The Police Department in Galveston, Tex., said yesterday that it had begun a nationwide manhunt for Robert A. Durst, the New York real estate scion, after he failed to appear at a bond hearing in connection with charges that he dismembered and beheaded a 71-year-old man last month.
The department has asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to join the search for Mr. Durst, who, investigators believe, has crisscrossed the country for years and has ”the means to be on the run for a long time,” according to a police official involved in the investigation.
Mr. Durst, 58, the son of a prominent real estate family, disappeared while out on $250,000 bond as investigators from California and New York flew to Texas seeking to question him as part of two separate investigations involving the mysterious disappearance of his wife 19 years ago and the murder of a friend in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve 2000.
But when Mr. Durst failed to appear at a bond hearing yesterday in Galveston, a Galveston County grand jury indicted him on charges of bail jumping and the murder of Morris Black, a man who had lived across the hallway from Mr. Durst in a four-family house in Galveston.
”We’ve got a manhunt,” said Lt. Mike Putnal of the Galveston Police Department. ”At this point, we consider Durst a fugitive from justice.”
Mr. Durst’s lawyer, Mark J. Kelly, said he had spoken to his client by telephone since his arrest, but would not comment further yesterday.
Mr. Durst was arrested in Galveston Oct. 9 and charged with the murder and dismemberment of Mr. Black. A 13-year-old boy fishing in Galveston Bay discovered Mr. Black’s headless torso on Sept. 28. The police later found the man’s limbs nearby, as well as a newspaper bearing the Avenue K address of Mr. Black and Mr. Durst and a receipt from a hardware store for a bow saw and other items.
In a trash can behind the house on Avenue K, the police found a .22-caliber handgun, which Mr. Durst purchased at a sporting goods store in Houston on Aug. 30, Lieutenant Putnal said yesterday. The police say they believe that Mr. Durst used that weapon to shoot Mr. Black in the head, although they have not recovered that body part.
Mr. Durst was released on $250,000 bond on Oct. 10. Detectives said they recognized that he might be a flight risk late last week when they sent an investigator to the Dallas apartment he had listed as his permanent address and discovered that he had moved out in April.
Nearly a decade ago, Mr. Durst broke with his family, which owns a string of skyscrapers on Third Avenue and the Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. In the years since, he has moved around the country, from New York to California and Texas.
Ever since his arrest, Mr. Durst has been at the center of a whirlwind of inquiries.
Jeanine F. Pirro, the Westchester County district attorney, and New York State Police investigators went to Galveston on Monday, seeking to interview Mr. Durst about her recently reopened investigation into the disappearance of his wife, Kathleen, in 1982 and his account of his last night with his wife.
Los Angeles detectives arrived in Galveston yesterday to examine a 9-millimeter handgun found in Mr. Durst’s Honda CR-V when he was arrested Oct. 9. That weapon is the same caliber as the gun used to kill Susan Berman, an old friend of Mr. Durst’s who was found shot in the back of the head at her Los Angeles home on Christmas Eve 2000.
At the time of Ms. Berman’s killing, New York investigators had been planning to interview her about her longtime confidant, Mr. Durst.
”The defendant has exhibited his contempt for the court,” Mrs. Pirro said outside the Galveston courtroom. ”He is charged with murdering and dismembering an individual. I believe he is dangerous.”
Friends of Mrs. Durst, who have long suspected that Mr. Durst played a role in her disappearance, said they were not surprised that he did not show up at the bail hearing.
”I am disappointed with the process in Texas,” said Gilberta Najamy, a friend of Kathleen Durst who lives in Connecticut. ”I hope that all jurisdictions can work together now to find this dangerous man.”
But Mr. Durst may be hard to find. He has access to seemingly unlimited funds, investigators said, and appears to have spent years building a fictional life story.
The police say they now suspect that he posed as a woman, a high school classmate named Dorothy Ciner, when he rented the apartment in Galveston. They say he also used the name Jim Turss when he rented a room last week, before his arrest, at the Holiday Inn Express in Galveston.
Kurt Sistrunk, the first assistant district attorney in Galveston County, said there were indications that Mr. Durst was in New Orleans on Friday, where he made a frantic telephone call to a real estate agent in an attempt to rent an apartment in Dallas.
”He was willing to pay four to six months’ rent in advance to speed up the application process,” the real estate agent, Shelly Cox, said in a letter to detectives.
In stark contrast to the modest apartment he occupied in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Galveston, Mr. Durst had been renting an apartment for three years at the luxurious Centrum Towers in Dallas, where his rent was $4,500 a month.
According to his apartment application, Mr. Durst claimed to be a self-employed botanist who earned $480,000 a year in salary and investments and needed a new apartment because of a pending divorce. He said he had worked for 15 years for the Pacific Lumber company in Eureka, Calif. Similarly, he listed Julie Baumgold, a New York writer and the wife of Edward Kosner, editor in chief of The Daily News, as his daughter, and said she was living in California. Little of it was true, although he is an heir to a family empire worth billions.
Although Ms. Baumgold has been a friend of Mr. Durst since childhood and spoke to him as recently as January, she said she was not related to him and had never lived in California.
Mr. Durst moved out of the Dallas apartment in April and shipped many of his belongings to a $2.8 million condominium in San Francisco that he bought 16 months ago.
”Since his arrest, we have indications that Durst has been to New Orleans a couple of times,” Mr. Sistrunk said. ”But the Galveston Police Department is going nationwide.”