Millionaire real estate heir Robert Durst is on trial for allegedly killing his best friend to stop her from incriminating him in the disappearance of his wife. Durst, the subject of the HBO crime documentary “The Jinx,” will take the stand today.
Here’s everything you need to know about his case:
- His wife’s disappearance: Durst’s first wife, Kathleen McCormack, was on her way to medical school in New York when she vanished in 1982. Before her disappearance, McCormack had told her close relatives and friends that her husband had abused her physically during their marriage. However, in a case over a decade later, Durst testified that he “put her on the train in Westchester to go into the city that evening” and never saw her again. Despite a cloud of suspicion over the years, Durst has never been arrested for her disappearance.
- His friend’s death: Susan Berman, a crime writer, was a longtime friend of Durst. Berman, who had helped handle Durst’s public relations after his wife’s disappearance, had written books about her family’s mafia ties and had faced financial troubles. Prosecutors say Durst gave Berman money for covering his wife’s disappearance. In 2000, investigators reopened the 1982 disappearance case of Durst’s wife and wanted to speak with Berman about it in Los Angeles. Days before the meeting, Berman was found dead in her living room. However, police did not find Berman on their own. An anonymous letter was sent to police with Berman’s address and the word “cadaver.” A police handwriting analysis said the writing on that card looked like Durst’s, but police didn’t have enough evidence to arrest him at the time. However, in 2015, Durst was eventually accused of killing Berman and was arrested due to evidence from an HBO documentary series. In 2019, Durst’s attorneys confirmed he is indeed the author of the anonymous note but still maintained his innocence.
- His neighbor’s murder: In 2001, after the deaths of McCormack and Berman, Durst said he was facing scrutiny. Thus, the millionaire moved to the coastal Texas city of Galveston. There, Durst had gotten into a scuffle with his neighbor, Morris Black, and admitted to shooting and killing him in 2003. While prosecutors said Durst planned Black’s killing to steal his identity, defense attorneys said Black snuck into Durst’s apartment. According to the attorneys, Durst accidentally shot him as both men struggled for a gun. Then, Durst testified that he panicked and decided to cut up Black’s body and throw away the pieces. Though acquitted of murder for self-defense, Durst later served nine months in prison on felony weapons charges stemming from the Texas case.
- The documentary’s impact: Following the last shot for the finale of the HBO documentary series “The Jinx,” Durst went into the bathroom, apparently not realizing his microphone was still on. “There it is. You’re caught,” he said. He then rambled a series of seemingly unrelated sentences before saying, “He was right. I was wrong.” Then, he added: “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.” According to Susan Criss, a former Texas District Court judge, this was the third time Durst had accidentally revealed incriminating information while wearing a microphone. Moreover, Durst’s attorney said he believed his client’s arrest was deliberately timed to the HBO documentary’s finale. Cold-case specialist John Lewin asked Durst why he hadn’t fled before the documentary aired, especially after filmmakers confronted him with incriminating evidence. “I guess inertia,” Durst replied. “l just didn’t really, really, really think that (I) was gonna end up arrested.”
- Recent evidence: Nathan “Nick” Chavin told the court at the 2017 pretrial hearing for Berman’s case that Durst was the best man at his wedding. Chavin said Berman admitted to him that Durst killed his wife. He also told the court that Durst confessed to him in 2014 that he killed Berman to keep her quiet. Furthermore, one of Berman’s friends, Hollywood producer Lynda Obst, said that Berman told her that she had played a role in covering up Durst’s wife’s disappearance. In 1982, when Durst’s wife went missing, a school official received a call from a woman saying she was McCormack, according to Lewin. The caller said she was sick and wouldn’t make it that day. “Susan Berman disclosed she made the call,” Lewin said.