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Photo: HBO. Robert Durst (above, in a still from an HBO documentary) has been under scrutiny since his wife Kathleen (inset) disappeared in '82.

Photo: HBO.
Robert Durst (above, in a still from an HBO documentary) has been under scrutiny since his wife Kathleen (inset) disappeared in ’82.

Family of Robert Durst’s First Wife

Sues Him for $100 Million in Her Disappearance

Stranger Than Fiction? Try Fact. The life of Robert A. Durst could be the stuff of legend. The shrewd, enigmatic scion of a prominent New York family, Mr. Durst has come to be known not for his deal-making prowess, but for the cloud of suspicion he has lived under for more than 30 years.

Durst, the scion of a New York real estate empire, has long been a suspect in the notorious 1982 disappearance of his wife, Kathie. Further suspicion was raised with the unsolved killing of his confidante, Susan Berman, thought to be a key witness in the investigation into Kathie’s disappearance in 2000, as well as the subsequent killing and dismemberment of a neighbour in Galveston, Texas. Durst has consistently maintained his innocence.

Since his first wife vanished more than three decades ago, Robert A. Durst, the eccentric and estranged son of one of New York’s most prominent real estate dynasties, has lived under the suspicious gaze of law enforcement officials in three states.

He was investigated, but never charged, in the mysterious disappearance of his young, beautiful first wife and the mob-like execution of a close friend in Los Angeles. He beheaded a cantankerous neighbour in Texas in what he described as an act of self-defence, cross-dressed to conceal his identity and then escaped the police, whose nationwide manhunt took them to Northern California, then New Orleans and, finally, Bethlehem, Pa., where Mr. Durst had gone to college.

Mr. Durst was acquitted in the Texas killing, and was never arrested in the disappearance of his wife or the death of his friend.

In the final moments of the final episode of a six-part HBO documentary about him, “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” Mr. Durst seemed to veer toward a confession that could lift the shroud of mystery that surrounds the deaths of three people over the course of three decades.

In the years since his wife, Kathleen Durst, disappeared in 1982 after spending the weekend at the couple’s country home in Westchester County, Mr. Durst has bounced in and out of jail for other crimes, cut ties with his family, remarried, and sued his brother for a $65 million share of the family fortune. Through it all, he has maintained his innocence in the disappearance of his wife, while also denying any role in the 2000 death of the Los Angeles friend, Susan Berman.

Kathleen McCormack Durst disappeared from her home in Westchester County nearly 34 years ago, on a cold January night only months before she would have graduated from medical school. It was the beginning of an enduring mystery.

On Monday, Ms. Durst’s mother, Ann McCormack, who is 101, and three sisters — Carol Bamonte, Mary Hughes and Virginia McKeon — filed a $100 million lawsuit against the man they have long suspected of killing her: Robert, her husband. The lawsuit contends that Mr. Durst violated the McCormack family’s right to sepulcher, a rarely used New York law granting family members the immediate right to possession of a body for burial.

“The family’s priority has been and continues to be to provide Kathleen with a proper and dignified burial,” Robert Abrams, a lawyer for the McCormack family, said.

The lawsuit contends that Mr. Durst, his marriage having collapsed amid violence, “murdered Kathleen,” his first wife. If successful, the lawsuit would strip Mr. Durst of much of his wealth; authorities put his net worth at about $100 million.

The lawsuit, filed Monday afternoon in New York State Supreme Court in Mineola, is only the latest development in Mr. Durst’s legal troubles since he agreed to cooperate with the producers of a six-part documentary — “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” — that was broadcast on HBO in February and March.

For a long time after his 29-year-old wife disappeared, Mr. Durst led a carefree, peripatetic life that took him from New York to Los Angeles and Houston and back again, fueled by a constant flow of cash from his estranged family’s New York City real estate empire.

Mr. Durst, 72 and frail, has been in prison since March, 2015, in New Orleans on a gun charge. He is expected to be sentenced on Dec. 17 to more than five years in prison after acknowledging his guilt in that case, according to people briefed on the negotiations but not authorized to discuss them.

Mr. Durst’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, declined to discuss the pending plea bargain. “We’re not going to comment on it until the day it happens,” he said.

But Mr. DeGuerin did say, “There is no evidence that Robert Durst had anything to do with Kathleen’s disappearance. Anybody can file a lawsuit, but eventually they’ll have to come with evidence.”

However, sometime next year, Mr. Durst will be transferred to Los Angeles, where he has been charged with the execution-style murder of a confidante who served as his spokeswoman after his wife’s disappearance in 1982. According to the criminal complaint, Mr. Durst shot his friend, Susan Berman, in the back of the head because she was “a witness to a crime.”

Mr. Durst’s life has been in a tailspin since he agreed to cooperate with the filmmakers and provide them with 25 hours of interviews and an extensive cache of family mementos, credit card records and court papers.

His lawyers had warned him against the idea, citing the risk of stirring up investigators and prosecutors who suspected him in the deaths of at least three people.

But Mr. Durst was undeterred. “I am convinced that there’s no reason I shouldn’t say anything I want to anyone I want,” Mr. Durst said in an interview in February, two days before “The Jinx” was shown. “It’s so long ago. Some D.A. would have to commence a major budget-busting investigation. I don’t see that happening.”

The documentary, which explored his connection to the deaths of Ms. Berman, the decapitation of a boardinghouse neighbour in Texas, and the disappearance of his wife, concluded with Mr. Durst’s own whispered words: “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

Less than 24 hours before the broadcast, Mr. Durst was arrested in New Orleans on a first-degree murder warrant from Los Angeles. Investigators discovered that Mr. Durst had a fake identity card, a latex mask, thousands of dollars in cash and a handgun in the pocket of a coat hanging in his hotel room.

Contrary to Mr. Durst’s calculation, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office had reopened the investigation into the murder of Ms. Berman, helped in part by information from the producers of “The Jinx.”

James McCormack said that he has never given up hope his sister, who vanished on Jan. 31, 1982, might still be out there. But that changed when he watched the final episode of the documentary, “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.”

“Bob uttered the words, ‘Killed them all of course.’ He didn’t say, he killed one, or two, he said he killed them all,” McCormack, 70, said of Durst’s mumbled apparent confession in ­director Andrew Jarecki’s documentary.

“I turned to my ex-wife and shed a tear, and finally there was closure. The next step is justice.”

In the show’s final episode, Durst became flustered after he’s confronted with recently discovered evidence — a letter sent to police — that suggests he might be responsible for the murder of close friend Susan Berman.

On camera, Durst, clearly distressed, gets up to use the bathroom — and then makes the shocking apparent admission, unaware he can be heard.

“There it is. You’re caught,” he mumbles into a still-hot microphone. “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

The title of “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” appears to come from a short exchange in the documentary’s second segment. Mr. Durst, the very rich New York real estate heir with the very strange and violent history, is discussing children — or his lack thereof. “I didn’t want to raise children,” he says. “I — somehow I thought it would be a jinx.”

New York Times

Video: Robert Durst Says He ‘Killed Them All’

Robert A. Durst


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