Case Closed: Real Estate Mogul Robert Durst Is Found Guilty of First Degree Murder


(WARNING–This post contains content such as suicide, disembodiment and murder. Proceed with caution)

KILLED THEM ALL–Robert Durst is a multimillionaire scion who had escaped the spotlight of the media when rumors spread about the disappearance of three people whom he was associated with. That all changed when The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst was released, shining that light back on him and revisiting the cases with the possibility of a motive to kill. He was connected to the unsolved disappearance of his wife Kathleen McCormack Durst, the murder of his longtime friend Susan Berman, for which he was found guilty of on counts of first-degree murder just this past week, and the murder and disembodiment of his neighbor Morris Black, to which he was acquitted. 

Durst grew up in Scarsdale, New York. At the age of seven, he witnessed the traumatic death of his mother who died from falling off of a roof in the middle of the night. It was never confirmed whether his mother had commited suicide or if she had simply fallen off the roof. Durst later claimed that his father had walked him to a window and watched as his mother fell to her death. In an article published by The New York Times in 2015, Durst’s brother Douglas had denied that Robert had witnessed her death. As children, Robert and Douglas had gone to counseling for “sibling rivalry.” After one session, one of the psychiatrists had assessed Robert and reported that he had “personality decomposition and possibly even Schizophrenia.”

Kathleen McCormack was a dental hygienist who had met Durst in 1971. After a few dates, Durst had invited her to share his home in Vermont. He would later have to move to New York to work for his father and his company The Durst Organization.  The couple moved to Manhattan where they would wed on April 27, 1973, Durst’s thirtieth birthday.

Robert Durst Found Guilty of Murdering Best Friend Susan Berman |
Kathleen McCormack and Robert Durst. Photo Courtesy of People.

McCormack would go missing in 1982 after an unexpected visit to her friend Gilberte Najamy’s party on January 1st. According to Najamy she was “upset” and wearing “red sweatpants” which he had found odd given that McCormack dressed in high quality clothing. McCormack would take a train to her marital home in New York City. McCormack was supposed to meet up again with Najamy at a pub called The Lion’s Gate in Massachusetts but when she failed to show up, Najamy had  repeatedly called the police and filed for a missing person’s report. Durst would later that week file for a missing persons report. The doorman and building superintendent at the building in which Durst and McCormack shared would claim to have seen her on February 1st after the party. The doorman questioned himself whether the person he had seen walking down the street was McCormack. However when Durst’s criminal lawyer hired a private investigator, they reported that the doorman had not seen McCormack arrive at all. In fact, the doorman might not have even been working that night. When Durst was questioned about his wife’s disappearance, he admitted to lying to the police so that they would “go away.” 

One of the most compelling pieces of evidence was the connection between Kathleen McCormack and Susan Berman. Berman, who was a crime writer, would become a confidant to Durst when he was first suspected of murdering his wife. Berman and Durst had first met at UCLA in the 1960’s. Berman would later move to New York where she would meet Durst’s wife McCormack.

According to BBC News, Durst had killed Berman to silence her from speaking out about his wife’s disappearance. On December 24 of 2000, Berman was found shot at point blank in the head in her Beverly Hills home with her back door opened and her three fox terriers loose. 

Robert Durst Found Guilty of Murdering Best Friend Susan Berman |
Susan Berman with Robert Durst. Photo Courtesy of People.

A few days later, police received a note marked December 23, containing Berman’s address and the word “cadaver.” A cadaver is a dead body,  specifically a human one. At the time, Durst was in northern California and had flown to New York the night before Berman’s body was found. Berman had received a total of $50,000 dollars in cash from Durst. When he was questioned, Durst admitted to  sending Berman $25,000 and faxing investigators a copy of her 1982 deposition regarding his wife, but refused to be interrogated any further. Cathy Scott, a biographer who wrote about Berman, would later assert that Durst had killed Berman because she “knew too much.”  

On Monday, a dramatic turn of events took place when the jury brought out a tape recording of a conversation he had had in 2015 with his current wife Debra Charatan. They discussed former Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro and a false theory that Durst’s brother Douglas Durst helped him dispose of McCormack’s body. The conversation went something like this:

Durst to Charatan: “I love it.”

Charatan, referring to Pirro: “Yes. She thinks that Douglas helped you.”

Durst: “I might decide to, depending on how things go, to confirm her thoughts.”

Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, who had lead the murder trial, asked Durst to explain what everyone had just heard in the courtroom.

Durst stared straight ahead, silent, for at least 20 seconds.

“You’re speechless aren’t you?” asked Lewin.

“It doesn’t make sense” said Durst, dumbfoundedly.

Things escalated after Durst repeatedly dodged questions about murdering Berman. Lewin urged Durst to “put down the facade.” He shouted at Durst, challenging him to “tell the world what (you) did,” seeing as this was his chance to tell the world what he did.

Durst replied coolly, “I have repeatedly told people what happened and why I did what I did.”

According to BBC News, in one of the earlier hearings Durst’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, had “objected to jurors also being shown slips from All The Good Things,” a 2010 movie about his life starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. 

According to the Daily News, after Morris Black, Durst’s neighbor at the time, had discovered his identity, Durst had killed Black in “self-defense” and proceeded to chop up his body in a drunken state which he described as a “fugue state.” Parts of Black were found floating in the Galveston river in Texas. Eerily enough, according to ABC News, Black’s head had never been found.

That story had changed when Durst was questioned in 2015. Durst says that Morris had been in his apartment “uninvited” and had a “kind of look on his face” that meant “he was angry with me.” Durst goes on to say that Morris had taken a gun that he possessed from his oven and pointed it at Durst. Durst says he was “concerned that Morris was going to shoot the gun” and lunged for the barrel. He says that they had tripped and the gun went off unexpectedly, although he had not touched the gun itself.

Durst said that his first instinct was to call an ambulance or 911, so he ran to a neighbor to call for help. When he came back, he had washed his hands and kept replaying the situation over and over in his head.

“Well, I kept going over the situation in my mind that Morris was shot in the face with my gun in my apartment, and I had rented this apartment disguised as a woman,” Durst said. “And the police would — I mean, even before I got to the point where the police were immediately going to look into who am I, Robert Durst, who happened to rent this apartment as Dorothy Ciner and find out that I am this wealthy guy who rented the apartment well below his means and there is all this media attention on him back in New York. I just didn’t think I would be believed. I didn’t think they would believe me.”

In 2016, Durst was charged with illegal gun possession, seeing as he was a felon.

In the last few moments before the series The Jinx ended, viewers could hear the bone chilling voice of Durst muttering to himself, “what the hell did I do? Kill them all. Of course.” Many suspected that Durst did not know his microphone had been un-muted. Hours after the final episode aired, authorities arrest Durst in New Orleans. Prosecutors would describe Durst as a “narcissistic psychopath”, who will spend the rest of his life in jail. 

UPDATE 10/14/2021:

Robert Durst has been sentenced to life in prison without parole for the first-degree murder of his friend Susan Berman.