This story originally aired Dateline NBC on Aug. 1, 2008. Surveillance and courtroom dialogue is in italics.
This case is far, far too bizarre and too strange to be fiction
Jim McCormick: My first reaction was shock, disbelief.
Gilberte Najamy: This is Bobby Durst. Expect the unexpected.
Robert Durst, a sometimes cross-dressing millionaire, is one of the more bizarre characters to ever stand trial in an American courtroom.
His enemies will tell you he’s the luckiest man alive… someone who’s gotten away with murder three times. Others will say he’s a tragic figure mired in misfortune.
Look around New York City’s Times Square–the gleaming new towers–and you’re looking at the motherlode of Durst’s wealth.
His family–mainly his father–cannily bought up blocks of midtown Manhattan back when 42nd Street was still a seedy strip of porno arcades and ominous drifters.
Robert Draper: They compare very much so to the Trumps, and to the Helmsleys.
Robert Draper is a writer for GQ Magazine. He’s followed the suspicions that have trailed behind the 65-year-old multi-millionaire for more than two decades.
Robert Draper: When you take a stroll through Midtown Manhattan, through some of the sort of obvious tourist spots of Manhattan, you can’t help but see- – impressive buildings that are ultimately the acquisition or the handiwork of the Durst Organization.
The Durst Organization real estate development company has been valued at more than a billion dollars and Robert Durst is one of the direct heirs.
The story goes that a young Bobby Durst in the early ’70s was collecting rent from a tenant in one of his father’s apartment buildings when he met his soul mate.
The tenant and soon live-in girlfriend was Kathleen McCormack, an 18-year-old dental hygienist, youngest of five from a middle-class Irish Catholic family in Long Island.
Her brother Jim.
Jim McCormack: Their early days were truly I think, you know, Prince Charming and Cinderella with the means to enjoy a modest but comfortable hippy lifestyle.
The couple married in 1973. He: shy, a little aloof, some thought. Nearly 10 years older.
She was lively, attractive, the one to gather friends for dinners.
They had a snazzy penthouse apartment in New York.
And a pretty little cottage in the country in Westchester County.
And, there were perks to being the heir to a Manhattan real-estate dynasty when it opened doors to some of the most elite clubs in town: Studio 54, Xenon, discos, the fabulous people. Champagne and drugs when they were labeled “recreational.”
It looked as though Kathleen McCormack from Long Island had hooked herself a prize.
Robert Draper: Bobby Durst was Kathy Durst’s passport to an outside world to which she had not hitherto been privy but very much wanted to be part of. And for a series of years that arrangement worked very nicely and they were very much in love.
But Kathleen wasn’t going to settle for being arm furniture for her rich young husband. She got her nursing degree then enrolled in med school.
Gilberte Najamy: She was just brilliant. She was beautiful. She was bright, happy and she had everything going for her.
College friend Gilberte Najamy remembers Kathleen’s dream was to open a clinic for children.
Gilberte Najamy: What was going for Kathy as she told me is that she wanted to have children and Bobby did not want to have children. So she decided to have a career.
Another college friend, Eleanor Schwank, remembers Kathleen saying that her husband had told her in so many words to go out and get a job and not rely on his family’s wealth.
Eleanor Schwank: At that point, never having met Bob and this being the first conversation I had had with Kathy, I thought of Bob as really someone who was extremely cheap.
Kathleen threw herself into studies for medical school. She was focused with goals in her life. While he, by several accounts, was smoking a lot of marijuana, spinning his wheels in a corporate world he loathed, and seeing other women on the side. Kathleen’s friends said the nearly 10-year-old marriage was suffering, turning violent.
Gilberte Najamy: The turning point in the marriage was the frequency of phone calls that I received from Kathy. They got more desperate. She sounded more panicked, more fearful. “Bobby was hitting me.” These are her words now. “Bobby’s hitting me. He wakes me up in the middle of the night and he starts a fight.”
Eleanor Schwank: She called me and she was hysterical. She was crying. She was clearly upset and I said, ‘what’s the matter? And she told me, she said “Bobby just beat me.”
