Real Estate Heir Arrested for L.A. Murder after HBO Show Airs

Monday, March 16, 2015
Robert Durst

Robert Durst, black-sheep member of a wealthy New York real estate dynasty, has been in law enforcement's cross-hairs since the 1982 disappearance of his wife in New York State, the subsequent Beverly Hills murder of a close friend, and the murder and dismemberment of an elderly neighbor in Galveston, Texas.

But it may have been a six-part documentary on HBO, “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” that proves to be his downfall. In the concluding episode Sunday night, Durst is captured on mike whispering to himself, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

The FBI arrested Durst on a Los Angeles arrest warrant over the weekend at the New Orleans J.W. Marriott hotel, where he was staying under a pseudonym. His lawyer said he wouldn't fight extradition to Los Angeles, where the district attorney recently reopened an investigation of the execution-style killing of Susan Berman, Durst’s friend and confidante.

Durst’s life story sounded like an HBO series before there was an HBO. The 71-year-old was in and out jail when younger, lost out on running the family business in the 1990s when his father chose a younger brother, Douglas, and sued the brother for $65 million.

Durst married his first wife, Kathie, in 1973 but was living separately and dating when she disappeared nine years later. He was never charged and the case was closed. 

Berman went to graduate school with Durst at UCLA; he walked her down the aisle at her wedding; and she was a spokesman for him when his wife disappeared. Berman’s father had been a mobster associated with Bugsy Siegel in Las Vegas and she wrote extensively about her experiences. New York authorities were said to be trying to contact her about Durst’s missing wife at the time of her death.

Berman was shot in the head. Durst was a suspect, but not charged. A handwriting analysis failed to connect him to an anonymous letter received by Beverly Hills police the day of the slaying, alerting them that a cadaver was in the home. The letter was distinctive for its big block letters and the misspelled “Beverley Hills.”

As it turns out, the lettering and misspelling matched an envelope, displayed in HBO’s Episode 5, that held a letter from Durst to Berman.

Durst, still under investigation for his wife’s disappearance, went to Galveston in 2000, where he posed as a deaf/mute woman. Less than a year later, he was arrested on suspicion of killing his friend Morris Black. He jumped bail and got caught in Pennsylvania, shoplifting a chicken sandwich and Band-Aids.

Back in Texas, Durst admitted chopping Black up and throwing the parts into Galveston Bay. But he claimed the man had a gun and was accidentally shot while struggling with Durst. A jury acquitted him of murder.

Durst did, however, plead guilty to bond jumping and evidence tampering and went to jail for around a year. He got out on parole in 2005 and shortly thereafter bumped into the judge from his murder trial at a mall. That landed him back in jail for a short stay.  

Ryan Gostling’s lead character and the 2010 movie “All Good Things” were inspired, if not closely modeled, after Durst’s exploits, alleged and otherwise. Durst contacted the director, Andrew Jarecki, when the movie came out and offered to be interviewed. That turned into Jarecki’s six-part HBO series.

Family members took out restraining orders against Durst in 2012 and 2013 when he turned up in New York. In July 2014, he was charged in Houston with misdemeanor criminal mischief when he pissed on a candy rack in a CVS. He returned to New York and beat a trespassing rap last December. The restraining orders were vacated.  

Durst’s brother Douglas said in a statement the family was glad he was back in custody and, “We hope he will finally be held accountable for all he has done.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Robert Durst, Subject of "The Jinx" on HBO, Is Arrested on Murder Charge (by Ashley Southall and Charles V. Bagli, New York Times)

New York Real Estate Scion Robert Durst Held in L.A. Writer's 2000 Slaying (by Richard Winton and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times)

Real Estate Heir Robert Durst Arrested in Pal’s Murder (by Linda Massarella, Leslie Snadowsky, Jamie Schram and Bruce Golding, New York Post)

New York Real Estate Scion Acquitted of Trespassing on Family Property (by Sebastien Malo, Reuters)

What About Bob? (by Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker)

“Alum’s Deadly Decisions: The Killer Story That Inspired the New Movie, ‘All Good Things’” (by Sarah Freeman, The Brown and White at Lehigh University) (pdf)

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