A Short History Of The Robert Durst Case

Robert Durst literally got away with murder in front of a jury – but the madness didn't stop there.

By Kat George

Robert Durst has something of a “colorful” history with the law, even seeming to “get away with” murder on one occasion by a jury verdict. The Manhattan real estate magnate has been a suspect in various disappearances and murders since 1982, when his wife, Kathie, went missing. Oxygen’s The Jury Speaks, premiering Saturday, July 22 at 9/8c, take a closer look at the strange life of Robert Durst, his many brushes with the law, and his final arrest on murder charges for the death of his friend Susan Berman in 2015, more than three decades after his wife disappeared, and only after the gripping The Jinx documentary aired. The story of Robert Durst is long and scandalous, with many twists and turns, beginning with his first marriage.

At 30 years old, Durst married 19 year old Kathie McCormack in 1973. By 1980, the marriage was in trouble. On January 6 1982, Kathie, under the advice of a friend, went to hospital after Durst assault her and was treated for bruising. On January 31 she went missing. Kathie was apparently at a party with friends when an angry phone call from Durst pulled her away. She told friends she was afraid of what Durst would do. None of Kathie’s friends or family saw her again.

Durst officially reported Kathie missing on February 5, 1982. He said that they had fought, and she had wanted to be dropped off at the train station, so he obliged. Once she got to her Manhattan apartment, Durst says they spoke over the phone. Kathie was seen entering the apartment building by a doorman. But many were suspicious about why it took Durst so long to report his wife missing. Kathie’s friends went to police with their suspicions – that Durst was responsible for Kathie’s disappearance. But Kathie’s body never turned up, and there was no evidence of a crime, so police didn’t look into the case further.

Meanwhile, Durst withdrew from the public eye. His friend, Susan Berman, became his unofficial voice in the media. He started dating a woman named Debrah Lee Charatan, and working at his family’s New York real estate company. Secretly, he divorced his missing wife on the grounds of abandonment.

In 1994, Durst’s younger brother became head of the family business, which caused Durst to become estranged from his family. Durst then began life as a vagabond, travelling around America. Towards the end of 1999, police received a tip about the whereabouts of Kathie Durst’s body, and reopened her case as a possible homicide. No body was found, but police did reach out to Durst’s friend Susan Berman in 2000 to ask questions about the disappearance. It would later be revealed that Berman had recently borrowed money from Durst, adding up to a cool $50,000

At the end of 2000, Durst married Charatan in a downbeat ceremony, but continued life as a vagabond nonetheless. On December 19, 2000, he flew from New York to San Francisco, and for three days his exact whereabouts were a mystery. On the 23rd, he flew back to New York from San Francisco. The day after, Susan Berman was found dead from a gunshot wound to her head in her Beverly Hills home. Strangely, the only evidence was a note addressed to the Beverly Hills police, alerting them that there was a “cadaver” in Berman’s home.

Kathie’s friend and the media descended on Durst. The former especially believed that he’d killed Berman, much like they believed he’d killed Kathie. To escape the publicity Durst went on the lam, moving to Galveston Texas, where he pretended to be a woman named Dorothy Ciner. Dorothy was a mute who lived in a boarding house next to a man named Morris Black. 

Almost unsurprisingly, on September 30, 2001, Black’s dismembered body was found floating in and strewn around the beach. Some of the body parts were wrapped in bags with the boarding house address on them, and it didn’t take long for police to locate Durst at that address. In Black’s room they found a trail of blood from Black’s apartment leading into “Dorothy’s”, where they also found a bloody knife and men’s boots. But Durst was nowhere to be found.

Police eventually tracked Durst down to a hotel, where he was checked in under the name “Jim Truss”. They also found the saw that had been used to chop up Black’s body in Durst’s possession. The evidence was fairly damning, and he was arrested. But with his immense resources, Durst was able to post bail, and free from police custody, he disappeared.

The bizarre twists weren’t even close to ending. On October 18, 2001, Durst used Black’s identity to rent a car in Alabama. On November 30, he was finally apprehended, while shoplifting a sandwich in Pennsylvania. In his possession was Morris Black’s id and a two guns. Almost two years later, in September 2003, Durst faced the court, on trial for Black’s murder. During the trial, Durst admitted to dismembering Black, but argued that he only killed him in self defense. Shockingly, Durst was found not guilty, but pled guilty to tampering with evidence and skipping bail, and served his five year sentence on parole.


Durst broke his parole terms shortly thereafter, travelling back to the site of Black’s murder, and was put back in jail in December 2005. In March 2006, Durst successfully appealed the conditions of his parole, and was once again freed from prison

The movie All Good Things, based on Durst’s life, came out in 2010. The director, Andrew Jarecki, was contacted by Durst, who was so moved by the film he offered himself up for interview. The interview became the HBO documentary, The Jinx, and also Durst’s ultimate downfall. While researching for the documentary, filmmakers found an envelope with a handwritten address on it – Susan Berman’s – written by Durst. The handwriting was a perfect match for the tip-off letter sent to the Beverly Hills police (both letters even misspelled Beverly “Beverley”) following Berman’s death. Jarecki confronted Durst on camera, and Durst denied the allegations, but would later be caught in the bathroom with his microphone still on, muttering “I killed them all”, although filmmakers claim they weren’t immediately aware of this recording.

In 2013, Jarecki shared the information he’d collected with the police. The following year, the investigation into Berman’s murder was reopened. Shortly afterwards, filmmakers “discovered” the audio of Durst admitting his crimes. Around the same time, Durst was fined $500 for urinating on a rack in a CVS in Houston

Police linked Durst to the Berman letter in November, 2014, and by March the following year Durst was once again on the run. The Jinx was on air and had revealed the letter connection to the public, and Durst was officially wanted by the law for the murder of Susan Berman. On March 14, Durst was captured in New Orleans, allegedly attempting to flee. In his possession were a gun, $40,000 cash and a latex mask. It was the day before the season finale of The Jinx was set to air. Durst was charged with the murder of Susan Berman, and his trial is set to begin in October 2017. 

[All photos: Getty Images]

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