Gilberte Najamy: I just kept telling her, “Leave him. Leave him. Get the divorce eventually but leave him.”
Kathleen’s brother Jim McCormack also said he witnessed the marriage turn violent.
Jim McCormack: He could show rage–verbal rage. And, ultimately, I think he was very capable of physical confrontation. Physical rage. He wanted to control Kathy because probably he couldn’t even control himself and Kathy was the only thing or person he ever controlled in his life. And he was losing control of that. And it just didn’t cut with Bob Durst.
Durst filed an affidavit in 1983 denying he ever abused Kathy and his lawyers say they know of no abuse.
But back in 1981, Kathleen Durst got a lawyer and began the paperwork to prepare for a divorce.
Jim McCormack: All she wanted out of the disillusionment of the relationship with Bob was just a fair settlement. She wasn’t going for the $1-million payoff.
So it happened on a winter Sunday night in January 1982 that Gilberte got another distraught call from Kathleen. She needed to get away from Bob and the cottage. Gilberte said “c’mon over for dinner.” As soon as she arrived, though, the trouble started.
Gilberte Najamy: And then the phone calls started. And Bob would call and he’d say “get home” and they were screaming.
At 7:15 that night, Kathleen gave up on her evening away from Bob. She was going back to their cottage, 45 minutes away. The friends agreed to meet for dinner in the city the next night.
Gilberte Najamy: And then she stood on my front porch and she said, “Gilberte, if something happens to me tonight, promise that you’ll check it out. I’m afraid of Bobby.” And I let her go. I let her go home and I’ve never seen her since.
As Durst would tell it later, when his wife arrived home, they polished off a bottle of wine, argued, then she said she wanted to go back to the apartment in New York City.
Robert Draper: The story that Robert tells is that on January 31, 1982. He dropped her off at a train station in South Salem bound for New York City and that was the last that he’d seen of her.
Four days later, Durst walked into a police station on Manhattan’s West Side.
Then-detective Mike Struk was working a shift short-handed.
Mike Struk: He entered with his dog. He was even-tempered, well mannered. Really didn’t have too much to say other than the fact that he was reporting his wife missing.
Durst told the detective his wife was embroiled in studies for the final months of med school and it wasn’t unusual for her to sleep over at school for days at a time.
The detective didn’t make much of it. Just another domestic problem at most.
Mike Struk: If we conducted full-blown investigations in any similar case like that on a daily basis, that’s all we would be doing.
But Kathleen Durst–about to become a doctor, about to be independent from a husband friends say she regarded as violent and abusive–stayed missing. And Robert Durst stopped talking about her disappearance.
Jim McCormack: And we started learning that Bob was throwing out her personal effects. Her clothing. Her books. I mean, here’s a guy who’s offering $100-thousand dollar reward in the newspaper and a few weeks later he’s throwing out her personal effects.
Eleanor Schwank: I know that she died. I have no doubt that Bob killed her.
Jim McCormack: I’ve come to believe that Kathy never left Westchester County alive.
Robert Draper: The most suspicious thing about Bobby Durst and which might have led someone to forming the conclusion that he was behind her disappearance was his near total lack of interest in the investigation. His near total lack of concern about the possibility that his wife may well have been brutally murdered.
And if any reporters in New York started nosing around the strange circumstances of the millionaire’s wife who vanished, Durst could rely on his joined-at the-hip publicist friend of many years, Susan Berman, to bat the dark rumors down.
But Susan Berman is another story. On another coast. A murder story that made people wonder if she was number two.
Kathleen Durst was 29-years-old, almost a doctor, and by the end of 1982 given up for dead by friends and family.
Jim McCormack: I remember sitting in front of a psychic crying. Because I realized the enormity of having a sister who you loved no longer being any place on the face of this earth. Just missing. Gone.
Her college friend Gilberte Najamy had become obsessed with finding an answer to Kathleen’s disappearance. She and her sister even broke into the Durst couple’s cottage in Westchester County playing amateur detectives. Looking for clues. The house was scrubbed clean.
