Robert Durst recalls his mother’s death as he defends himself at murder trial: ‘I waved at Mommy on the roof’

The real estate heir denied killing his friend to cover up the disappearance of his wife

Josh Marcus
Tuesday 10 August 2021 02:42 BST
Watch live as millionaire Robert Durst testifies at his murder trial

The pandemic may have delayed the trial for months, but the intrigue hasn’t ended in the case of Robert Durst, the New York millionaire real estate heir accused of killing his best friend with a shot to the back of her head in 2000 to cover up a second murder.

On Monday, Mr Durst, 78, wearing a brown jail uniform and looking frail in a wheelchair, took the rare, step of taking the stand as a witness in his own murder trial.

There, he denied that he killed the crime writer Susan Berman, a friend who acted as his de facto spokesperson and allegedly helped conceal the suspected murder of Mr Durst’s wife Kathleen McCormack in 1982.

"Bob, did you kill Susan Berman?" his lawyer, Dick DeGeurin, asked in his opening round of questions.

"No," Mr Durst said in response, adding “No, I do not,” when Mr DeGuerin asked if he knew who did kill her.

Investigators re-opened the Kathleen McCormack disappearance case in 2000, and were planning to meet with Ms Berman to discuss further. Right before the meeting, police found Ms Berman dead in her living room in Beverly Hills with a gunshot to the back of her head, after receiving an anonymous letter with her address and the word “cadaver.”

During the trial, Durst described meeting Berman poolside at University of California Los Angeles in 1966. The two bonded, Durst said, because they were both “rich,” “had trust funds,” and both had parents who were dead.

“Both of us were raised by others than our parents,” Durst testified. “Her parents were both dead, her father died when she was 7, her mother died when she was 12. My mother died when I was 7, my father couldn’t handle me and I kept running away.”

On the subject of parents, Durst eerily described seeing “mommy on the roof,” the night his mother Bernice died at the family’s Scarsdale, New York, home in 1950.

“I did not see whether she jumped or fell ... I saw her on the roof. I waved at Mommy on the roof,” he said.

“Then, I was walked to my bedroom and shortly thereafter, I heard my father yell.”

“I saw my mother in her night gown on the cobble stone. They say she died instantly.”

Durst said during the trial he blamed his father Seymour for the death, and didn’t know whether it was accidental or intentional. From that point on, Durst, who was arrested in 2015, said he “hated the house.” Durst’s estranged brother Douglas, who runs the family’s billion-dollar real estate company, has said there was “no way” Durst saw Bernice fall, and during his testimony on Monday, Robert Durst said his brother was “lying.”

Durst’s case became a national fixation following the 2015 HBO documentary, The Jinx.

The day’s proceedings also focused on Durst’s ailments, and his attorneys pointed out that he had bladder cancer, hydrocephalus, neuropathy, high blood pressure, and chronic kidney disease, which they said in a request last week made him too ill to testify.

Monday’s courtroom drama followed a slow build-up of claims against Durst, including from his longtime friend Nick Chavin that Durst confessed to murdering Berman.

“We walk out the door and on the sidewalk I said, ‘You wanted to talk about Susan?’” Chavin said during a pre-taped video examination that was played for the jury in late July. “Bob said, ‘I had to. It was her or me. I had no choice.’”

Durst’s trial was set to begin at the beginning of 2020, before being delayed by coronavirus.

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