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10 Robert Durst Murder Investigation Facts - WMNews Ep. 19

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Angela Fafard A missing wife, a killed confidante, and a butchered neighbour have everyone wondering how the trial of this American businessman will proceed.Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series from that breaks down news stories that might be on your radar. In this instalment, we’re counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about the Robert Durst Murder Investigation.

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Script written by Angela Fafard

10 Robert Durst Murder Investigation Facts - WMNews Ep. 19

#10: Who Is Robert Durst?
The Past

Born in 1943 into a wealthy family, Robert Durst reportedly witnessed his mother’s death when he was 7-years-old, a claim his brother Douglas has since called into question. Robert and Douglas’ fierce sibling rivalry later intensified when Seymour chose Douglas over Robert as his successor to the family real estate business in 1994. This unsurprisingly caused a falling-out within the family, and eventually led Robert to permanently break ties, following a series of peculiar events. However, it’s for the disappearance of his wife in the 1980s and the suspicious deaths of a longtime friend and a neighbor in the 2000s that got the attention of the media and kept Robert Durst in the spotlight. In 2015, an HBO documentary then claimed to have uncovered more evidence linking Durst to the crimes, which included a shocking hot mic confession.

#9: What Happened to Durst’s Wife?
The Disappearance

After marrying 19-year-old dental hygienist Kathleen McCormack in 1973, Durst and his wife relocated to Vermont and set up a health food store. McCormack’s close friends, including her sister and lawyer, claimed that Durst was physically abusive towards her in the years leading up to her disappearance on January 31, 1982. Several days passed before Durst even reported her missing, and he alleged that the last time he’d seen his wife was when he put her on the train in the evening of that January day. McCormack’s body was never recovered, her whereabouts never discovered and she was declared legally dead in 2001. However, fourteen years later, Durst appeared to admit to her murder via an audio recording aired on “The Jinx,” a documentary miniseries that was broadcast on HBO.

#8: What Happened to Durst’s Longtime Friend?
The Shooting

In 2000, investigators were given an anonymous yet unsubstantiated tip regarding the location of Durst’s wife’s body, which subsequently re-opened the investigation into the McCormack case. Detectives then proceeded to contact one of Durst’s closest friends and confidantes, crime author Susan Berman. But, before they could do so, she was found dead from a gunshot wound to the head in her living room in December of that same year, thanks to an anonymous letter that alerted police to her death. Although it’s believed to be Durst’s handwriting in the letter, police were never able to prove it. Furthermore, Berman was the daughter of a famous Las Vegas crime boss and rumors suggested her death might have been a mob-related hit.

#7: What Happened to Durst’s Neighbor?
The Dismemberment

Once McCormack’s case was reopened, Durst went into hiding, eventually settling in Galveston, Texas. It was there that he assumed a new identity as a mute woman named Dorothy Ciner. However, in the fall of 2001, a human torso belonging to Durst’s 71-year-old neighbor Morris Black was discovered floating in Galveston Bay by a local boy. Durst was arrested but posted $300,000 bail, then missed a court hearing after fleeing the state. He was eventually caught in Pennsylvania while shoplifting, despite the fact that he had hundreds of dollars on him. At the subsequent trial, Durst claimed that he and Black had gotten into a scuffle over Durst’s gun, which Black allegedly used to threaten Durst. This fight resulted in Black getting shot in the face. Panicked and thinking that no one would believe his claim of self-defense, Durst admitted to chopping up Black’s body. His defense team suggested Durst was thrown into a something like an out-of-body experience while intoxicated, in addition to suffering symptoms from Asperger syndrome. Acquitted of the murder, Durst still had to do jail time for bond jumping, evidence tampering and taking an armed weapon across state lines.

#6: Has Durst Been Arrested?
FBI Involvement

On March 14th, 2015, FBI agents arrested Durst in New Orleans on first-degree murder charges, as authorities in Los Angeles issued an extradition warrant in connection with the murder of Susan Berman. Prior to his New Orleans arrest, Durst was arrested in July 2014 after he turned himself into police. He had exposed himself at a CVS drugstore in Houston and urinated on a rack of candy, though he later pled “no contest” and was fined a total of $500.

#5: Can You Believe What’s on TV?
“The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst”

Written by Andrew Jarecki, Mark Smerling, and Zachary Stuart-Pontier, and directed by Jarecki, this 2015 HBO documentary miniseries investigates the disappearance of Durst’s wife Kathleen McCormack and the deaths of Susan Berman and Morris Black. The filmmakers spent years researching the life of Durst, including his upbringing, the disappearance of his wife, and the trial for Morris Black’s murder. The show was extremely well received, but gained even more attention thanks to Durst’s arrest on first-degree murder charges the day before the final episode aired on television. “The Jinx” has been of special interest to authorities, the public and the people involved in the crimes he’s been linked to due to new evidence featured in the miniseries.

#4: Has Durst Explained His Actions?
The Admission

Prior to 2015, Durst had only been questioned, but never charged in the cases of his wife’s disappearance and the killing of his close friend several years later. However, in the final episode of the documentary “The Jinx”, Durst is caught muttering a monologue to himself on a hot mic while alone in the bathroom. What did he say? “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.” Durst’s attorney has stated the words might mean nothing. Regardless, the damning piece of audio was found two years after the interview was taped, and all collected material evidence was given over to authorities after 2013.

#3: Is There Any Other Evidence Against Durst?
The Letters

Detectives were alerted to the cadaver of Susan Berman when they were sent an anonymous letter. In the last episode of “The Jinx,” director Andrew Jarecki confronts Durst with the letter he had penned to Berman the year before she died and the anonymous letter that had been sent to police. The letter in question was found among Berman’s possessions by her son-in-law.
The writing style and the inaccurate spelling of “Beverly” are eerily similar, and though Durst denies penning the anonymous letter, he was unable to point out which of the letters was the one he wrote when they were increased in size. And this, not the audio recording, is what prompted law enforcement to arrest him.

#2: How Did Durst Avoid Earlier Jail Time?
The Investigation

In a shocking turn of events, Durst was found not guilty in the death of Morris Black, despite the fact that he admitted to accidentally shooting Black, chopping up his body and disposing of it in the bay. Jurors later revealed that the prosecution team had not made a good enough case and that there was reasonable doubt about how the crime in question happened. The fact that there were only two viable witnesses, one of whom was dead, did not help matters and thus Durst was not convicted – though he did plead guilty to other lesser charges.

#1: How Will This End?
The Trial

Following his March 2015 arrest, Durst was scheduled to stand trial for the murder of Susan Berman in California. If he is found guilty, he could face the death penalty. It will once again rest on the shoulders of the prosecution team to gather the evidence and state their case for the jurors. A bigger question will surround admissible evidence in the case, with a judge set to decide whether or not jurors will hear Durst’s private monologue that was recorded and then featured in “The Jinx” while he was using hotel facilities.

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