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Robert Durst dies age 78 four months after being sentenced to life in prison

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Robert Durst, the convicted killer, real estate heir, and subject of HBO true crime documentary ‘The Jinx’ – has died at age 78 while serving a life sentence for murder at a Los Angeles correctional facility. 

He died just four months after being sentenced to life in prison for the execution-style killing of his longtime friend Susan Berman in 2000.

His lawyer Chip Lewis confirmed to the New York Times he died at San Joaquin General Hospital after going into cardiac arrest.

In December, he was seen looking frail and with a breathing tube in a mug shot released by the California Department of Corrections. 

Just months earlier, Durst – who has numerous medical issues, including contracting COVID-19 – was seen in a wheelchair throughout most his trial in California.

At his time of death, had been acquitted of butchering his neighbor in 2003, and charged by a grand jury over the mysterious disappearance of his first wife in 1982.  

Durst’s lawyers said he was suffering from a ‘myriad of life-threatening issues’ including bladder cancer last September. ‘His health deteriorated over the weeks of the trial,’ said his lawyer Dick DeGuerin. ‘He looked like death warmed over.’

In this December 15, 2021 picture, he was seen looking frail and with a breathing tube in a mug shot released by the California Department of Corrections

Last October, Durst was sentenced to life for Berman’s slaying. Prosecutors alleged his motive was to prevent her from revealing what she knew about the vanishing of his wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst in 1982.    

Throughout his trial, his defense attempted to postpone his case due to ongoing health problems, including chest pains, breathing problems, pain while dressing and from having a catheter, and urinary tract infections due to his bladder cancer. 

A week after his sentencing, he was indicted for the murder of his first wife Kathie Durst in 1982. 

His death leaves behind many unanswered questions surrounding Kathie’s unsolved case; and renewed public interest into the deluded misdeeds of one of America’s most bizarre killers.

Robert Durst, convicted murderer and subject of the HBO true crime doc, 'The Jinx,' died while serving a life sentence in prison. He was 78-years-old. He is pictured on March 17, 2015

Robert Durst, convicted murderer and subject of the HBO true crime doc, ‘The Jinx,’ died while serving a life sentence in prison. He was 78-years-old. He is pictured on March 17, 2015

Durst tested positive for Covid-19 on October 16, just days after he was he was sentenced to life imprisonment for the execution-style killing of his longtime friend and confidant, Susan Berman in 2002

Durst tested positive for Covid-19 on October 16, just days after he was he was sentenced to life imprisonment for the execution-style killing of his longtime friend and confidant, Susan Berman in 2002

Pictured: Durst spins his wheelchir in place during his trial in Inglewood, California on September 8, 2021

Pictured: Durst spins his wheelchir in place during his trial in Inglewood, California on September 8, 2021

Durst, born on April 12, 1943, was the eldest son of a prominent New York real estate dynasty. His grandfather, the family patriarch, Joseph Durst, was a tailor from Poland who immigrated to New Yok in 1902 with $3 sewn into his lapel.

In a few short years, Joseph moved up from peddling children’s clothing on pushcarts to being a partner in a garment factory. 

He soon after expanded into real estate in 1915 with the purchase of his first building on 34th Street. He also founded Capital National Bank, which made loans to the garment district and was eventually sold – giving him seed money for his budding real-estate empire. 

Today, the Durst Organization is worth $8 billion with towering skyscrapers that dominate Manhattan’s iconic skyline. The family-run business owns more than 16 million square feet of real estate in New York City, including a 10% stake in One World Trade Center.  

Robert Durst’s childhood was marred by tragedy when he witnessed his mother, Bernice, commit suicide by jumping off the roof of their family home. (Family members would later claim that it was an accident and dispute that Robert was anywhere present at the time). 

