A nationwide manhunt for the scion of a wealthy Manhattan real estate family ended yesterday when he was arrested in Bethlehem, Pa., accused of shoplifting at a supermarket. The fugitive, Robert A. Durst, is wanted in Texas on charges of beheading a 71-year-old man, and New York investigators are hoping to interview him about the disappearance of his first wife 19 years ago.
Mr. Durst is worth millions, but his downfall was a single Band-Aid. Around 12:30 p.m., a clerk at a Wegman’s store off Route 512 saw him grab the bandage for a cut under his nose and then take a $5.99 chicken salad hero sandwich with roasted peppers, the local police said.
”We stopped him just as we would stop any other customer,” said the store manager, Kevin Stickles. ”He was very nervous.”
Mr. Durst’s head and eyebrows were shaved, and he was wearing dark slacks, black sneakers and a black windbreaker. He told the clerk he had information about himself in his car, a rented red Chevrolet Corsica. He later gave his name to detectives of the Colonial Regional Police Department.
For Mr. Durst, 58, the former steel town of Bethlehem was familiar ground. It is the home of Lehigh University, where he earned a degree in economics in 1965. ”He said his daughter is going to Lehigh, and he was there visiting her,” Detective Gary Hammer said, adding that Mr. Durst, who has no children, was carrying $500. The police quickly determined that he was wanted for murder in Texas. Questioned, he told the detective he needed a lawyer.
Mr. Durst became a fugitive 45 days ago when he failed to show up for a bond hearing in Galveston, Tex., on Oct. 16. He had been arrested a week earlier and charged with the murder and dismemberment of Morris Black, an elderly man who lived across the hall from him in a house in Galveston.
A 13-year-old boy who was fishing with his father in Galveston Bay discovered Mr. Black’s torso on Sept. 28. The police found the man’s limbs in plastic bags nearby, as well as a newspaper stamped with the Avenue K address of Mr. Black and Mr. Durst. Mr. Black’s head has not been found.
In a trash can in the yard behind the house, the police found a .22 caliber handgun, which Mr. Durst had bought at a sporting goods store.
Unaware that Mr. Durst was a member of a family whose real estate empire includes a half-dozen Manhattan skyscrapers and is worth more than $2 billion, the authorities in Galveston released him on $300,000 bail.
Yesterday in Pennsylvania, he was arraigned on a fugitive warrant from Texas during a 10-minute hearing in district court before Judge Barbara Schlegel and sent to Northampton County Prison in nearby Easton, an industrial town in the Lehigh Valley.
”He was just angry that he was here,” Judge Schlegel said. ”His demeanor was, I am not answering any of your questions.”
Michael Kennedy, a lawyer hired by the Durst family trust to represent Mr. Durst, had no comment on the case last night. A lawyer from his office was in Easton last night. Mr. Durst has been alienated from his family for many years; his father, Seymour, died in 1995.
The authorities in Texas sent a photograph of Mr. Durst by e-mail to the police in Pennsylvania and immediately sought to bring him back to Galveston. The lead detective in the case, however, was on a plane to Washington yesterday, where he was to appear on a broadcast of ”America’s Most Wanted,” focusing on the Durst case tonight.
”We started the process to extradite him,” said Joel Bennett, an assistant district attorney in Galveston County. ”That should take a couple of weeks. We knew he had the means to be pretty much anywhere he wanted to be. We were not limiting our focus to any particular area.”
Over the last month, the police got tips that Mr. Durst was camping in a pup tent amid a group of retired police officers on the Trinity River in northern California and living in a homeless shelter in New York City.
Galveston police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said they believed they were closing in on Mr. Durst in late October when they tracked him to Plano, Tex., where the police said he was disguised as a woman. ”We missed him by a couple of hours,” Lt. Mike Putnal of Galveston said. ”It was very frustrating. At the time we were confident we had him located.”
Mr. Durst has adopted false identities and posed as a woman on a number of occasions in the last year. He pretended to be a mute woman named Dorothy Ciner when he rented the apartment in Galveston a year ago, according to investigators. He posed as Dorothy Winne earlier this year when he rented a modest apartment in New Orleans from a landlord, Michael M. Ogden, who said he thought that Mr. Durst was a mute transvestite.
According to an Oct. 22 memo that the F.B.I. circulated to other law enforcement agencies, ”It is believed that Robert Durst is a cross-dresser.” The memo identified him as the subject of a recently reopened investigation by the Westchester County district attorney into the disappearance in 1982 of his wife, Kathleen Durst.
Despite the attempts to disguise himself, Mr. Durst left some obvious clues behind when, on Oct. 10, he suddenly abandoned the New Orleans apartment.
Mr. Ogden said he got a note from his tenant telling him he could have the items in the apartment: a wig, a videotape of a television program that was broadcast in July about a fresh investigation into the disappearance of Kathleen Durst, and a silver medallion inscribed with the name Dave Berman. Mr. Berman is the father of Mr. Durst’s longtime confidant, Susan Berman, who was found murdered in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve.
New York detectives had been planning to interview Ms. Berman at the time she was killed because she had been Mr. Durst’s unofficial spokeswoman when Kathleen Durst vanished. Los Angeles detectives were in New York this week to meet with New York investigators and talk to people who knew Ms. Berman, Mr. Durst and Kathleen Durst.
”Our investigation into Kathy’s disappearance is continuing, even with his capture in Pennsylvania,” said Joseph Becerra, a state police investigator.
Kathleen Durst’s friends and family have long said that Mr. Durst knew more than he was telling about her baffling disappearance at 29 in her last year of medical school. Her best friend, Gilberta Najamy, said of his capture yesterday, ”It’s a step in the right direction for finding out what happened to Kathy.”
Mr. Durst’s second wife, Debrah Lee Charatan, a New York real estate broker who married him in a secret ceremony earlier this year, declined comment. Mr. Durst had called Ms. Charatan from Galveston on Oct. 9 shortly after being arrested. She wired bail money to Galveston and arranged for a lawyer.
Last night, according to a person who knows her, the broker had hired her own lawyer to represent Mr. Durst, and they were on their way to Pennsylvania.