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Jinxed? The Strange Case of Robert Durst

Adam Banner - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Those close to Robert Durst have a tendency to end up missing or dead. 

On February 5, 1982, five days after anyone else had seen her, Durst called to report that his wife of nine years, Kathie, was missing. There was no evidence of a crime, and no one was charged in her disappearance. In 1990, citing "abandonment," Durst divorced his wife. The case was re-opened in 1999 after investigators received a tip about the location of Kathie's body. The tip turned out to be bogus, and no body was found.

About a year later, Susan Berman, a friend of Durst who had been his unofficial spokesman after Kathie's disappearance, wrote the wealthy real-estate heir to ask for money. Durst sent her two checks for $25,000 each. Within a few months, Berman was found dead in her home after an anonymous letter informed police that there was a "cadaver" at the home. Some believe Berman was murdered just as investigators were coming to speak to her about Kathie's disappearance, and that Durst murdered her to ensure her silence. Others believe that Berman's manager, Nyles Brenner, killed her after a strange and intense relationship in which Brenner felt suffocated by his client. The investigation focused on Brenner.

Durst, who had already withdrawn from the public eye, moved to Galveston a few months after Berman's murder and began living incognito as a woman named Dorothy Ciner, a name he appropriated from his high school yearbook. Less than half a year later, the dismembered body of Ciner/Durst's neighbor was found floating off the beach. Evidence in the murder of the elderly Morris Black leads to Durst, who flees, spending the next several months living under assumed names until he is apprehended in Pennsylvania. He was caught after trying to shoplift a sandwich, despite having hundreds of dollars in cash on him. 

Although Durst was charged with Morris Black's murder, he was acquitted at trial after claiming self-defense. Durst admitted that he dismembered Black to dispose of the body because he panicked after killing the old man.

Durst's tale is strange enough on its own, and spawned the Andrew Jarecki film "All Good Things," based on the unsolved murders in Durst's life. After viewing the film, Durst contacted Jarecki and agreed to speak with him. That conversation led to the HBO interview "The Jinx." 

Although "The Jinx" interviews took place in 2010 and 2012, Jarecki did not share the information he received during the interviews with police until 2013. These included documents and handwriting which seemed to link Durst to the "cadaver letter" in Berman's murder, and an apparent bathroom confession during which Durst did not realize that his microphone was still live. 

Still, it wasn't until this year, as the HBO interview series aired, that Durst was arrested. In fact, a warrant was issued for his arrest after the episode showing the handwriting link between an envelope and a cadaver letter, and the FBI arrested Durst the day before "The Jinx" finale aired--the episode in which Durst mutters to himself, "There it is, you're caught. What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."

If the handwriting evidence was discovered in 2010, and if the apparent confession was recorded in 2012, why did it take so long to arrest Durst? Why did Jarecki wait until 2013 to share the evidence with investigators? Why does the arrest of Durst follow so closely the timeline of the HBO series? Some say that HBO and investigators intentionally delayed arrest in order to boost ratings. Others say that the delay is not as much a conspiracy as an indicator of shoddy police work. Why, for example, did some 14 years pass before handwriting analysis was conducted on  the "cadaver letter?"

Durst is charged with first degree murder in the death of Susan Berman, and he is held without bail as a proven flight risk. Though Durst faces the death penalty if convicted, attorneys for the 71-year-old man point to his medical issues, including autism and hydrocephalus, a medical condition that required brain surgery. They also argue about the legality of evidence in the case. They argue that there was no basis for either the arrest warrant or search warrant, and they say that the bathroom "confession" is inadmissible.

Regardless of how the case turns out, it is a bizarre tale.  The allegations of criminal justice serving as entertainment show that truth really is stranger than fiction.






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