Slain wife's family: Why'd it take 40 years to charge Durst?

Now that eccentric real estate heir Robert Durst has been indicted for murder in the death of his first wife, who vanished nearly four decades ago, her family has some questions

Robert Durst Wife Disappearance
Robert Durst Wife Disappearance

Now that eccentric real estate heir Robert Durst has been indicted in the death of his first wife, who vanished nearly four decades ago, her family has some questions. Namely, what took so long?

Kathie Durst’s brother, James McCormack, on Tuesday urged the suburban New York prosecutor who secured Durst's indictment to investigate why he wasn't charged sooner.

“Now more than ever it is important to ask why it took so long to get to this point,” said McCormack, speaking at a news conference with his lawyer, Robert Abrams. “My family and I have serious questions and we deserve answers.”

Among other things, they want to know whether evidence was ignored and whether Durst’s family wealth influenced the decades-long investigation.

Durst was charged in Kathie Durst's death just weeks after he was sentenced in California to life in prison for killing a confidante, Susan Berman who prosecutors said helped him cover up the slaying.

Durst was hospitalized with COVID-19 after the Oct. 14 sentencing and has since been transferred to a state prison hospital.

In a letter Monday, Abrams asked Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah to “acknowledge and correct the mistakes made by your predecessors" and asked her to investigate whether Robert Durst's family or his allies hid Kathie Durst's killing.

Abrams accused former Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro of punting the investigation, after a private meeting with Robert Durst's brother Douglas in 2003.

Rocah's spokesperson declined comment.

A message for Pirro seeking comment was left with Fox News where she hosts a weekly program, “Justice with Judge Jeanine.”

In her 2015 book, “He Killed Them All: Robert Durst and My Quest for Justice,” Pirro said she pressed for the meeting with Douglas Durst because, by then, she'd been obsessed with Kathie Durst’s disappearance for four years and wanted to find out what he knew. Durst told Pirro he considered his brother a dangerous psychopath who should be locked up, but there was nothing he could do to help.

Pirro wrote that given the lack of hard evidence at the time, she didn't think she'd be able to convince a jury to convict Robert Durst of murder.

Douglas Durst testified against his brother for six hours at Robert Durst's California trial in June. He denied allegations that he aided in a coverup and, when discussing his strained relationship with his brother, said: “He’d like to murder me.”

In a statement in response to questions from The Associated Press, a spokesperson for the Durst family said that Abrams “has a long history of leveling hollow, baseless attacks without ever providing a single shred of documentation to substantiate his wild claims.”

“In the last two years, Abrams has named the Durst Organization or Douglas Durst more than 30 times in court filings," the Durst family statement said. "Time and time again, these accusations have been summarily dismissed and thrown out by the courts.”

The Durst family owns more than 16 million square feet of real estate in New York and Philadelphia. Family members bought out Robert Durst’s stake in the business for $65 million in 2006.

Kathie Durst’s 1982 disappearance garnered renewed public interest after HBO aired a documentary in 2015 in which Robert Durst appeared to admit killing people, stepping off camera and muttering to himself on a live microphone: “Killed them all, of course.”

Rocah took a fresh look at the case when she took office in January.

Kathie Durst was 29 and in her final months of medical school when she was last seen. She and Robert Durst, who was 38 at the time, had been married nearly nine years and were living in South Salem. Her body was never found.

In December 2000, Durst shot and killed Berman, his best friend, as she was preparing to tell police about her involvement in Kathie Durst’s death. She had told friends she provided a phony alibi for him after his wife vanished, prosecutors said.

Durst was convicted in September of killing Berman. Afterward, Los Angeles prosecutor John Lewin described him as a “narcissistic psychopath,” saying Durst “killed his wife and then he had to keep killing to cover it up.”

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Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak

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