Robert Durst, the heir to the New York real estate fortune whose life reads like a twist on a true crime story and was convicted of murder, has died. He is 78 years old.
He died Monday of cardiac arrest at a hospital in Stockton, California, The New York Times reported, citing his lawyer. Durst is serving a life sentence at a California health care facility.
His lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, said at the time that he had Covid-19 and was put on a ventilator just days after being sentenced in October.
Durst, whose family manages about 15 million square feet of prime office and retail space in New York City and co-developed One World Trade Center, was convicted in September of killing his longtime confidante in California 20 years ago The crime of Susan Berman.
Prosecutors say Durst shot Berman at her Beverly Hills home on Christmas Eve 2000 as she helped him cover up his first wife, Katherine McCormack, nearly 40 years earlier. Ster was murdered, and he feared Berman might expose him to the authorities. The killing came days before New York investigators spoke with Berman about Casey Durst’s disappearance.
One night in January 1982, medical student Kathie Durst disappeared after leaving the couple’s mansion in upstate New York’s Westchester County. She was later pronounced dead, although her body was never found. Her family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in 2015 after the release of a documentary that presented evidence linking Durst to Berman’s death and included his apparent confession.
Prosecutors reopened the pending case, and in November Robert Durst was indicted for the murder of Casey.
Durst became the subject of Hollywood films and the widely followed HBO documentary series “Doom: The Life and Death of Robert Durst.” He was arrested for murdering Berman on the eve of the film’s final episode in 2015, and finally appeared to admit off-camera that he “certainly killed them all.”
This isn’t the first time Durst has faced murder charges. In 2003, he was acquitted in Texas of killing neighbor Maurice Blake, then dismembering him and throwing his remains into Galveston Bay.
Two pieces of evidence in the Jinx case in particular refute Durst’s consistent assertion that he had nothing to do with the death of his wife or Berman.
Documentary director Andrew Jarecki showed Durst an unsigned letter sent to local police, alerting them to a “corpse” at her address the day before Berman’s body was found. Jarecki then showed him a letter from Durst to Berman. A handwriting expert told Jarecki that the letters were written by the same person, who in both cases misspelled “Beverly Hills” in the same way. Durst told Jarecki that the letter to the police could only have been written by Berman’s killer, but denied that he sent it.
After Jarecki’s interview, Durst, still wearing the body mic used to record the meeting, went to the bathroom and heard himself say to himself, “That’s it. You got caught…what the hell did I do? Of course, take They all killed.” (At the 2018 hearing, it was noted that in the original audio, the statements were in a different order than they were heard in the documentary, although it was unclear whether that would make them less damning.)
De Guerin is the same attorney whose team obtained an acquittal for Durst in the Black case, who pleaded not guilty to murdering Berman and again denied that he killed his first wife.
DeGuerin’s team stunned the prosecution by convincing the Galveston jury in the Texas trial that Durst had fought Blake to get the pistol that Blake pointed at him. Durst testified that the gun accidentally misfired, killing Blake. Fearing he wouldn’t believe the killings were unintentional, Durst said he cut open his neighbour’s body with a hacksaw and tossed parts into a nearby bay.
Durst testified that he went to Galveston, Texas, to avoid constant media attention in New York about his missing wife. To evade detection, he disguised himself as a woman and pretended to be mute when he rented an apartment next to Blake’s house.
Estranged from his family since the mid-1990s, Durst cut ties with relatives in 2004 and was awarded $60 million to settle a lawsuit he filed against the family trustee. Given his resources, he would have no trouble bailing or hiring top legal talent to defend himself against charges including unlawful possession of a weapon.
Robert Durst was born on April 12, 1943, to Seymour and Bernice Durst in Scarsdale, New York. He attended Scarsdale High School and received a BA in Economics from Lehigh University. In 1971, he met Catherine McCormack and married her two years later.
He worked for the family’s New York-based business, Durst Organization, which began acquiring and developing real estate in the early 1900s and run by his father, Seymour Durst, who died in 1995. Durst’s younger brother, Douglas Durst, was chosen to run the company.
In 1990, Robert Durst officially divorced his first wife and married Debra Lee Charlatan in 2000.