Robert Durst was the eldest son of a prominent New York real estate family. He had a very troubled childhood. From early on he was prone to violent outbursts and pathological lying

Robert Durst was the eldest son of a prominent New York real estate family. He had a very troubled childhood. From early on he was prone to violent outbursts and pathological lying

Robert had a difficult upbringing following the death of his mother, Beatrice, in 1950. His 32-year-old mother died after falling from the roof of their Scarsdale residence in New York. However, Robert, only seven at the time, claimed he saw her jump from the roof

Robert’s childhood was marred by the death of his mother, Beatrice (right) in 1950. His 32-year-old mother died after falling from the roof of their Scarsdale residence in New York. However, Robert, only seven at the time, claimed he saw her jump from the roof and commit suicide

Robert's relationship with his brother, Douglas, only 18 months apart, was perennially fraught. As children, they underwent counseling for a violent sibling rivaling that often ended in physical fights

Robert’s relationship with his brother, Douglas, only 18 months apart, was perennially fraught. As children, they underwent counseling for a violent sibling rivaling that often ended in physical fights

Robert’s relationship with his brother, Douglas, only 18 months apart, was perennially fraught. 

As children, they underwent counseling for a violent sibling rivaling that often ended in physical fights. 

A psychiatrist’s report in 1953 diagnosed 10-year-old Robert with ‘personality decomposition and possibly even schizophrenia.’ 

Classmates described Durst as a ‘loner’ in high school. He went on to attend Lehigh University in Pennsylvania with a degree in economics before he matriculated to UCLA to enroll in a doctoral program. It was there, that he met Susan Berman, an aspiring writer who was the daughter of a Las Vegas mobster.  

In 1969, Durst left UCLA to open a health food store in Vermont which was closed after only two years. 

He moved back to New York and began dating Kathleen McCormack, a young dental hygienist who rented an apartment owned by the Durst Organization. 

After two dates, he asked Kathie to move in with him, and they married on Robert’s thirtieth birthday in 1973. 

Robert joined his father, Seymour and brother Douglas in the family business, developing a string of successful  skyscrapers in midtown Manhattan. Meanwhile, Kathie enrolled in medical school to become a doctor.  

The couple partied at Studio 54, sailed the Mediterranean and traveled to Thailand while splitting time between their penthouse on Riverside Drive and a lakeside cottage in upstate. 

But their relationship grew troubled, friends would later say, when Durst became controlling and pressed his wife to have an abortion. 

‘I was always, always, always very controlling,’ he said, matter-of-factly in the 2015 HBO docuseries, The Jinx. 

Three weeks before she went missing in 1982, 29-year-old Kathleen was treated at a hospital for facial bruises that were sustained in a physical fight with Durst.

 She had discovered that Durst was having an affair with Prudence Farrow (the younger sister of Mia Farrow and the subject of the Beatles song ‘Dear Prudence.’)  

Despite his tremendous wealth, Durst was notoriously cheap. When Kathie asked for a $250,000 divorce settlement (a pittance sum for the billionaire), he refused, removed her name from their bank accounts and cancelled all her credit cards.

The last time Kathie McCormack was seen alive was on January 31, 1982, when she showed up unexpectedly at a dinner party thrown by a friend. 

Durst claimed that he drove his wife to catch a 9:15pm train to Manhattan after having an argument in their upstate cottage. He maintained that he went back to have a drink with a neighbor and spoke to McCormack later that evening when she called from their Riverside Drive apartment. 

Durst later admitted that he lied and just went to bed. ‘That’s what I told police,’ he said in the The Jinx. ‘I was hoping that would just make everything go away.’ McCormack was never seen again and her body has never been found. 

It took Durst five days to report her disappearance to the police. By then, he had already raised suspicions among her family and friends and was considered a prime suspect by police.

