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The enigma of Robert Durst: Examining his complex legacy

Robert Durst sits in a Los Angeles courtroom during a hearing on the 21st December 2016
Image Credit: Associated Press / Alamy Stock Photo | Above: Robert Durst sits in a Los Angeles courtroom during a hearing on the 21st December 2016

In true crime circles, the name Robert Durst typically elicits a combination of fascination and controversy.

A multimillionaire US real estate mogul, Durst was involved in multiple murders throughout his lifetime, and was ultimately convicted of first-degree murder in September 2021. He died on 10th January 2022, leaving behind a complex legacy.

From the suspicious disappearance of his first wife to being acquitted of killing a neighbour in 2003, this article dives deep into Durst’s life and legacy.

Durst’s early life

The oldest child of Seymour Durst, Robert was born in April 1943 into a family that owned prominent real estate in New York City.

After graduating from Lehigh University, Durst briefly attended UCLA in the 1960s, where he met Susan Berman. The daughter of a Las Vegas mobster, Susan soon became Durst’s best friend, a relationship that ultimately cost her life.

In 1973, Durst married Kathie McCormack, his first wife, and began to work at his family’s real estate business. It was in this role that he made his millions.

Durst’s first marriage – and a disappearance

By 1981, Kathie and Durst's marriage was falling apart. Plagued by allegations of his violence and controlling attitude, Kathie reportedly hired a divorce lawyer, and there were consistent reports of frequent arguments and physical altercations between the couple.

On 31st January 1982, Kathie visited her friend Gilberte Najamy’s home. It was the last time she ever saw her friend.

Durst failed to report his wife as missing until early February 1982, and claimed no involvement in her disappearance. According to Gilberte, one of the last statements Kathie made to her friend had been the advice to investigate her disappearance, for fear that Durst might do something to her.

Despite suspicions of his involvement, the case lacked any leads or a body, and eventually went cold. Kathie’s body has still never been found.

Susan Berman’s murder

During the media furore over Kathie’s disappearance, Durst’s friend Susan Berman served as his unofficial spokesperson. She also provided a key alibi for Durst during the period of his wife’s disappearance.

By 2000, Durst had remarried. In November of that year, Kathie’s case was reopened. Durst subsequently moved to Galveston, Texas, where he disguised himself as a mute woman.

A month later on 23rd December 2000, Susan was found shot to death in an execution-style manner. Before her death, she had been purported to speak with New York police about a fake alibi she’d allegedly provided Durst over Kathie’s disappearance.

On the day of her murder, Beverly Hills police received an anonymous handwritten note telling them of a ‘cadaver’ at Susan's address.

Another body

In September 2001, a fisherman discovered dismembered body parts of a man in Galveston Bay, Texas. The body was that of Morris Black, Durst’s 71-year-old neighbour.

In searching the area, police found a piece of junk mail with Durst’s boarding house address on it, as well as a hardware store receipt for a saw. During their search of Durst’s residence, they also found a trail of Morris' blood leading to Durst’s room, as well as a bloody knife in the room itself.

Durst was arrested and charged with Morris' murder. He escaped and a manhunt ensued, before his arrest six weeks later.

In 2003, Durst was tried for the murder. He claimed to have acted in self-defence, testifying that his gun accidentally struck Morris in the face. Durst admitted to dismembering the body and tossing it in Galveston Bay. He was acquitted in November 2003.


A US billboard in Los Angeles, California, USA, advertising 'The Jinx: Part Two' on Max
Image Credit: Barry King / Alamy Stock Photo | Above: A US billboard in Los Angeles, California, USA, advertising 'The Jinx: Part Two' on Max

Durst’s connection to Susan's death was the focus of the HBO documentary series The Jinx, which has recently returned with a second part. In an infamous hot mic moment on The Jinx, Durst admitted that he’d 'killed them all, of course'. Producers also matched his handwriting to the note received by the police following Susan's death.

He was arrested in March 2015 in connection to Susan's murder. In March 2020, Durst went to trial and was convicted of first-degree murder in September 2021. During the trial, many of Durst’s long-time confidantes were persuaded to testify against their friend.

In October 2021, Durst was sentenced to life in prison for Susan's murder. In November 2021, he was charged for the murder of his first wife. In January 2022, only two months after being charged with Kathie’s murder, Durst died of a cardiac arrest in prison aged 78. He was reportedly worth over $100 million.