Gilberte Najamy: I went through that house with a fine-toothed comb. I saw in the garbage can in the kitchen, her unopened mail. And I got a sick feeling in my stomach. And I said “These are bills. These are important things. Why is he throwing them out? How come they’re not open?” And then I got the worst feeling. He knew she wasn’t coming back.
Meanwhile, the official investigation by professional detectives, like NYPD’s Mike Struk, was hitting a brick wall. Robert Durst wasn’t cooperating and the evidence was thin to say the least.
Mike Struk: There was never any conclusive evidence as to where a crime had been committed. Mrs. Durst’s body has never been found. To think that we could have sustained a conviction in the trial was not there.
Robert Durst, the husband of the missing woman, shy by nature, became even more reclusive. He stopped returning calls and the declined the invitations of old friends to get together.
It’s hard to say where he even was for most of the ’80s, according to writer Robert Draper.
Robert Draper: From 1982 until the 1992, he bounced around America. Didn’t altogether leave Manhattan, but frequently went from one place to the next. Spent a lot of time in Los Angeles with friends of his, but also in New Orleans and elsewhere.
Durst became estranged from his family in 1992 after his retiring father snubbed him by passing on control of the family business to his younger brother. Durst became a wealthy drifter, American tumbleweed touching down here and there.
Robert Draper: Began to take-up most of all in California where he had a very close friend that he knew back from his days at U.C.L.A. This was a writer named Susan Berman.
Susan Berman–journalist, publicist, larger-than-life character–was by most accounts a woman who could walk in a room and hold it spellbound with her stories about growing up a mob princess in the bad old days of Las Vegas where her father was a tough-as-nails casino manager. She learned to play gin at 4 with the gangsters baby-sitting her.
Writer Steve Silverman met Berman in New York and remembered a woman with an edge, a knack for getting under people’s skin.
Steve Silverman: I have never known anyone murdered but, of everyone I’ve ever met, if anyone I knew was going to be murdered, it was Susan.
Berman was a writer foundering in L.A. Her memoir of life as a mob little darling had fizzled. So had the rejected screenplays.
Looking back, her best days had been at Bob Durst’s side at the disco scene in New York in the ’70s.
Durst’s young wife Kathleen took to her, too.
Eleanor Schwank: Kathy liked Susan Berman a great deal.
When Kathleen went missing in January 1982, Susan the live wire, manic, writer friend stood by Robert Durst, as his wife’s college friend recalled.
Eleanor Schwank: Susan Berman being a very, very close friend to Bob, sister and brother relationship. She was, had undying loyalty to him. She represented him and did all of the public relations when Kathy disappeared.
The friends of the vanished wife have long speculated that Susan Berman–Robert Durst’s buddy and confidante–might know the whole story about what had happened to Kathleen.
Robert Draper: Bobby Durst had come to confide in Susan about how their marriage de-evolved and ultimately where Kathy went and what became of her.
What Susan Berman did or did not know about Kathleen Durst’s disappearance became an issue quite unexpectedly in the late ’90s. A young detective had became interested in the Durst case, by then a very cold file. The district attorney gave the detective a green light to look at the case with a fresh eye. Investigators planned to talk to Susan Berman.
But they didn’t get there in time. Just before Christmas 2000, Susan Berman opened her Los Angeles apartment door to someone who police believe she knew. That person followed her to the bedroom and fired a small-caliber bullet into the base of her skull.
It was the signature of a professional hit. Was it the mob’s revenge for peddling indiscreet stories?
Or was it possibly about keeping her from talking to the detectives re-investigating Durst?
Robert Draper: The immediate and logical conclusion that people formed was that Bobby Durst has done it again, that Durst is responsible for another murder.
Julie Smith: She just wasn’t the kind of person that you could imagine her just getting shot.
Julie Smith, a mystery writer by trade, had a hard time coming to terms with her close friend’s murder. It was a plotline that didn’t make sense.
Julie Smith: Susan had fears, she had phobias, she had illnesses — there was always the possibility that she could commit suicide. There were so many ways that Susan could’ve died. Except the way that she did.