Kathleen McCormack Durst, 29, went missing on January 31, 1982 , her body has never been found. Durst was considered a prime suspect in the case but investigators were never able to pin him for the crime

Kathleen McCormack Durst, 29, went missing on January 31, 1982 , her body has never been found. Durst was considered a prime suspect in the case but investigators were never able to pin him for the crime

In the immediate aftermath of Kathie's disappearance, Susan Berman (above) helped Robert craft a phony alibi and stepped in to act as his publicist

In the immediate aftermath of Kathie’s disappearance, Susan Berman (above) helped Robert craft a phony alibi and stepped in to act as his publicist

Durst initially offered $100,000 for his wife's return, then reduced the reward to $15,000. When one of McCormack's friends and her sister found out that she had been reported missing, they broke into her cottage and discovered her belongings were already in the trash

Durst initially offered $100,000 for his wife’s return, then reduced the reward to $15,000. When one of McCormack’s friends and her sister found out that she had been reported missing, they broke into her cottage and discovered her belongings were already in the trash

TIMELINE: THE DESCENT OF ROBERT DURST

1982: Robert Durst’s wife, Kathleen McCormack goes missing on January 31. Durst claimed that he dropped her off at the train station on the night she disappeared, and spoke to her later that evening on the telephone. Kathleen was never seen again.

1994: Robert Durst is pushed out of the family business due to increasingly erratic behavior. His brother is named successor of the real estate empire.

2000: The Westchester County district attorney announces in November that she is reopening the investigation into Kathleen McCormack Durst’s disappearance and Susan Berman is considered a prime witness.

2000: Susan Berman is found executed in her Beverly Hills home. Three days later, an anonymous letter arrives at the Beverly Hills Police Department containing Berman’s address and the word ‘cadaver.’ On the envelope ‘Beverly’ was critically misspelled as ‘Beverley.’ But the case goes cold. 

2001: Durst was arrested in Galveston, Texas, shortly after body parts belonging to his elderly neighbor, Morris Black, were found floating in Galveston Bay. Police tracked him down with a receipt that was left in one of the garbage bags containing Black’s body parts. Durst was released on bail and went on the run for 45 days before he was caught shoplifting a sandwich in Pennsylvania.  

2003: Robert Durst stands trial for the murder of Robert Black and is acquitted of first degree murder. He pleads guilty for the lesser charges of bail jumping and evidence tampering and is sentenced to two years in prison. 

2015: HBO releases a six-part documentary, The Jinx, that discovers new evidence incriminating Durst in the  murder of his best friend, Susan Berman in 2000. FBI agents arrest him in New Orleans on eve before the final episode aired on March 15

2020: Robert Durst’s trial for the murder of Susan Berman begins on March 20. The trial was paused for 14-months during the Covid-19 pandemic and resumed in May 2021. 

2021: Robert Durst is found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole on October 14. 

2021: On October 22, a Westchester County grand jury charged the ex-real estate scion for murder in the 1982 disappearance of his wife, Kathie McCormack

In the immediate aftermath, his best friend and trustworthy confidant, Susan Berman stepped in to act as his publicist. She shielded him from the hounding press, lied in depositions, and helped him craft a phony alibi by posing as Kathleen in a fake sick call to her medical school that made it appear like she was still alive. 

Raised by a mobster father whom she adored, Susan had long internalized the mob’s Omerta, ‘code of silence.’ She was fiercely loyal to Robert Durst, who she called ‘Bobby,’ and who walked her down the aisle of her 1984 nuptials. He was even mentioned in the ‘acknowledgements’ of her 1981 memoir, Easy Street.

But it would be Susan Berman’s intimate knowledge of the situation, that would eventually get her killed 18-years-later for ‘knowing too much.’  

Investigators traced leads, developed suspicions and questioned Robert Durst over McCormack’s disappearance, but the case went cold for almost two decades. Years passed before she was finally presumed dead in 2017. 

Speaking to the New York Times in 2015, Douglas Durst explained how he initially suspected his brother of foul play when his seven dogs, ‘all named Igor,’ died under mysterious circumstances within six months. ‘Before the disappearance of my sister-in-law, Bob had a series of Alaskan Malamutes, which is like a husky,’ he said. ‘We don’t know how they died, and what happened to their bodies.’ 

