LOS ANGELES (CN) — Robert Durst, the reclusive New York real estate heir who was sentenced to life in prison last year for the 2000 murder of his friend Susan Berman, has died in prison at the age of 78.
"Mr. Durst passed away early this morning while in the custody of the California Department of Corrections," his lawyer Chip Lewis said Monday. "We understand that his death was due to natural causes associated with the litany of medical issues we had repeatedly reported to the court over the last couple of years."
Durst's death marks the end of an often strange and troubled life that came to fascinate a national audience with the 2015 HBO documentary "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst."
In the documentary Durst is interviewed, against the advice of his lawyers, about the never-solved disappearance of his wife in upstate New York in 1982, the murder of Berman in Los Angeles and the 2001 killing of his neighbor in Galveston for which Durst was acquitted at trial. At the end of documentary, Durst — unaware his microphone is still on — mutters to himself, "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."
“This closes the book on the Durst murders saga,” said Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, who has been following the Berman murder trial. “He thought he was smarter than everyone else and that he was never going to get caught.”
Durst’s hubris in doing the Jinx interview and in testifying in his own defense at the Berman trial might have been his undoing, according Rahmani. Ultimately, the Los Angeles jury didn’t believe his explanations in what was a very difficult cold-case prosecution, Rahmani said.
The eldest son of New York real-estate magnate Seymour Durst, Robert Durst had no interest in working in the family business and after college opened up a health food store called All Good Things in Vermont. His father eventually persuaded him to return to New York, but Durst's erratic and rude behavior — such as loud burping at company meetings — prompted his father to appoint his younger brother Douglas to take over the organization.
The disappointment of being passed over caused a permanent rift between Durst and his family and after suing he received a reported $65 million for his share of the family trust.
The disappearance of his first wife Kathie in 1982 had long been a mystery but at Durst's trial for the murder of Berman, the prosecution filled in many of the blanks. According to them, the couple's marriage had been troubled and Durst killed his wife after an argument at their lakeside house in upstate New York. Durst then got Berman, a longtime friend who worshipped him, to lie for him and impersonate his wife in a phone call to the dean of the medical school Kathie attended in New York City.
After the Los Angeles trial for the murder of Berman, prosecutors in New York indicted Durst for his wife's murder.
According to the prosecution's evidence at the Berman trial, Durst was worried in early 2000 that Berman might tell New York prosecutors, who were again looking into Kathie's disappearance, about how she had helped at the time. Durst drove to Berman's Los Angeles home around Christmas and shot her in the back of her head. He then sent a note to the police that there was a "cadaver" at Berman's address.
He addressed that note to the "Beverley Hills" police, using the same misspelling of Beverly Hills that the documentary makers discovered on a letter he had sent to Berman. Durst at trial admitted he had sent the "cadaver" note but claimed that he had found Berman already dead at her place and that he panicked because he feared the police wouldn't believe him given the suspicious disappearance of his wife earlier.
Meanwhile Durst, worried about the renewed investigation into Kathie's disappearance, had been living in a rented apartment in Galveston disguised as a mute woman. He had befriended his elderly next door neighbor Morris Black, but fearing that Black had discovered his real identity and reason for lying low Durst shot him, dismembered the corpse and dumped the body parts in the Galveston Bay.
After he was arrested, Durst jumped bail only to be arrested again a few months later when he was caught shoplifting a sandwich even though he had thousands of dollars of cash on him. A Texas jury acquitted him of murdering Black — Durst claimed Black was shot during a struggle after pulling a gun on Durst — but convicted him of bail-jumping and tampering with evidence.
Berman's family repeated pleaded with Durst to tell Kathie's family where he buried Kathie's body so they could have closure. If he knew, however, it was a secret he took with him to the grave.
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