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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
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Detective Saw Robert Durst as Prime Suspect in First Murder

The New York police detective who led the unsuccessful investigation of the disappearance of Robert Durst’s first wife Kathleen in 1982 testified Wednesday that he came to suspect early on that the real estate heir may have killed her.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — The New York police detective who led the unsuccessful investigation of the disappearance of Robert Durst’s first wife Kathleen in 1982 testified Wednesday that he came to suspect early on that the real estate heir may have killed her.

“It would be hard to believe otherwise,” retired detective Michael Struk said. “That was my belief, yes.”

Durst is charged with the Los Angeles murder of his close friend, writer Susan Berman, in December 2000. Prosecutors say he shot Berman to keep her from revealing what she knew about the fate of Kathie Durst — that the eccentric multimillionaire had killed her, and may have admitted it.

Struk is one of a number of elderly witnesses who Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham has allowed prosecutors to put on the stand now in case they become unavailable by the time of trial, which will be no earlier than next year. Struk, 73, is the first witness the defense has called for such a conditional examination.

On Tuesday, Durst’s lead defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin of Houston, led Struk through a detailed account of the New York Police Department’s missing-persons investigation of Kathie Durst.

Struk said Robert Durst came to his Manhattan precinct on Feb. 5, 1982, to report that his wife had not been seen for five days. Durst said that on the evening of Jan. 31 he had driven her from their Westchester County house to catch a train into the city.

He testified that two employees of the Riverside Drive apartment building where the couple lived claimed to have seen Kathie Durst there on Feb. 1 and that the dean of the medical school she attended said she had called him that day to say she was too sick to come to class.

But Los Angeles investigators, and Kathleen Durst’s family and friends, believe Robert Durst killed his wife in Westchester County on Jan. 31, disposed of her body, and then lied to police.

Under cross-examination Wednesday by Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, Struk said he came to suspect exactly that soon after he got the case 35 years ago.

Robert Durst “was the only one that stimulated me as a suspect at the time,” he said.

Struk said he thought it odd that Durst had waited five days to report his wife missing, although Durst said she sometimes stayed overnight at her medical school. He said that Durst seemed too calm — “like he was in a deli ordering a hero sandwich” — as Struk told producers of a documentary about the case.

During the Wednesday hearing, Lewin played a bit of an interview Struk did for the HBO documentary series “The Jinx” a few years ago. At the end of that six-part series Durst can be heard muttering into a hot microphone that he had “killed them all, of course.”

But Struk complained he and his investigators were “saddled” with the witnesses who put Kathie Durst in Manhattan on Feb. 1.

“We never had the venue. Whatever happened to her didn’t happen in the city,” he testified.

Within a few weeks of Durst’s filing the missing-persons report, Struk said, “It started to appear that he had a hand in it.”

Lewin then attacked the thoroughness of the NYPD investigation and in a series of pointed questions got Struk to acknowledge he’d made some mistakes.

For instance, Struk conceded he did not ask the medical school dean if he definitely recognized Kathie’s voice on the phone Feb. 1. Prosecutors believe Susan Berman actually made the call as a favor to her dear friend Robert Durst.

Lewin also pointed out that Struk discovered that Durst had lied at least twice in a Feb. 8, 1982 interview.

Durst had told detectives his marriage was good. Yet another witness said Kathie had complained that the marriage was in trouble and that Durst could be violent with her.

Durst also said that after he dropped Kathie off at the train, he’d visited neighbors for drinks. But in an interview the next day, those neighbors said they’d invited Durst, but he declined.

“So did you go immediately and have the South Salem house taken apart board by board?” Lewin asked, referring to the Westchester County home.

“No,” Struk said.

“Why?” Lewin demanded.

After more questions, Struk said: “Looking back, it would have been a good thing to have done.”

Throughout the afternoon Wednesday, DeGuerin and his fellow defense attorney David Chesnoff of Las Vegas repeatedly objected to questions asking Struk about his suspicions in the case.

“It’s an opinion on an ultimate issue and should not be admitted,” DeGuerin said.

Judge Windham said he was skeptical that such testimony would be admitted at trial but he would allow it during conditional examination.

“I’ll strike it later,” he said of one statement.

Cross examination was to continue Thursday.

Categories / Criminal, Trials

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