And Berman’s cousin and confidant Denny Marcus, for one, rejects the idea of a mob hit.
Denny Marcus: This isn’t the kind of a person that gets shot. Because I’m from the world where bad guys get shot. She wasn’t a bad guy. So who would shoot her?
And police investigators seemed to agree. The harder they looked at the mob-hit theory, the more they ruled it out. Berman’s memoirs hadn’t been tell-alls so much as rambling musings about her father and innocence lost.
And yet, there had been that haunting thing Berman had said to a few of her friends just days before her death, a prediction that she was about to “blow the top off things.” What did she mean?
Bobby, the lifetime friend, was a no-show at her funeral.
Durst said at the time he had his own personal baggage and didn’t want to divert attention from the family’s grieving for Susan.
Denny Marcus: She loved him. And when she spoke of him it was always so endearingly. And that he was such a dear friend. And he had helped her.
He helped her in financial ways, it turned out.
It’s known that in the month just before her murder, Robert Durst had mailed Susan Berman two checks totaling $50,000. Was that hush money? Perhaps a blackmail pay-off?
Julie Smith: I think there will naturally be speculation about it but if I were Bobby Durst and if Susan did know something, I’d sure give her some money.
But, Susan’s cousin thinks the two fat checks were just Durst’s way of helping a friend of 35-years who was down on her luck.
Denny Marcus: I think there was a couple of occasions where she literally, you know, just said to him, I don’t know what I’m gonna do. And he was generous. And it wasn’t a loan or anything, he just, you know, gave her a few dollars. And she was devastated to take it. She was embarrassed. But she knew she needed it. She needed it to live.
And the mystery-writer friend thinks that the part of Berman that fancied herself a mob princess would never have ratted out Bobby Durst.
Julie Smith: I don’t think so. Not in a million years. She had that mob loyalty thing — deeply deeply ingrained in her — and I really don’t think there is any chance she would have.
Whatever explains Susan Berman’s demise, her cousin knows it came too soon.
Denny Marcus: We don’t have the truth. I looked into her casket hoping I cud like look at her and just kind of see.
Denny Marcus: But I didn’t see anybody at rest. I saw somebody that was totally not finished. She wasn’t done. It wasn’t her time.
When the friends and family of Kathleen, Durst’s missing wife, learned of the Susan Berman murder they of course speculated about Robert and some thought the worst.
Eleanor Schwank: I think that Bob Durst did it, but I have no way of proving that.
By the end of the 1990’s, Durst was then in his mid 50’s, had all but vanished from the city with the skyscraper canyons where his family had created such great wealth.
Robert Draper: Bobby Durst had already checked out of New York, had checked out of America for the most part. And had found himself taking up residency in Galveston, Texas.
Bobby Durst, the sad, odd figure people saw down by the seawall on some humid nights, tottering on high heels and wearing a dress.
Galveston, Texas is an end-of-the-road place. The last stop on Interstate-45 before the Gulf of Mexico.
Robert Durst slipped quietly onto the island in 1999, the year before Susan Berman died.
Robert Draper: He did not take up auspicious dwellings in one of the fine old Victorian houses that one finds on the island, but rather in a seedy little apartment on Avenue-K.
A $300-a-month four-plex, but here’s the head-spinner. He signed the lease as Dorothy Ciner, the name of a long ago high-school classmate.
Robert Draper: He literally was dressed as a woman, wearing a woman’s wig, wearing a woman’s dress and claiming that he could not speak so he wouldn’t give his masculine voice away.
And it seemed to be more than just a bizarre disguise for a man who wanted to disappear from his old life, according to writer Robert Draper.
Robert Draper: We would see him not as Robert Durst, but as Roberta, as a woman dressed very much as a woman, going to gay clubs and affecting the manner of someone who was into the transvestite scene.
Draper talked to people who said Durst bought drugs in shadowy alleys as a treat for the young male hustlers he pursued on the seawall.
Now add to this decadent setting the man across the hall from Durst in the apartment on Avenue-K. Morris Black, a 71-year-old former Merchant Marine with a reputation as an inveterate crank, a bantamweight codger with a sharp tongue for one and all.
