The reckoning for Robert Durst may finally have arrived. The 76-year-old real estate heir is on trial in Los Angeles for the 2000 murder of friend Susan Berman.
While he’s only on trial for Berman’s murder, Durst has long been suspected of being involved in two other crimes: the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack, and the killing and dismemberment of Morris Black. (He’s long maintained his innocence when it comes to Berman and McCormack, and he was acquitted of Black’s murder in 2003.)
Durst’s notoriety peaked in 2015 when HBO released the six-part docuseries, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which seemingly caught him confessing to all three crimes. “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course,” he mumbled to himself, unaware he was being recorded in the bathroom in the finale.
Shortly after the docuseries concluded, Durst was arrested on an out-of-state murder warrant for Berman’s death, and he’s been in and out of court ever since.
Arrest and Charges Against Durst
Durst faces one count of murder of Berman, who was found dead in her home in Benedict Canyon, California. Following the initial charge, Durst pleaded not guilty. "I did not kill Susan Berman," he said during November 2016 hearing. After his plea, the Los Angeles District Attorney announced that it would not seek the death penalty.
California authorities reopened Berman’s case in part due to the HBO series. "As a result of investigative leads and additional evidence that has come to light in the past year, investigators have identified Robert Durst as the person responsible for Ms. Berman's death," the LAPD said at the time.
In addition to the murder charge, Durst also faced felony firearms and drug charges. At the time of his arrest, Durst had a Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolver on his body as well as marijuana, $42,000 in cash, a latex mask, a fake I.D., a legitimate passport, and maps of Cuba. Officials also reported that he was expecting a package with $117,000 in cash and other personal items. A year later, in April 2016, he accepted a plea deal on a firearms charge and was sentenced to seven years and one month in prison.
Durst was eventually transferred to a Los Angeles County jail, where he’s been awaiting trial, which begins on Feb. 10. The trial could “last as long as five months.” The New York Times reports that it “is expected to refocus the media spotlight on the long, complicated story of Mr. Durst, once considered the heir apparent to a vast New York real estate empire. Already, NBC’s Dateline, ABC’s 20/20 and CNN Headline News are planning episodes.”
Revelations From the ‘Jinx’ Docuseries
In February 2015, HBO debuted The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, detailing three murders that Durst is suspected of committing, including the disappearance of McCormack, the execution of Berman, and the murder and dismemberment of Black. The documentary was directed by Andrew Jarecki, the filmmaker behind the 2010 film All Good Things, a fictionalized account of Durst’s story starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst.
The series allowed Durst to tell his story, as well as refute claims that he was guilty of any of the crimes he’s been long suspected of committing. Over the course of 25 hours during two separate interviews, Durst admitted to lying to the police about the night McCormack disappeared and was discovered to have penned a letter with handwriting that matched a note to police alerting them of Berman’s murder. Both envelopes included the misspelled “Beverley Hills” in the address.
(In December 2019, Durst admitted in court to having written a note that contained Berman’s address and the word, “cadaver,” written in big block letters after long insisting that he was not the author of what’s considered a key piece of evidence in the case.)
The series’ finale was highly publicized at the time thanks to a New York Times app push notification, which spoiled the final moments of the episode, as well as the New Orleans arrest of Durst less than a day before it aired. When confronted on camera about the two letters, Durst became visibly uncomfortable. And when taping was over, he was recorded on his mic saying what many fans believe is a confession. “What a disaster,” he said at one point.
Immediately following the finale, the filmmakers came under fire for its unclear timeline as to when the final interview took place and whether they withheld evidence from the police. Jarecki and those associated with the film immediately pulled from all press interviews, citing the possibility of being called as a witness at any time in the ongoing proceedings.
Timeline of Events Leading Up to Durst’s Arrest
Durst is the eldest son of Seymour, a New York City real estate developer and inventor of the National Debt Clock and Bernice Herstein. Durst has three siblings, Douglas, Thomas, and Wendy, all of whom were raised in Scarsdale, NY.
In 1973, Durst married his first wife, Kathleen McCormack. For a short period, the two moved to Vermont and opened a small food store, All Good Things, before Durst returned to New York City to work in the real estate business. McCormack was first reported missing in 1982 and has never been seen since. She was officially declared dead in 2017.
In 2000, New York State Police reopened the investigation into McCormack’s disappearance with Durst as a suspect for her murder. Berman, who served as Durst’s spokesperson after his wife first went missing and is believed to have knowledge about the true nature of her disappearance, was executed in her home just before Christmas of that same year.
Berman was also the daughter of a mobster and was reportedly working on several lucrative projects -- a Sopranos-like series for Showtime and a memoir -- that could have spilled many secrets before her death.
Her death happened just weeks after Durst married his second wife, Debrah Lee Charatan. According to the New York Times, the couple has “never lived together as husband and wife.”
That same year, Durst moved to Galveston, Texas, and assumed the identity of a deaf-mute woman. He eventually befriended his neighbor, Black, who was later found dead. Durst was promptly arrested for the 2001 murder. In court, he admitted to dismembering Black's body and dumping him into the Galveston River but he was acquitted of the charges.