‘In retrospect, I now believe he was practicing killing and disposing his wife with those dogs.’ 

Douglas explained how Robert chillingly began using the word ‘Igor’ as a verb replacement for ‘kill.’ He told the Times: ‘When he was in jail in Pennsylvania, he was recorded saying, ‘I want to ‘Igor’ Douglas.” 

By 1994, Durst’s professional life had gone off the rails too. As the eldest of four children, Robert was heir apparent of the family empire but a rift had developed at the Durst Organization over his increasing erratic behavior – which included mumbling to himself in meetings, stealing company money and urinating in his brother’s trash bin. 

His long-standing enmity with his brother had grown to keeping weapons — Robert menacingly kept a pointed plumber’s wrench on his desk. In response, Douglas armed his office with a piece of pipe for protection.

Seymour Durst had no choice but to remove Robert as his designated successor and replace him with Douglas. Devastated by the move, Robert cut himself off from the family and began flitting among homes in New York, Texas and California. He did not attend his father’s funeral in 1995.   

Eight years after Kathie went missing, Durst officially divorced her by claiming ‘spousal abandonment.’ He was able to slip the noose of law enforcement until May 2021, when the Westchester DA’s office reclassified the case as a homicide. A grand jury charged  Robert Durst with her murder in October 2021. 

In the interim, Durst went on a killing spree that resulted in the deaths of Berman in 2000, and his elderly neighbor Morris Black in 2001. He was acquitted of the latter crime, and eventually convicted of murdering Susan Berman last year.

Berman was found dead in her Beverly Hills cottage, on Christmas Eve, 2000. Prosecutors said Durst’s motive was to silence her from revealing his connection to Kathie’s 1982 disappearance.

Only one month earlier, in November 2000, the district attorney in Westchester County announced they were reopening the investigation into Kathie McCormack Durst’s cold case. Berman was listed as a key witness to the investigation – which inadvertently signed her death warrant over to Robert Durst.  

‘If anything ever happens to me, Bobby did it,’ she told her friends.  

Executed with a single bullet to the back of her head, Susan’s killing had all the hallmarks of a mob hit. Investigators were confounded by crime scene and speculated it could have been an act of revenge for some long forgotten crime committed by her father, Davie ‘the Jew’ Berman, a former business partner of Bugsy Siegel. 

A few days later, a mysterious letter arrived at the Beverly Hills Police Department, postmarked December 23, 2000. It contained Berman’s address and the word ‘cadaver.’ 

On the envelope ‘Beverly’ was critically misspelled as ‘Beverley’ which matched a previous letter Durst sent to Berman (though it would take investigators 15 years to make that connection). Her case went cold. 

Robert and Kathie Durst were married on his thirtieth birthday in 1973. Kathie's family never liked him. He told HBO: 'They’d never met anything like me before, this guy with piles of money and terrible manners'

Robert and Kathie Durst were married on his thirtieth birthday in 1973. Kathie’s family never liked him. He told HBO: ‘They’d never met anything like me before, this guy with piles of money and terrible manners’

 

Susan Berman's murder went unsolved for 15 years. She was murdered in a execution-style killing with a single bullet to the back of her head

Susan Berman’s murder went unsolved for 15 years. She was murdered in a execution-style killing with a single bullet to the back of her head

In the meantime, Robert Durst went on the run. He lived under different aliases, using false identities to buy cars, rent apartments, and open credit card accounts. 

In another crime riddled with bizarre twists, Durst was arrested in October 2001 for murdering his elderly neighbor, Morris Black, and dumping his body parts in the Galveston Bay. At the time, Durst was dressed in drag and posing as a mute woman named ‘Dorothy Ciner’ in a shabby Texas rooming house.  

He jumped bail and was arrested six weeks later while shoplifting Band-Aids, a newspaper and a chicken sandwich at a supermarket, with $500 cash in his pocket and $37,000 in the trunk of his car. 