Robert Draper: And he had this constant palsied look of discontent to his face, as he would berate virtually anyone. ‘I’ve been waiting for hours, or how dare you get in my way, or I’m gonna report you.
We’ll never know what interactions the odd couple on Avenue K had–the millionaire in drag and the cranky seaman–but one day Morris Black wasn’t around any more to harass city hall clerks or the utilities he waged war against.
Out on Channelview Road a kid was fishing with his dad when he saw something bobbing in the bay.
Robert Draper: There were these suspicious plastic bags that were floating around in the water and the boy noticed them. Authorities came to the scene. And what they found were a headless trunk and then dismembered limbs.
In the garbage bags along with the severed arms and legs, police found receipts for some hardware store item purchases–a saw and a carving knife–and conveniently a piece of junk mail with the address 2213 Avenue K.
In short order the woman across the hall was unmasked as Robert Durst. Authorities got a search warrant and found traces of blood matching Morris Black’s. There was a drop cloth and more garbage bags. It was a killing that almost solved itself.
And a few days later, Galveston police arrested Durst himself driving down the street in his silver Honda. He was charged with murder. And bail was set at $300,000.
Robert Draper: They had no reason to believe that a guy who lived in an apartment like that would be be able to pay that, to post that. But in fact, he did. And once he did he was outta there.
Robert Durst was a fugitive. He’d jumped bond and too late, police found evidence that he’d fled to the Dallas area. Then he was in New Orleans for awhile.
Six weeks after he failed to show for an arraignment in Galveston, Durst re-appeared, on a security camera inside a Wegman’s Supermarket in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley where he’d gone to college.
On the tape, you see him opening a box of Band Aids and stuffing a few in his pocket.
He puts a Band Aid on his freshly shaved upper lip.
Then, the heir worth tens of millions shoplifts a $5.49 chicken salad on pumpernickel sandwich and heads for the door. Security stops him and minutes later he’s under arrest.
Officer Dean Benner: He just kept mumbling about I can’t believe this is how it’s going to end. He basically said I can’t believe I did this, I’m such an ass****.
Police searched his rental car outside and found two loaded guns, some marijuana, $38,000 in cash and an ID for one Morris Black.
And back at the police station it got even more interesting when officer Dean Benner ran the shoplifter’s name, which he’d given voluntarily through a computer, for a background check.
There was a hit. From Galveston.
Officer Dean Benner: I just got up to him and said when was the last time you was in Texas. With that he just kind of got a cold look like all the color ran out of his face and he just stared at me and said “I’m not saying another word till I speak to an attorney.”
Soon Robert Durst was extradited to Texas to stand trial for the murder of his neighbor. The careless evidence he’d left behind was a prosecutor’s gift.
There was no question that Durst killed his neighbor, chopped up his body and dumped it into the bay. His new lawyers–high-priced dream-teamers all–had conceded as much.
If he’d eluded authorities in the case of his missing wife, as her friends charged.
If he’d had a hand in Susan Berman’s killing as those same people believed.
Surely here in Galveston, justice would be an easy slam-dunk.
Robert Draper: Yeh, things look bad for Robert Durst things look real bad.
Two years had passed since a fisherman and his son to their horror reeled-in Morris Black’s dismembered remains from the Galveston Bay.
Robert Durst was now on trial for killing his one-time neighbor.
And, Galveston D.A. Kirk Sistrunk argued it was a cold, premeditated murder.
Kirk Sistrunk: We examined evidence in this case, it was clear to us that the evidence supported there was preplanning.
Assistant D.A. Joel Bennett told the jury that Robert Durst intentionally shot Morris Black, chopped up his body and loaded the parts into plastic bags only to dump them into the bay and hope they’d disappear.
Joel Bennett: And that leads to only one conclusion–that man, Robert Durst, is guilty of murder.
The case seemed a no-brainer for the prosecution. After all, Robert Durst had admitted to killing his neighbor and even taking an axe and saw to the body.
Joel Bennett: Robert Durst severed Morris Black’s head at the 6th vertebre convinces you beyond a reasonable doubt that he intentionally or knowingly murdered Morris Black and it was no accident, and it was not self defense.
