilty to breaching bail and tampering with evidence for the dismemberment. He served three years in prison.
Durst had bladder cancer, and his health deteriorated during Berman’s trial. He was escorted to court in a wheelchair wearing prison gear every day because his lawyers said he was unable to change into a suit. But the judge refused further delays after a 14-month break during the coronavirus pandemic.
DeGuerin said Durst was “very, very ill” during his sentencing hearing and it was the worst he’s seen in the 20 years he’s represented him.
Durst entered the courtroom with a blank, wide-eyed stare. Towards the end of the hearing, after Berman’s relatives told the judge how his death had turned their lives upside down, Durst coughed loudly and then seemed to have trouble breathing. His chest heaved and he lowered his mask under his mouth and began to swallow air.
Son of real estate magnate Seymour Durst, Robert Durst was born on April 12, 1943 and grew up in Scarsdale, New York. He would later say that at the age of 7, he witnessed the death of his mother during a fall from their home.
He earned a degree in economics in 1965 from Lehigh University, where he played lacrosse. He entered a doctoral program at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he met Berman, but dropped out and returned to New York in 1969.
He became a developer in the family business, but his father dumped him to make his younger brother and rival, Douglas, the head of the Durst organization in 1992.
In 1971 Robert Durst met Kathie McCormack and the two were married on her 30th birthday in 1973.
In January 1982, his wife was a senior medical student when she disappeared. She had shown up unannounced at a friend’s dinner party in Newtown, Connecticut, then left after a call from her husband to return to their home in South Salem, New York.
Robert Durst told police he last saw her when he put her on a train to stay at their apartment in Manhattan because she had classes the next day.
He would divorce eight years later, citing her husband’s abandonment, and in 2017, at the request of her family, she was declared legally dead.
Robert Durst is survived by his second wife Debrah Charatan, whom he married in 2000. He had no children.
Under California law, a conviction is overturned if a defendant dies while the case is on appeal, said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Law School.
Lewis said an appeal has been filed for Durst.