LOS ANGELES (CN) — The New York detective who led the hunt for real estate heir Robert Durst’s missing wife 35 years ago acknowledged in court Wednesday that he had sex with a witness during the investigation.
Retired detective Michael Struk said that the witness — whom he did not identify — “initiated something, and I went along with it.”
Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney John Lewin asked if “that kind of conduct was about as unprofessional as you could get.”
Struk admitted it.
His astonishing admission came at the end of a multiday hearing in which Lewin tried to show that Struk botched the investigation into the disappearance of Durst’s wife Kathie in 1982.
Prosecutors say the eccentric millionaire killed Kathie, whose body has never been found.
Durst is accused of murdering a second woman, his close friend Susan Berman, to prevent her from telling investigators she helped misdirect the original investigation and that Durst had confessed to her. Berman was found shot in the back of the head in her home near Beverly Hills just before Christmas 2000.
Durst, 74, denies killing either woman.
On Wednesday, Struk told Lewin that the unnamed witness and another person asked to meet him one evening at a residence to look for potential evidence. The witness asked the second person to leave the room and then “began opening my trousers” as they sat on a couch.
After a time, “We slid onto the floor and had intercourse on the floor,” he said.
“You were aware that it was inappropriate?” Lewin asked.
“I would agree with that,” Struk said.
“Can you explain how you let it happen?”
The detective said he was dumbfounded that the woman would simply begin a sexual act with him.
“I was so taken aback by how this began. … We never had any conversation.”
Struk, 73, is one of a number of older witnesses Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham is allowing attorneys to question early to preserve their testimony in case they are unable to come to trial, which is planned for late next year.
Durst’s defense team called the detective to the stand two weeks ago to try to show that his original investigation into Kathie Durst’s disappearance, which ended without a suspect, was conducted properly.
However, Lewin told Windham he believes Struk’s investigation was “incompetent,” though “well intentioned.” He spent three days of cross-examination trying to get Struk to acknowledge having made many mistakes.
For instance, he said Struk should have challenged Durst’s account that he last saw his wife late on Jan. 31, 1982 as he put her on a train from Westchester County to Manhattan, where she was a medical student.
Struk said he and his investigators found evidence corroborating that account. Two employees at the Dursts’ Manhattan co-op building said they had seen Kathie there on Feb. 1. And her medical school dean said he had received a phone call from her that day, claiming she was too sick to come to work.
Investigators now believe Berman made the phone call to the dean as a favor to Durst. The building employees’ statements now are in doubt, as well.
During some intense questioning Tuesday, Lewin pressed Struk to say he should have interviewed friends of Kathie who attended a party with her the evening of Jan. 31, and that he should have questioned other passengers from the citybound train.
Durst also had claimed he spent the morning after Kathie’s disappearance at a veterinary office with his dog. Lewin said the detective should have double-checked with the vet.
Lewin took Struk to task for not taking into evidence an expensive men’s Burberry topcoat that was found in the Dursts’ Manhattan co-op. The coat appeared to have been laundered, rather than dry-cleaned.
That might have been significant because investigators — now including Struk — suspect Durst buried Kathie in a sandy stretch of the New Jersey shore called the Pine Barrens, where the Mafia used to dump bodies.
On Feb. 2, 1982, someone made a collect telephone call to Durst’s family business, the Durst Organization, from a phone booth outside a laundromat near the barrens. Robert Durst often called his family collect.
“Would you agree that back in 1982, a competent detective would have taken that coat into evidence so it could be examined?” Lewin asked.
Struk eventually did agree. “When you look at it that way, you realize it was a mistake,” he said.
Lewin spent a large portion of his cross-examination Wednesday questioning Struk’s professionalism. For instance, he noted that Struk accepted a pair of tickets to a Neil Diamond concert from Kathie’s sister, Mary Hughes, and her friend and co-worker, Geraldine McInerney.
Struk defended this by saying McInerney had received the tickets free from her work. But pressed by Lewin, he added: “Sitting here today, I wish I had not done it.”
Struk also allowed Hughes and McInerney to drive him out to the Pine Barrens area two times, once in a car they’d borrowed for the trip.
Lewin asked if it was acceptable for a New York detective to travel out of state in a vehicle driven by witnesses. Struk said it was, because his team had only two squad cars and he’d received approval from his supervisor.
Hughes and McInerney insisted that Durst had killed Kathie, and they investigated the case on their own. It was they who noticed the Burberry coat. Struk said he sometimes followed up on their tips, and with his supervisor’s approval sometimes shared investigative materials, such as phone records, with them.
“When the case was getting colder, I had my basic philosophy of ‘whatever it takes to get this case going,’” he said.
After Struk concluded his testimony, Lewin told Judge Windham he had seven more older witnesses he wishes to examine before trial. But he said he will question them in conjunction with the preliminary hearing, which is to begin April 14 and last about three weeks.
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