The prosecutors pointed to the fact that Durst cleaned up the apartment in the days following the shooting –a sign that he had something to hide.
Kirk Sistrunk: We had a dismembered body. You would expect blood to be everywhere in that apartment. It wasn’t there. The body wasn’t there. I mean, it’s– it’s typical in a murder case, people are going to cover up crime scene evidence.
Durst’s admitted mutilation of Morris Black’s body would prove to be one of the most uncomfortable set of facts in an already disturbing case.
Joel Bennett: The extremities were bagged up. Each one was triple bagged. Three– three for the leg, three for the other leg, three for the arms. And then three empty bags, with long slits down each one.
The prosecution argued that Durst even lingered at the bay to watch the bags sink and ensure that Morris Black disappeared into the depths.
Joel Bennett: He had to go back and double check, make sure that– that Morris Black floated away. And did give him the time he needed to clean up the apartment, and to get away with murder.
But, there was conspicuously one body part never retrieved on that father-son’s day of very bad fishing.
The head, missing for a reason, argued the prosecutor.
Kirk Sistrunk: The head was a significant piece of evidence, because it– it would have given us the opportunity to disprove– an act of– of self-defense, or accident. We would have known exactly where the man was shot in the head, if he was beaten over the head. I mean, we had bruises– the medical examiner testified, bruises all over Morris Black’s back, his lower back– both sides of his back. And we thought it was indicative of a struggle.
Kurt Sistrunk: Did he take the head? You’ll never make us believe otherwise. Yeah, we think he took the head, because it was evidence of a murder.
Not only did he rid the apartment of evidence, dismember the body and hide the head, said the prosecution. On top of it all, he skipped town.
Kirk Sistrunk: And then we had flight. This man wasn’t running because of an act of self-defense, wasn’t running because of– an accidental shooting but running because of only one reason. And running because he committed the murder of Morris Black.
As for the victim, Morris Black, while they admitted he may have been unruly and unpleasant– the prosecutors asked the jury how that justifies murder.
Kirk Sistrunk: Morris Black–you may not ever ask him over for dinner at your house. But the bottom line is let’s talk about what happened in that house on September 28, 2001.
And, while the prosecution did not have to prove a motive, they knew it was human nature for the jury to want to hear one.
Joel Bennett: You can’t say, “I need a logical motive for someone to do something so illogical, so irrational and so unthinkable.”
Kirk Sistrunk: But human nature is always going to say, “Someone please tell me why. Someone explain to me why this happened.”
So, what could the motivation possibly have been?
One theory for the crime: Robert Durst wanted the old coot’s identity.
Goodbye Bobby. Hello Morris.
Joel Bennett: It’s obvious that he steals people’s identity that he knows. And, he admitted that — he admitted that this guy could disappear and nobody’d be looking for him. So, it was the perfect identity to take.
Obvious to the prosecution.
But, now it was the defense’s turn to tell its version of the story.
It depended on how you looked at it.
Robert Durst was either the world’s luckiest man, one who’d skated away from the murders of his wife and friend, or a snakebit soul stalked by just one tragedy after another.
Dick DeGuerin: Members of the jury…
In a Galveston, Texas courtroom, his lawyer now had to explain to a jury his client’s plight. How Durst felt compelled to kill his neighbor, a loner named Morris Black, in a seedy apartment.
His lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, argued it was all in self-defense and set out to portray the victim, Morris Black, as a cantankerous old coot with a violent streak.
Dick DeGuerin: He was volatile. He was mean. He was seriously mentally ill. And been diagnosed in 1956 as being a danger to himself and others. Morris Black had threatened people before, for no reason. And he turned on Bob like he turned on several people that we brought as witnesses.
As for what kind of relationship the unlikely pair had, they were portrayed as two scarred individuals joined by their version of friendship.
Mike Ramsey: It was an odd couple. It was. And, Morris was out front like a little terrier biting and snapping. And Bob was kind of coming along behind toking on a joint and letting, you know, the world pass by. They were as close friends as two people with their emotional problems could be, I think.
