Robert Durst, the real-estate heir accused of urinating on a Texas CVS cash register and candy rack when he was picking up a prescription, is one of the strangest cases of a rich man gone off the rails.
In 2001, Durst, now 71 – whose family owns a privately held multibillion-dollar real-estate company — was arrested as a fugitive and admitted to killing his neighbor, Morris Black, cutting up his body and dumping the remains in Galveston Bay.
A trio of Houston’s highest paid defense attorneys — Dick DeGuerin, Chip Lewis and Mike Ramsey — won an acquittal based on self-defense that seemed to stun even Durst himself.
His family’s business, the Durst Organization, owns more than 15 skyscrapers, including the recently completed Bank of America Tower in the heart of Manhattan, and has a large investment in One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the U.S. and the replacement for the Twin Towers.
On Tuesday, after arranging for Durst to turn himself in to authorities in connection with the alleged incident at the drug store, Lewis once again defended his client, whom he said suffers from a form of autism known as Asperger’s syndrome.
“He wasn’t arguing with anybody and he didn’t seem agitated,” Houston police spokeswoman Jodi Silva told The New York Post, adding that she did not know what the prescription was for. “He just peed on the candy. Skittles, I think.”
The 2001 dismemberment case was not Durst’s first connection with a mysterious death. In 1982, he was the only named suspect in the disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack, a medical student who vanished after meeting Durst at their home in tony Westchester County, north of New York City. He was never charged.
And in 2000, after investigators probing the McCormack disappearance contacted Susan Berman, a confidant of Durst, Berman was found murdered with a gunshot wound to the back of her head. He was not charged in that crime, either.
According to the Post, Durst has been permanently ostracized from his wealthy family — last year, he was arrested for trespassing on his brother Douglas’ property on the West Side of Manhattan — and more than a dozen family members have taken out restraining orders against him.
Durst is not short of money, however. Last week, the Post reported that he sold two Brooklyn properties for $21.15 million, more than doubling his initial investment. And in 2006, according to The New York Times, he cut his ties to the family and its Manhattan skyscrapers for a reported $65 million payout.
The Durst Organization had humble beginnings in 1902 when, according to the corporation’s website, Joseph Durst, a tailor from Gorlice, Austria (present-day Poland), arrived in the United States with $3 to his name. After a stint in the dressmaking business, he bought his first building in 1915. The firm expanded quickly in the 1960s under his son Seymour, building a series of towers on Manhattan’s Avenue of the Americas and creating the first building in the city that had a fully integrated heating and cooling system. The Dursts are known for their considerable philanthropy, especially to Jewish causes.
According to the Times, Durst broke with his family in 1994 after his father anointed his brother, Douglas, as his successor in the family business, and did not attend his father’s funeral.
In 2000, the paper reported, as police investigated the McCormack and Berman cases, he posed as a mute woman, renting a $300-a-month apartment in Galveston, Texas. Durst later said, according to the Times, that he was not very good at pretending to be a woman, having once set his wig on fire in a bar.