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Real Estate Tycoon Robert Durst Guilty of Murdering Wife’s Best Friend

The Daily Beast logo The Daily Beast 17/09/2021 Blake Montgomery
a close up of a person wearing a mask: Al Sieb/REUTERS © Provided by The Daily Beast Al Sieb/REUTERS

Real-estate tycoon Robert Durst was found guilty of murder on Friday after months of testimony.

The 78-year-old millionaire was charged with first-degree murder in the killing of a close friend, Susan Berman, in 2000 in Beverly Hills. Berman, 55, died just one hour before a scheduled meeting with law enforcement to discuss the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst. Better known as Kathie, she had been en route to medical school when she disappeared. She and Robert were having marital troubles at the time, according to Robert’s billionaire brother Douglas, that included Kathie’s plans for a divorce. Her body has never been found, and she was declared legally dead in 2017.

Durst has denied killing his wife or Berman, asserting he merely discovered the latter’s corpse on the floor in her bedroom with a gunshot wound in the back of her head. Prosecutors alleged Durst had told Berman about his wife’s murder and solicited her help with hiding the body. A lack of evidence of forced entry or robbery showed that Berman “knew her killer,” according to prosecutors.

text, whiteboard: Los Angeles County Superior Court © Provided by The Daily Beast Los Angeles County Superior Court

The lengthy trial, delayed for 14 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, revealed that Durst had lied five times to investigators as they probed his involvement in the deaths of the two women over the years. His attorney said that though Durst’s “compass doesn’t point north,” he was not a murderer.

Los Angeles Police received an ominous note with the word “Cadaver” on it before Berman’s death, and the handwriting strongly resembled another note Durst had sent her of the word “Beverley.” Durst had long denied that he sent the letter when confronted about it, but he admitted in court filings and in testimony at his trial that he had indeed mailed it.

“I have difficulty believing it myself that I would write the letter and had not killed Susan Berman,” he said.

Durst was caught on a hot mic making seemingly incriminating comments during the filming of the 2015 HBO documentary The Jinx: “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course. There it is. You’re caught. He was right. I was wrong.” Durst said he was “high on meth” while sitting for interviews, and the scandalous audio has since been revealed as a compilation of multiple clips.

The documentary was not Durst’s only damning moment. Nick Chavin, a friend of both the Dursts and Berman, testified during the trial that Durst had said of Berman, “It was her or me. I had no choice.”

Durst admitted to killing a neighbor in 2003, slicing up the body, and disposing of it in Galveston Bay, all of which he contended was self-defense. After the neighbor’s death, Durst lived in drag and played mute to avoid a renewed investigation into his wife’s death. A jury agreed with his self-defense argument and acquitted him.

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