Robert Durst: Getting Up to Speed on 'The Jinx', the Trial & Key Players
By Stacy Lambe
You’ve read the headlines. You may have watched the hit HBO
documentary ‑- or even seen the 2010 film starring Ryan Gosling. And the
question remains: Who is Robert Durst?
The real estate heir suspected of committing several
murders, including that of longtime friend Susan Berman, is the subject of
headlines once again following his arrest in New Orleans and a terrifying
conclusion to HBO’s six-part documentary.
“What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course,” Durst
mumbled to himself, unaware he was being recorded in the bathroom in the finale
of The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of
Now, the 71-year-old is on the verge of a huge media trial
as Los Angeles preps to try him on the murder of Berman with a possible death
sentence if found guilty.
With so much to understand, ETonline breaks down everything
you need to know to about Durst, his suspected crimes, and key players in the
case to get you up to speed:
Durst is the eldest son of Seymour, a New York City real
estate developer and inventor of the National Debt Clock and Bernice Herstein
(now dead after committing suicide in 1950). Durst has three siblings, Douglas,
Thomas, and Wendy, all of whom were raised in Scarsdale, NY.
Durst and his brother Douglas have a contentious
relationship going back to childhood when Robert reportedly would harass him. “We
would have constant physical fights,” Douglas told The New York Times. He also detailed
a time when he broke his wrist after being shoved onto the ice of a skating
rink. Douglas also said that his younger siblings were subjected to Robert’s
torture and harassment.
In 1973, Durst married his first wife Kathleen McCormack.
For a short period the two moved to Vermont and opened a small food store, All
Good Things, before Durst returned to New York City to work in the real estate
Kathleen was first reported missing in 1982 and has never
been seen since.
In 1994, Douglas was named Seymour’s successor of the Durst
Organization, prompting Robert to leave the company.
In 2000, after New York State Police re-opened the
investigation in Kathleen’s disappearance with Durst as suspect for her murder.
Berman, who served as Durst’s spokesperson after Kathleen first went missing
and is believed to have knowledge about the true nature of her disappearance,
was executed in her home just before Christmas.
Her death happened just weeks after Durst married his second
wife Debrah Lee Charatan. According to The New York Times, the couple has
“never lived together as husband and wife.”
That same year, Durst moved to Galveston, TX and assumed the identity of a deaf mute woman. He eventually befriended his neighbor Morris Black, who was later found dead. Durst was promptly arrested for the 2001 murder. In court, he admitted to dismembering Black's body and dumping him into the Galveston River but he was acquitted of the charges.
In February, HBO debuted The
Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, a six-part documentary detailing
three murders that Durst is suspected of committing, including the
disappearance of Kathleen and the execution of Berman, and the murder and
dismemberment of Black.
The documentary was directed by Andrew Jarecki. The
filmmaker previously directed All Good
Things, the 2010 fictionalized version of Durst’s story starring Ryan
Gosling and Kirsten Dunst.
The series allowed Durst to tell his story, as well as
refute claims that he was guilty of any of any of the crimes he’s been long
suspected of committing. Over the course of 25 hours during two separate
interviews, Durst admitted to lying to the police about the night Kathleen
disappeared, was discovered to have penned a letter with handwriting that
matched a note to police alerting them of Berman’s murder. Both envelopes
included the misspelled “Beverley Hills” in the address.
The series’ finale was highly publicized thanks to the New
Orleans arrest of Durst less than a day before it aired. When confronted on
camera about the two letters, Durst became visibly uncomfortable. And when
taping was over, he was recorded on his mic saying what many fans believe is a
confession. “What a disaster,” he said at one point.
Immediately following the finale, the filmmakers came under
fire for its unclear timeline as to when the final interview took place and
whether they withheld evidence from the police. Jarecki and those associated
with the film immediately pulled from all press interviews, citing the
possibility of being called as a witness.
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On Saturday, March 14, Durst was arrested in New Orleans on
an out-of-state murder warrant for Berman’s death.
California authorizes reopened Berman’s case in part due to
the HBO series. "As a result of investigative leads and additional
evidence that has come to light in the past year, investigators have identified
Robert Durst as the person responsible for Ms. Berman's death," the LAPD said
according to ABC
At the time of his arrest, Durst’s lawyers told ABC
News he would not fight extradition “in an attempt to expedite the process
of getting into court in LA to answer and defend against the charges.”
In addition to the murder charge, Durst is also facing
felony firearms and drug charges. At the time of his arrest, Durst had a Smith
& Wesson .38-caliber revolver on his body as well as marijuana, $42,000 in
cash, a latex mask, a fake I.D., a legitimate passport, and maps of Cuba.
Officials also reported
that he was expecting a package with $117,000 in cash and other personal items.
Durst is currently being held without bail and was recently
transferred to a mental health facility for an unspecified “acute mental
condition,” per reports from NBC
A preliminary hearing on the criminal charges will be held
The Durst trial in California is expected to be a media
sensation following three decades of headlines, suspicion, and the fallout from
the documentary—which has become a point of contention for both sides.
According to the Los Angeles Times, legal experts
said the prosecution will likely limit how much evidence from the documentary
is used in the case against Durst. There are questions as to whether the
off-camera recording is admissible and the doubts surrounding the film’s
accuracy could also damage their argument.
While Los Angeles County wants to try him on first-degree
murder for Berman’s death, the case cannot move forward until his criminal
charges in New Orleans are resolved.
The Key Players
In addition to Durst and the three victims, there are
several people that have received attention for their involvement in previous
investigations, the documentary, and the current legal battle.
director of The Jinx and All Good Things. He confronted Durst on
camera about the suspicious letters, which may be key in linking him to
Chip Lewis and Dick
DeGuerin, the two attorneys for Durst. DeGuerin is a Texas-based criminal
defense lawyer who has also defended Tom DeLay and David Koresh.
Debrah Lee Charatan,
the second and current wife of Durst. The two were married suspiciously ahead
of Berman’s murder and his eventual trial for Black’s murder. Under spousal
privilege, Charatan has never had to go on record about what she may know about
any of the three deaths (Kathleen, Berman, or Black).
the younger brother of Durst and current chairman of the Durst Organization.
After refusing to participate in The Jinx,
Douglas has spoken to the press on several occasions stating his relief that
his brother was apprehended.
the former District Attorney of Westchester County who led the investigation
into Kathleen’s disappearance. She’s long vocalized her belief of Durst’s guilt
in all three murders.
the stepson of Berman. He discovered the incriminating letter believed to link
Durst to Berman’s murder.
Durst’s longtime friend who was executed in 2000. Berman is the daughter of a
mobster and was reportedly working on several lucrative projects -- a Sopranos-like series for Showtime and a
memoir -- that could have spilled many secrets.