The defense argued that Durst had come back to his Galveston apartment only to find Morris Black, the cranky neighbor, inside waving one of Durst’s pistols. There was a struggle for the gun.
Dick DeGuerin: We had a tremendous advantage. We knew what Bob Durst had done. He told us. Told us from the very outset what had happened in that room.
And, the jury would even get a chance to assess Robert Durst’s character for themselves, because he would take the stand.
His defense attorney knew just how big a bet Durst was wagering.
Mike Ramsey: There’s no question there’s a risk involved in putting any defendant on the stand. Someone in a tender emotional state that Bob’s in, certainly it was a risk. But I think it needed to be done. Even though the jury might not believe all that he had to say, I think they needed to see and feel him as a human.
Durst, testifying from the stand, told the jurors how the two wrestled for the gun. How it went off with Black slumping dead. The millionaire said he thought he had no choice but to dispose of the body. Given the suspicions that followed him in the disappearance of his wife and the murder of Susan Berman, who’d believe, he reasoned, that he’d killed a neighbor supposedly in self-defense. So in a daze, Durst said he cut up the body and dumped it in Galveston Bay.
As for Durst’s bizarre behavior, that was attributed to a mild form of autism, argued his defense attorney.
Mike Ramsey: Bob suffers from a subset of autism, called Asberger’s Syndrome. It doesn’t mean he’s less than intelligent. He’s extremely intelligent. But the truth of it is his social skills are not what they should be, so far as expressing emotions concerned.
So, the defense conceded that Durst’s mutilation of Morris Black’s body was strange and gruesome.
But, how Durst behaved after he shot Morris Black didn’t change what transpired in that apartment, argued co-counsel Chip Lewis.
Chip Lewis: This case boils down to one thing and one thing only: How Morris Black died. This case is not about what happened to Morris Black’s body after he was dead.
Dick DeGuerin: He might have been guilty of some very poor judgment and might have been guilty of dismembering or desecration of a corpse but he was not running from a murder. He was running from what he saw was an accusation of murder that the police wouldn’t believe his story.
Robert Durst: a Richey-Rich more to be pitied than envied.
Mike Ramsey: I don’t personally think he ever liked being Robert Durst. I think that he was disturbed with his role in life all– all the through his life. And it led ultimately to tragedy. If he had not been falsely accused in the tabloid press in New York, none of this ever would have happened.
The best thing the defense had going for it was the head-scratching lack of an apparent motive.
The prosecution had offered up identity theft but on the defense’s scorecard that sounded lame.
Dick DeGuerin: Well, they didn’t have a motive. That was a real important thing. So, when they kinda flailed around– trying to find what the motive was it was to our benefit.
After two months of testimony, both sides had rested.
A jury of his peers would finally decide whether Robert Durst was guilty of murder.
Female Juror: I have no doubt about my decision at all with the facts that we were given.
Judge: Mr. Foreman, I understand you have a verdict? Will the defendant please rise?
Had Robert Durst, the Manhattan real estate heir, intentionally shot to death, then dismembered a fellow tenant in a $300-a-month Galveston, Texas apartment?
Judge: The verdict of the jury is such…
The moment of the verdict had arrived…
Judge: We the jury find the defendant Robert Durst: not guilty.
Writer Robert Draper said Durst seemed as floored as the rest of us to hear that verdict in a Texas courtroom.
Robert Draper: Robert Durst looked absolutely astonished. The wind seemed to be sucked right out of him.
What a long strange trip it had been.
The Galveston jury of eight women and four men unanimously found Robert Durst: Not Guilty.
And, it was a shock to Prosecutor Kurt Sistrunk.
Kurt Sistrunk: I think as soon as I heard the verdict, my thoughts were, “This is just unbelievable.” It was a shock to me. It truly was.
Robert Draper isn’t all that surprised that Durst looked over the abyss and danced away.
Robert Draper: If you’re gonna try Robert Durst, you’d better bring your best stuff. Because this man is capable of hiring one hell of a defense team.
