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Crime News Dateline

Who Is Robert Durst’s Second Wife, Debrah Lee Charatan?

Although they only lived together for a “short stint,” real estate investor Debrah Lee Charatan helped Robert Durst gain access to his money and served as a sounding board during his trial for the killing of Morris Black.

By Jill Sederstrom

When most people think of Robert Durst’s romantic entanglements, they think of his first wife, Kathleen Durst, who remains missing to this day.

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But Durst had another wife later in life. He married real estate broker Debrah Lee Charatan in a small ceremony in 2000 and while some believe the marriage was more of a business arrangement, Charatan served a vital role in his life. 

“That wasn’t a marriage made in heaven, that was clearly a marriage of convenience,” Matt Birkbeck, the author of the novel A Deadly Secret, told Oxygen’s Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.

Durst, who died in 2022 while still married to Charatan, had a complicated life. The scion of a New York real estate empire grew up with wealth and privilege, but never seemed to live up to the image his father Seymour Durst had for him.

Durst was long suspected of killing Kathleen in the early 1980s and was indicted for the murder in 2021, although the case would ultimately never go to trial. In 2003, he was famously acquitted for the violent killing and dismemberment of his neighbor Morris Black, after arguing he had killed the man in self defense. 

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But that wasn’t the end of his legal woes. In 2021, a jury convicted Durst of murdering his close friend and confidant, Susan Berman, nearly two decades earlier, after the case was thrust into the spotlight by the HBO documentary The Jinx. Under California law because he had appealed the conviction at the time of his death, the conviction was later vacated.

His criminal ties have received international attention, but less is known about his wife of more than two decades and the role she potentially played helping him on the run or while he was on trial for killing Black.

Who is Debrah Lee Charatan?

Charatan and Durst first met after being introduced by a mutual friend at a real estate dinner in 1988, six years after his first wife Kathie disappeared, according to The New York Times.  

The couple bonded over the tragedies that had plagued their families. Durst’s mother committed suicide in 1950 after leaping from the roof of the family’s Scarsdale home, while Charatan’s parents survived the Nazi invasion during World War II. Her father lost a foot from a land mine explosion. According to The Times, Charatan was going through a nasty divorce when they first connected and Durst helped her financially with the legal battle. 

By then, Charatan was already an established figure in the real estate community after starting an all-female sales team with her company, Bach Realty, according to her website

Debrah Lee Charatan wearing a white dress and head scarf and sunglasses sits on a lounge chair smiling

As The Times reports, the couple only lived together for a “short stint,” but remained connected for decades as Durst regularly moved between New York, California, Connecticut, Texas, and Louisiana. 

When did Debrah Lee Charatan and Robert Durst get married?

Durst had long been considered a person of interest in the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathie, but Berman, his friend and close confidant at the time, often acted as his spokesperson and kept him from the media attention surrounding the case.

For years after the disappearance, Berman, a struggling screenwriter in Los Angeles, had relied on Durst’s financial support, but by late 2000, she was fearful of her friend and started to worry she knew too much about his past, Berman's close friend and psychic told Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.

That same year, investigators decided to reopen the case into Kathie’s disappearance. 

Not long after, Charatan and Durst got married, picking a rabbi out of the phone book and exchanging vows in a small ceremony in a New York City office building, according to The New York Times.

Birkbeck told Dateline Correspondent Keith Morrison that Durst tied the knot and gave Charatan access to his financial accounts in case he was arrested so that he would have someone to bail him out and handle his affairs. As his wife, Charatan also couldn’t be forced to testify against her husband and allegedly gained access to his vast wealth.

“Debrah doesn’t do anything unless Debrah benefits,” former West Chester County District Attorney turned television personality Jeanine Pirro said.  “She is a savvy businesswoman.”

After tying the knot, Durst flew to California. Just days before Christmas, Berman was found shot to death in her Benedict Canyon home, leaving some to speculate that Durst may have been tying up loose ends.

Debrah Lee Charatan and the Morris Black Trial

Durst then fled to Galvaston, Texas where he tried to lay low and rented a $300 a month apartment under the name Dorothy Ciner.

However, when his neighbor Morris Black was found dismembered in the Galveston Bay, Durst was arrested and charged with murder.

After his arrest, he called Charatan who helped arrange $300,000 in cash for bail. As soon as he was out of jail, Durst went on the run, but was eventually captured after he was caught shoplifting in Pennsylvania. 

Now back in Texas, Charatan played a vital role in convincing Durst to fire attorney Michael Kennedy, the attorney his family had arranged to represent him. Kennedy had reportedly wanted Durst to use an insanity defense, but Charatan believed the move could cut them both out of his family’s money.

“What he doesn’t want is me to get any of the trust money later on, since I’m not your wife because you were incompetent at the time, OK, that means they are the only ones who can make your decisions,” she said in one jailhouse call, according to CNN.

MPX Video: "[P | Available on: 2/14/2024, 9:00 PM ET] Robert Durst: The Lost Years (599111)"

Durst hired respected Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin instead, who would ultimately argue in court that Durst had killed Black in self-defense during a fight for the control of a gun.

Before trial, the presiding judge in the case, Susan Criss, later told Dateline: Secrets Uncovered that Charatan and a friend smuggled a tape recorder into the prison to help Durst practice what he planned to say on the stand.

“He would practice his testimony, sneak the tapes back to them and then discuss with them whether or not he sounded believable with the story that he was telling,” she said.

Durst was acquitted in 2005.

Were Debrah Charatan and Robert Durst still in touch when he died?

Less is known about Charatan’s relationship with Durst in the later years of his life. CNN reported in 2015 that she had been opposed to him participating in The Jinx and didn’t speak to him after the show aired.

Yet he left his share of the family’s fortune to Charatan when he died in 2022, according to Westchester News 12.

Today, Charatan serves as president of BCB Property Management, a property management firm in Manhattan, and is active in philanthropy.