Thu. Jan 27th, 2022


Twenty-one years ago, a young boy was fishing with his father in Galveston Bay, Texas, when he noticed a garbage bag in the water. It contained a human torso, which was later identified as belonging to an elderly man named Morris Black. Others would emerge that contained several of Black’s body parts. But his head was never found.

Authorities have arrested a man who was Black’s neighbor at a local chamber: Robert Durst. The descendant of one of New York’s richest real estate families rented a flea bag apartment while posing as a dumb woman. Durst admitted in the trial that he cut off Black’s body with two saws, a paring knife and an ax and made him “swim in blood”, after what he claimed was a self-defense shooting. To the shock of many – including Durst himself – he was acquitted.

Durst died this week, aged 78, after a dishonest life that marked gruesome deaths, extraordinary wealth, a lasting strangeness and unlikely escapes from justice – all of which made him a tabloid fascination.

Newspaper cover in the Daily News in 2000 of a police investigation into the disappearance of Kathleen McCormack in 1982

Daily News coverage in 2000 of Kathleen McCormack’s disappearance in 1982 © NY Daily News / Getty

Authorities have been pursuing Durst cat-and-mouse for decades for the disappearance of his young wife, Kathleen McCormack, in 1982 and then the murder of a longtime friend Susan Berman. In vain. He was eventually undone by the cinema. He took a break while being interviewed by filmmaker Eugene Jarecki for a 2015 documentary, and without realizing that his microphone was still active, Durst mumbled to himself, “What the hell did I do? “Of course they killed everyone.” Before the final episode of the six-part documentary aired, Durst was arrested at a New Orleans hotel, where he was found with a gun, more than $ 42,000 in cash, a map of Cuba and a latex mask.

“He’s a real psychopath,” said his younger brother, Douglas, who kept a lead pipe in his office for years for protection, told The New York Times in 2015. Robert, he claimed, practiced for the murder of his wife by killing his seven Alaskan Malamutes – each named Igor. “There’s no doubt in my mind that if he had the opportunity to kill me, he would not,” Douglas said.

Durst was the eldest of four children born to Seymour Durst and his social wife, Bernice. His grandfather, Joseph, was an Austrian immigrant who came to New York City as a tailor and built an estate. The Durst organization today manages more than $ 8 billion worth of properties, including One World Trade Center, the city’s tallest skyscraper.

To the extent that Durst’s insanity can be explained, it is often attributed to Bernice’s untimely death. She either fell or jumped off the roof of the family estate in Scarsdale, a tragedy he claimed to have seen at the age of seven. He grew into a restless loner and wonderful marijuana smoker who tended to laugh at all the wrong moments – including during his murder trials.

Robert Durst testified at his murder trial in August 2021. He was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend Susan Berman, who agreed in 2000 to speak to authorities about the earlier disappearance of Kathleen McCormack

Robert Durst testified at his murder trial in August 2021. He was convicted of the murder of his friend Susan Berman, who agreed in 2000 to speak to authorities about the earlier disappearance of Kathleen McCormack © Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times / AP

He met Kathleen in 1971 and the two fled to Vermont to lead a bohemian life, but soon returned to New York City under the command of Durst’s father to join the family business. Although he could be charming, his professional rise was thwarted by a habit of urinating in office trash cans. To his anger, Seymour gave the top job to the younger Douglas.

Kathleen hired a divorce lawyer before her disappearance and warned friends about her husband’s violent behavior. Thirst was the main suspect, but the trail got cold. Then in 2000 there was an apparent breakthrough: Berman, with whom he became friends during graduate school, agreed to talk to the authorities about the matter. She was found dead in her Los Angeles home – shot in the back of the head – before she could do so.

Thirst went to Texas to lay low, backed by a trust fund that paid him $ 2 million a year. To disguise his identity, he rented the Galveston apartment disguised as a dumb woman, Dorothy Ciner, and communicated only in writing with the landlord. He jumped bail after being charged with Black’s murder and was arrested six weeks later in Pennsylvania after stealing a $ 5.99 chicken salad sandwich. He had $ 500 in his wallet at the time.

Poor with cancer and Covid, Durst was finally convicted in California last September of Berman’s death. What allowed Jarecki to get him in a corner? An anonymous, handwritten note that Durst sent to authorities in 2000 in which he told where to find Berman’s body. It had incredible resemblance to another letter Durst had sent. Both spelled Beverly Hills incorrectly as “Beverley.”

Days after his October sentence to life in prison, New York police have filed a criminal charge against Durst for McCormack’s murder. Forty years later, justice seemed imminent – until this week Durst died of natural causes in a prison hospital, always elusive, always insane. And ever angry.



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