LOS ANGELES – The estranged brother of Robert Durst, the real estate heir on trial in his best friend's slaying, reluctantly testified Monday that the two never got along and he feared his oldest sibling would kill him.
“He’d like to murder me,” Douglas Durst bluntly told jurors in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Douglas Durst, head of one of New York’s largest commercial real estate firms, said his brother was angry and bitter over an acrimonious inheritance settlement for tens of millions of dollars. He had not seen his brother in 20 years but worries because of threats he has made.
The chairman of the Durst Organization, which owns some of Manhattan's premier skyscrapers and 2,500 apartments, said he and his brother have fought since childhood.
“He treated me miserably,” Douglas Durst said. “He would fight with me at every chance. He would embarrass me.”
Despite the bad blood, Douglas Durst said he did not want to testify against his brother, who is on trial on charges of fatally shooting Susan Berman in 2000 at her Los Angeles home. He said he cooperated with prosecutors under threat of subpoena.
“There are other places I’d much rather be,” he said.
Prosecutors say Berman provided an alibi for Robert Durst after he killed his first wife, Kathie, in 1982 and that he silenced his friend after she decided to tell police what she knew about the disappearance. Robert Durst has pleaded not guilty to murder.
Kathie Durst had told Douglas Durst she planned to seek a divorce from his brother, he testified.
Douglas Durst said his brother told him Kathie Durst vanished three days after he put her on a train to New York City from their lakeside house in Westchester County. Robert Durst said that was the last time he saw his wife.
“His tone was very neutral,” Douglas Durst said. "There was no great anxiety in his tone. It seemed a little strange.”
On cross-examination, he said his brother seemed distraught but added he would have been more upset if his wife was missing.
"There is almost no emotion that Bob shows that is genuine,” he said.
He said his brother told him the disappearance might be related to a drug dealer who had come by the couple's apartment. The defense has suggested Kathie Durst, who was on the brink of graduating from medical school, had a cocaine problem.
Kathie Durst has never been found but wasalso declared dead. Robert Durst has long been considered a suspect in her death but has denied any involvement and has never been charged with a crime related to her disappearance.
Douglas Durst, tan and wearing a crisp white shirt with French cuffs and a gray mask to comply with COVID-19 court rules, cut a much different figure than his ailing brother.
A pale, thin Robert Durst, 78, with a shaved head that revealed a massive scar where fluid was drained from his skull, was seated in a wheelchair and dressed in baggy brown jail scrubs.
Durst, who has bladder cancer and several other maladies, stood and addressed the judge to counter a suggestion by Deputy District Attorney John Lewin that he was seeking sympathy by displaying his urine bag and shaving his head.
Durst said it was the only haircut he could get in jail. He said he wants a doctor to remove his catheter.
“I am not seeking sympathy from the jury,” Durst said in a throaty voice.
Douglas Durst showed no emotion while testifying. He recounted how their mother's death in a fall from the roof of their estate when he was 5 had been traumatic for the whole family, not just for Robert, who was 7 at the time.
He also disputed that $50,000 in checks that Robert Durst gave to Berman were out of generosity, saying his brother was stingy and everything had an ulterior motive.
His brother’s trials have tarnished the reputation of his family, he said.
“It’s the most embarrassing thing that I’ve ever encountered,” he said. “It’s very painful to have our names associated with these incidents.”
Durst said the last time he spoke with his brother was in 1999 and he had last seen him in Texas at a nephew’s wedding in 2001.
About two weeks after the wedding, Robert Durst fatally shot neighbor Morris Black in Galveston, where he had gone to hide out from New York authorities after they reopened the investigation into Kathie Durst’s disappearance.
Robert Durst was acquitted of murder after testifying that he killed Black in self-defense. He served jail time for chopping up Black's body and tossing it out to sea and for jumping bail.
While he was on the lam in that case, he showed up outside his brother’s Westchester home, Douglas Durst said he learned.
Robert Durst was later recorded in a jail phone call “in essence plotting to kill his brother, Douglas,” Lewin said in arguing that jurors should hear about him showing up at his brother's home.
“He has compared the way he feels about Douglas to the way he felt about Kathie,” Lewin said. “Our argument and position is that is what he did, he killed her.”
Robert Durst twice showed up outside his brother's house in 2008, including once when he was wearing a ski mask and fled after a security guard drew his weapon, Lewin said.
Douglas Durst said that although his brother is jailed without bail, he still is concerned about his safety and had flown to California with a security detail.
“I have a fear that my brother has threatened to kill me, and I fear that he may have the means to do so,” he said.