Robert Durst charged with 1982 murder of missing wife days after being sentenced to life in jail for killing friend

Real estate heir sentenced to life in prison last week for killing Susan Berman – who prosecutors claim helped cover up murder of wife

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Friday 22 October 2021 18:55 BST
Related video: Robert Durst, Convicted Murderer, Hospitalized With COVID-19
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Robert Durst has been charged with murder in the case of his first wife who went missing in 1982.

A New York state investigator filed a criminal complaint on Thursday at court in Lewisboro, in which the real estate heir was accused of committing second-degree murder.

The office of Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah said in a statement on Friday that they could “confirm that a complaint charging Robert Durst with the murder of Kathleen Durst was filed in Lewisboro Town Court on October 19, 2021. We have no further comment at this time”.

Ms Rocah convened a grand jury last week to consider charges and have started hearing testimony from witnesses, according to The Associated Press.

The 78-year-old Durst was sentenced to life in prison last week for the murder of Susan Berman, a close friend who prosecutors allege helped Durst cover up the murder of his wife.

Durst has several medical problems and sat in a wheelchair during most of the sentencing. He recently tested positive for Covid-19 and has been put on a ventilator in hospital, according to one of his attorneys. He has been held in the medical department of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles for the last five years. His lawyers have sent notice that they will appeal his LA conviction, and he doesn’t yet have an attorney retained in New York.

Prosecutors in Los Angeles claim that Durst shot Ms Berman when she was about to make a confession to authorities about the death of Kathie Durst, who was 29 years old when she disappeared on 31 January 1982. Her body hasn’t been found and Robert Durst cited abandonment when he divorced her in 1990. She was declared legally dead in 2017 at the request of her family.

Multiple attempts to close the case of her disappearance have been made, but Durst has never been charged until now. When the case became active once again in 1999, authorities searched their home as well as a lake.

The criminal complaint is only a single page long and states that the grounds for the accusation can be found in files held by New York State Police, and the Westchester and Los Angeles district attorneys, and in “conversations with numerous witnesses and observations of defendant’s recorded interviews and court testimony in related proceedings”.

The attorney for Kathie Durst’s family, Robert Abrams, told The New York Times: “My clients, Kathie’s siblings, and I were unaware of this development. Sometimes it takes 40 years for justice. We are grateful for the work, dedication and commitment of District Attorney Rocah and her staff.”

Durst is the oldest son of Seymour Durst, a New York City real estate mogul who died in 1995 and whose family business is now valued at around $8bn. Robert Durst’s younger brother Douglas was tasked with taking the reins of the business in the mid-1990s and the oldest son has been estranged from his family since that time.

He met the nine years younger Kathie McCormack in 1971 and they got married in 1973. The marriage started to strain after some years, and Ms Durst began to chart her own path.

She was never seen again after spending a weekend at their stone cottage at Truesdale Lake, close to the New York State border with Connecticut, in January of 1982. Robert Durst told police that he sent her on a train to Manhattan from Katonah, a town west of the lake.

LA prosecutors said Ms Berman made a phone call pretending to be Ms Durst that confused investigators.

The Westchester district attorney opened the case back up in 2000 after a tip prompted an investigator to once again interview witnesses. Durst left New York when he realised the investigation was back on and has admitted that he lied to police about his wife’s location when she first disappeared.

Evidence presented in LA court suggest that Durst targeted his wife with both mental and physical abuse, but he has insisted that he didn’t murder her. He was arrested in Galveston, Texas 10 months after Ms Berman died in connection to the death of a man who lived across the hall from Durst in a multi-tenant house where Durst was pretending to be a mute woman.

Durst claimed that the man’s death had been an accident that had happened as they struggled for a gun and he was acquitted of murder in the following trial.

Raw tapes from the HBO documentary The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst were played in court in LA. Durst made several admissions as he sat with filmmakers for 20 hours of interviews. He also gave up 60 cartons of private documents, legal records, credit card bills, and phone records.

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