Critics looked at the firepower of his high-priced dream team defense lawyers and cynically explained the perplexing verdict as the best that money could buy.
Dick DeGuerin: We see that kind of criticism all the time. And the problem with saying you can buy justice in America is that there’s a grain of truth in it. And that is, that you have to be financed well enough to prepare a case for presentation. But, the truth of it is that we have to deal with the facts that we have.
And if you’re one of the many Americans asking the jury what they could possibly have been thinking, here are some of their responses:
Chris, juror: The burden of proof was on the prosecution. They had to prove it. And there was nothing there to prove that it was not self-defense. And, if Robert Durst is guilty of one thing, Robert Durst is guilty of bizarre behavior. But fortunately for Mr. Durst and a lot of people in this country, bizarre behavior is not a crime.
Joanne, juror: The prosecution had the burden– burden to prove that the death of Morris Black was an intentional murder. And I didn’t feel that that was proved to me.
In the end, Durst won the gamble–not on character, but on reasonable doubt.
Joanne: He was a loner. Didn’t have a lot of friends. He’s an admitted liar. His whole life practically — revolved around– you know– smoking marijuana everyday. He drank a lot of– Jack Daniels.
Chris: The truth of the matter is a lot of the decisions that we had to come to, you were gonna base it on speculation. Well, I cannot convict a man, even a guy like Robert Durst, I cannot convict that man and send him to prison for the rest of his life on speculation. I’ve got to have some proof that he committed this crime.
It seems the defense’s portrayal of two whacky, sometime friends with a gun between them added-up to a no-fault killing. And no one seemed to be shedding tears for the man left lying dead.
Chris: It’s like his own attorney said. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to tell you that Bob Durst’s compass doesn’t point north. Which is true, you know? Because it takes a sick guy to cut somebody up. But I was not convinced he did not kill him in self-defense. I agree he covered something up, but I don’t believe that Robert Durst covered up a murder. I believe Robert Durst covered up a suspicious death in his apartment.
Gilberte Najamy: This is the Bobby that Kathy was telling me about. He just gets away with things and it’s echoing in my head. I could hear Kathy telling me, “He gets away with things, Gilberte, do you know what it’s like being around a man who can always avoid consequences.” I wasn’t really surprised to hear the not guilty verdict. Could I believe it? No. But was I surprised? Not really. This is Bobby Durst. Expect the unexpected.”
Robert Draper: This was, if not their last, most assuredly their best chance to put Robert Durst away for the crime of murder.
That may be, but Robert Durst’s legal odyssey wasn’t over.
The murder charge had been disposed of but he still had to face the consequences of jumping bond back when in the Morris Black case.
In the remaining lesser charges of the case, Durst was charged with jumping bond and tampering with a corpse.
He pleaded guilty to 3 counts and ended up serving an additional two-years in a Texas cell.
Then, just before his release, he had to face the music from the Feds who’d charged him with carrying a gun across state lines while a fugitive.
In 2004, he pleaded guilty to that and did another five-and-a-half months behind bars before being released on parole.
But he apparently couldn’t get enough of Galveston.
Even though the terms of his parole banned him from setting foot there without permission, he did.
A former neighbor, who agreed to be interviewed anonymously, happened to spot Durst.
“Why is he there? What does he want? What is he doing. What is he looking for? I just want him to stay away from us.”
Durst was thrown in detention for several weeks.
He’d filed a suit against his own family demanding his share of the skyscraper pie. In 2006, the black sheep of the Durst family was reportedly paid $65-million dollars in a settlement by the Durst organization to just go away and not be heard from again.
When Dateline tried to reach Robert Durst for an interview through his lawyer, he declined our request.
His attorney said he’s living in quiet anonymity and hopes it stays that way.
Still, all his money won’t shield him from the onetime friends and associates with their nagging questions about the missing, the murdered, the dismembered, questions likely to follow this puzzle of a man all his days.
Kathleen Durst’s disappearance remains an open homicide investigation. The D.A. says there are no new leads. No new leads in the Susan Berman murder either.. and no suspects, though the LAPD calls Robert Durst a “person of interest.”