LOS ANGELES (CN) — A day or two before writer Susan Berman was murdered in December 2000, she told a childhood friend that she was about to “blow … wide open” the story of a rich and powerful New Yorker’s long-missing wife, the friend testified Wednesday.
Although Berman never told her friend, Robin Karr-Morse, who the powerful man was, Karr-Morse and Los Angeles prosecutors believe Berman meant Robert Durst, the eccentric real estate scion whose young wife, Kathleen, vanished in early 1982.
Durst, now 74 and frail, is charged with shooting Berman to death in her home near Beverly Hills. Though she had long been one of his best friends, prosecutors say, Durst murdered her to prevent her from telling New York investigators that he had admitted killing Kathleen years before.
“I remember the last night I talked to her,” Karr-Morse said of Berman. “She was very nervous. She said someone was coming to see her. She was going to talk to someone about this case and blow it wide open.”
Police found Berman, shot in the back of the head, on Dec. 24, 2000, but investigators believe she had been killed late on the 22nd. Karr-Morse said she last spoke with Berman by telephone that day or a day or two earlier.
Durst is not expected to go to trial until next year. But Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham is allowing Deputy District Attorney John Lewin and his team to question elderly witnesses who might be unavailable at trial.
Karr-Morse, 74, and Berman met as high school freshmen at a boarding school in Portland, Oregon.
“She and I were the only two orphans,” Karr-Morse said. “We were fast friends in high school.”
They remained friends, mostly through lengthy, long-distance phone conversations.
“Suzie was erratic and emotional, and my job was to calm her down as a friend,” said Karr-Morse, who became a clinical psychologist and author in Portland.
“I was sort of a foul-weather friend she would call when the chips were down.”
Over the years, Berman had talked about a wealthy man she knew from New York whose wife had gone missing. Berman “was on the inside of that because she knew the couple,” Karr-Morse testified.
“She said she knew a lot about it. … It sounded like a secret.”
She added: “She was very loyal to this person. She didn’t want to expose him.”
Berman had been a successful journalist in Los Angeles and New York, and had published a memoir about her unusual childhood as the daughter of a Las Vegas Mafia kingpin.
In the last few years of her life, she’d gone broke and had to borrow money from friends, including Karr-Morse.
In their last phone conversation, Berman was “depressed, frustrated and angry,” Karr-Morse said, because her powerful, unnamed friend from New York had disappointed her.
“He hadn’t come through like she thought he would. She sounded like she had reason not to believe what she had previously thought.
“She was sitting on something she knew. And she looked back on this person with a different sense, a different feeling.”
Given that new perspective, Berman felt she had to disclose what she knew. “She was very conflicted, very sad, but she felt she had to do it,” Karr-Morse testified.
She said she asked Berman what it was she knew.
“She said, ‘Robbie, I would tell you, but your life would be in danger.’
“It’s etched in my memory,” Karr-Morse said about their last conversation.
On cross-examination, Durst defense attorney David Chesnoff pointed out that when Los Angeles police interviewed Karr-Morse in March 2001, a few months after Berman’s murder, she did not mention anything about Berman’s “blowing the lid off the story.”
Prosecutor Lewin agreed to stipulate that the topic did not come up in that early interview with police.
On redirect examination, Lewin tried to explore why Berman had not disclosed her secrets to her friend. “I regret to this day that I did not push her,” Karr-Morse said.
Two other elderly witnesses testified Tuesday. Susan Berman’s former next-door neighbor, Marvin Karp, said he noticed Berman’s two dogs running loose in his yard the morning of Saturday, Dec. 23, 2000. He said he had never seen them in the backyard unless Berman was with them, or heard them barking from inside the house.
He said he considered taking them back to Berman when he noticed they’d headed home on their own.
Also testifying Tuesday was Robert Curtis, a retired assistant chief of the Beverly Hills Police Department. He recalled receiving an unusual letter at the department bearing only the word “cadaver” and giving Berman’s address.
The address on the envelope was misspelled as “Beverley Hills Police,” with an extra “e” in Beverly.
The envelope of a letter Durst mailed to Berman misspelled her address the same way.
In November, a former New York City police detective who investigated Kathleen Durst’s disappearance in 1982 will testify for the defense. He is expected to discuss witnesses who believe they saw Kathleen the day after she allegedly disappeared.