LOS ANGELES (CN) — Weeks before she vanished forever, the wife of New York real estate scion Robert Durst was distraught, fearful and anxious to escape her marriage, two of her siblings and a close friend told a Superior Court jury Thursday.
Kathie Durst even told the friend that her multimillionaire husband might kill her.
“She said, ‘Should anything happen to me, you make sure you don’t let the bastard get away with it,’” the friend, Dr. Marion Watlington, testified.
Robert Durst is on trial in Los Angeles charged with murdering his good friend Susan Berman in late 2000.
The chief prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, says he will prove that Durst killed Kathie Durst in 1982 and then 18 years later killed Berman to keep her quiet about how she helped him cover up Kathie’s disappearance.
Watlington, now an internist in Bermuda, had taught Kathie as a nursing student at Western Connecticut State University and became a mentor to her as they both went on to medical school.
Early on, Kathie was “delightful,” “effervescent” and “head and shoulders above the other students around her,” Watlington said. But when the two spoke by phone in late 1981 or early ’82, “she was angry, distraught and upset.”
“She told me that she had been beaten up by her husband to the point she’d gone to the hospital,” with injuries so bad the staff photographed them, Watlington said.
Under cross-examination by David Z. Chesnoff, one of Robert Durst’s defense attorneys, Watlington recalled another phone call in which Kathie was so upset that she worried her father-in-law Seymour Durst, the head of the powerful, billion-dollar Durst Organization, might try to have her killed.
Lewin immediately objected, but Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham instructed the jurors they could consider that testimony only to show Kathie’s state of mind, not as evidence of Seymour’s possible guilt.
In their testimony, Kathie Durst’s elder brother and sister also described their sister’s marriage as chaotic and abusive.
Her brother, James McCormack, said Durst subjected Kathie to emotional, social, economic and physical abuse.
He said that at one family Christmas gathering, Robert Durst became impatient to leave, but Kathie wanted to stay.
“Bob insisted she get up,” he said. “He got impatient. He went out and then he came back very quickly. He grabbed Kathie by the top of her head and yanked her. She went with the yank. … It was like a lightning bolt.”
When the couple met and married in the early 1970s, they were happy and very much in love, McCormack said. But Durst was always cold and curt and rude to the family.
McCormack testified that Durst forced his wife to have an abortion. After that, “she refocused herself” toward helping people by studying nursing and going to medical school with the goal of becoming a pediatrician, he said.
“She’d grown up, grown smarter,” he said. “I believe she’d grown past Bob.”
Virginia McKeon testified that her sister had grown up in a happy, middle-class family. The youngest of five, Kathie was special, intelligent and a go-getter, she said
She was very happy when she first married Durst. But after a few years, “she wanted to accomplish things,” McKeon said.
The sisters last spoke in a three-hour phone call in mid-January 1982, just a few weeks before Kathie vanished. “She was very upset and very sad.” She wanted to leave Durst, but she “wanted to get her due” from any divorce settlement, McKeon said.
The last witness to testify Thursday was Rashid Shariff, one of the four Los Angeles police officers who found Susan Berman’s body lying in a pool of blood in her Beverly Hills-area cottage on Christmas Eve 2000. He is to return to court Monday for cross-examination.
Durst’s murder trial is expected to last about five months. Shariff is the ninth prosecution witness to testify, out of an estimated 120, since testimony began Wednesday.