Durst was arrested in October 2001 for murdering his elderly neighbor, Morris Black (above), and dumping his body parts in the Galveston Bay

Durst was arrested in October 2001 for murdering his elderly neighbor, Morris Black (above), and dumping his body parts in the Galveston Bay

In the 2003 trial, Durst claimed self defense. He alleged that Morris Black, 71, threatened him with a pistol and was accidentally shot in the ensuing struggle. A psychiatrist testified that Durst had Asperger syndrome, and he was subsequently acquitted of murder, despite his testimony about sitting in a pool of blood while carving up Black’s body.

Durst pleaded guilty to bail jumping and evidence tampering and was given a small three year sentence.  

In a chilling 2015 interview, Durst told HBO: ‘They never found the head. I have no idea why. I do know that there must have been 15 garbage bags full of body parts and other stuff with blood on it or whatever, and they found 12. Why they didn’t find the other ones, since they were all dumped in the same place, I have no idea.’

In 2006, the Durst Organization officially cut ties with their wayward brother for a $65 million payout.  

While on the lam, Durst had plotted to kill his estranged brother, Douglas and stalked his various homes and office armed with guns. He signed over power of attorney to his second wife, Debrah Lee Charatan, a relationship Durst described as a ‘a marriage of convenience.’

The New York Times reported they had ‘never lived together as husband and wife,’ and by the time the HBO documentary aired in 2015, the couple was estranged. Charatan reportedly moved in full time with one of Durst’s real estate lawyers, Steven Holm. Her relationship with Durst at the time of his death is unknown. 

Robert Durst admitted to sending the infamous 'CADAVER' letter (above) that tipped police off to the location of Susan Berman's body at her address

Robert Durst admitted to sending the infamous ‘CADAVER’ letter (above) that tipped police off to the location of Susan Berman’s body at her address

Durst married his second wife,  Debrah Lee Charatan in 2000. The couple briefly shared a Fifth Avenue apartment but apartment in 1990 but 'have never lived together as husband and wife'

Durst married his second wife,  Debrah Lee Charatan in 2000. The couple briefly shared a Fifth Avenue apartment but apartment in 1990 but ‘have never lived together as husband and wife’

Like Kathleen McCormack’s case, Susan Berman’s slaying went cold until 2015 when Durst sat down for a six-part interview with HBO. The filmmakers confronted him with a crucial piece of evidence that connected him to the anonymous ‘cadaver’ note sent to the Beverly Hills police, 15 years earlier.  

During their research, the filmmakers had discovered a letter Durst wrote to Susan Berman in 1999 with identical handwriting and Beverly Hills was misspelled as ‘Beverley’ on both. Confident and cocky, even Durst admitted on camera that ‘only the killer could have written’ the note. 

Flustered, he walked off to the bathroom with the microphone still attached, and was caught muttering to himself: ‘There it is. You’re caught! You’re right, of course…What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.’ 

Twenty-four hours before the final episode aired on March 15, 2015, the FBI detained Mr. Durst on a murder warrant in New Orleans where he was staying under a different alias. After many delays due to various health concerns and the Covid-19 crises, Durst’s trial resumed in May 2021. 

Looking frail and wearing a brown jailhouse jumpsuit, Durst sat slumped in a wheelchair as the Judge sentenced him to life without parole on October 14, for the murder of Susan Berman.  

Judge Mark Windham called Berman’s death a witness killing and ‘a horrific crime’ that was also ‘a denial of justice to the McCormack family.’ Two days after sentencing, Durst was transferred to a hospital and put on a ventilator after testing positive for Covid-19. 

One week later, a grand jury in Westchester County, charged the 78-year-old convict for the 1982 murder of Kathleen McCormack Durst. 

‘Bob is incapable of telling the truth,’ said Douglas Durst in 2015. ‘He is a true psychopath, beyond any emotions. That’s why he does things, so he can experience the emotions that other people have vicariously. Because he has absolutely none of his own.’

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