Robert A. Durst, the real estate heir who fled a murder charge in Texas, spent his last two weeks on the run in eastern Pennsylvania, living in the environs of his old college town until his arrest last week for shoplifting, law enforcement officials said yesterday.
The police in Hanover Township, where investigators said Mr. Durst was caught stealing a sandwich, did not know whether Mr. Durst was simply passing through or had been staying in the area, where he had attended Lehigh University 40 years ago.
But employees at a hotel there said yesterday that Mr. Durst had stayed in a room for 12 days, using another in a series of aliases he seems to have employed while fleeing the murder charge in Galveston, Tex. Mr. Durst had been traveling around the country since Oct. 16, when he failed to appear in Galveston for his arraignment in the murder of Morris Black, a 71-year-old neighbor.
During part of his flight, Mr. Durst posed as Mr. Black, the police said, but he seems to have used a different name, Emilio Vignoni, when he checked into the Staybridge Suites off Airport Road in Hanover Township.
The manager of the hotel, Bruce Hoegg, said his staff contacted the police on Tuesday to report that they recognized the man whose picture began appearing in the local newspaper last Saturday, the day after he was accused of shoplifting at a local supermarket.
Mr. Hoegg said his employees were ”relatively sure” the man in the paper was the same one who had checked into the hotel on Nov. 18 and stayed in a fourth-floor room for 12 days, leaving the morning of Nov. 30, just hours before investigators say Mr. Durst was caught at the supermarket.
Mr. Hoegg said the man who checked in to the hotel was driving a Chevrolet with Alabama plates and had registered under the name Vignoni, using a Visa credit card in that name to cover his bill. Mr. Durst, 58, is known to have rented a red Chevrolet Corsica in Alabama last month, using the driver’s license of Mr. Black, whose dismembered body was found floating in the waters off Galveston. Over the past few months, Mr. Durst has used a half-dozen aliases and dressed like a woman at times to conceal his identity, investigators said.
In addition to the Texas murder, Mr. Durst is the subject of a recently reopened investigation into the disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen Durst, in 1982. Yesterday, New York investigators, including Jeanine F. Pirro, the Westchester County district attorney, joined Texas police officers in Pennsylvania, where they searched the rental car.
Mr. Durst, whose family is one of Manhattan’s largest property owners, is being held in the Northampton County Prison in eastern Pennsylvania while he awaits a hearing on his extradition to Texas. Officials have lifted the suicide watch that he had been under. People who have been briefed on preparations for the hearing said yesterday that Mr. Durst had decided not to fight extradition. His decision is expected to be announced at a hearing today in Galveston, where he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Employees of the hotel where Mr. Durst stayed before his arrest did not see him wearing women’s clothing or acting unusual, Mr. Hoegg said. But The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., reported yesterday that Mr. Durst had been spotted at a restaurant, C.L. Checkers, across the parking lot from the hotel, talking to himself while drinking at the bar.
Workers at another nearby restaurant, the Golden View Family Restaurant, have also reporting seeing Mr. Durst wearing an incongruous disguise of a brown wig and a white mustache. However, he has not been reported to have visited his alma mater, Lehigh, where he received a degree in economics in 1965.
Detective Gary Hammer of the Colonial Regional Police in Pennsylvania said that since Mr. Durst’s arrest, many people in the area have reported sightings. ”Every time they see a short bald-headed guy, they think it’s him,” he said.
The police should be able to track Mr. Durst’s comings and goings from the hotel, because all the entrances have video cameras, Mr. Hoegg said.
By Kevin Flynn & charles V. Bagli (New York Times)