Robert Durst, Saying He Was Worried, Fled to Familiar Refuge Before His Arrest

Not for the first time in his life, Robert A. Durst had left his home and sought to disappear. And not for the first time, he went to New Orleans.

As he had done before, Mr. Durst appeared here under an assumed name, checking into the JW Marriott as Everette Ward. He had a gun and, friends said, a feeling of anxiety about how the following days might unfold.

Mr. Durst had spent nearly half his life suspected of murder — first of his wife, then of one of his closest friends and finally of an elderly neighbor in Texas.

Even before HBO broadcast the dramatic finale on Sunday of a documentary film about Mr. Durst and the murders, in which he seemed to admit his role in the killings, he told friends and associates that he was worried he would be arrested.

Mr. Durst knew that he had taken a gamble in participating in the film, against the wishes of his lawyers, but it seemed a chance to tell his side of the story.

As the documentary drew to its close, he told friends he believed the authorities were coming for him. They finally did on Saturday night, with state police officers and federal agents arresting him at the hotel on a warrant issued in Los Angeles County. He is being held in New Orleans without bail.

Mr. Durst was escorted into Orleans Parish Criminal District Court on Monday.

Mr. Durst was escorted into Orleans Parish Criminal District Court on Monday.

On Monday, the authorities in Los Angeles announced that he had been charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Susan Berman, a confidante who was fatally shot in 2000.

According to accounts of his final weeks before being taken into custody — pieced together from interviews with his lawyers, friends, associates and several telephone conversations with Mr. Durst himself — Mr. Durst seemed drained from three decades of being accused of murder and concerned that a court fight could drag on for years, he told friends.

When he appeared in court on Monday morning, Mr. Durst, 71, looked thin and frail in an orange jumpsuit and shackles.

Mr. Durst agreed to be taken to Los Angeles. With eight defendants behind him waiting their turn — several of whom qualified for indigent counsel — Mr. Durst, an affluent fugitive, answered a series of routine questions with the same three-word answer: “Yes, Your Honor.”

His time before the court was over in less than 15 minutes.

But the next steps would be more complicated than the quick proceeding suggested.

On Monday evening, Mr. Durst was charged by the Louisiana State Police on one count of felony possession of a firearm and another of possession of a firearm with a controlled substance, Trooper Melissa Matey said, adding that he had been found with a “small amount” of marijuana.

The police report of his arrest said that at the time, Mr. Durst was “found to be in possession of a Smith and Wesson .38-caliber revolver.”

It is unclear what the state charges will mean for Mr. Durst’s extradition; earlier on Monday, Dick DeGuerin, one of Mr. Durst’s lawyers, said Mr. Durst’s legal team was eager to get to Los Angeles and was frustrated by potential charges in Louisiana.

Robert A. Durst, an estranged member of a prominent real estate family in New York, outside court during his trial in December 2014 on charges of trespassing on his family’s property.

Robert A. Durst, an estranged member of a prominent real estate family in New York, outside court during his trial in December 2014 on charges of trespassing on his family’s property.

A spokesman for the Orleans Parish district attorney’s office declined to comment, citing office policy.

Mr. DeGuerin said Mr. Durst “didn’t kill Susan Berman, and he’s ready to end all the rumor and speculation.”

The HBO documentary, “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” rekindled public interest in the case and was an unsparing account of how an heir to one of New York’s wealthiest families went from scion to pariah.

In a series of telephone interviews as the documentary unfolded, Mr. Durst was not always happy about his portrayal but initially gave little indication that he was afraid of renewed attention by the authorities.

After the third episode, he wondered what else the director, Andrew Jarecki, might have left. He said that the documentary had largely rehashed old territory.

By the fifth episode, Mr. Durst had grown anxious and increasingly angry, his friends and associates said, and felt that the filmmakers had betrayed him.

While he did not know that Mr. Jarecki had been cooperating with investigators, his friends said they were worried he was about to flee the country.

“He sounded really terrible,” said a friend, who like the others agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity. “I never heard him sound so depressed.”

New Orleans was a familiar refuge when the world seemed to be closing in around him.

Mr. Durst on the witness stand in 2003. His lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, showed the jury photos of Mr. Durst and his wife, Kathleen, on their wedding day. Credit

Mr. Durst on the witness stand in 2003. His lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, showed the jury photos of Mr. Durst and his wife, Kathleen, on their wedding day. 

On March 19, 2001, Mr. Durst posed as a mute woman named Diane Winne and signed a lease on an apartment at 2837 General Pershing Street near Tulane University. Diane Winne was the name of a college friend; he frequently used the name of an acquaintance — a high school friend, a handyman — for an alias. It is still unclear who Everette Ward, which is listed as “Ward Everette” in the police report, may be.

In October 2001, Mr. Durst wrote a note for his landlord at the General Pershing Street apartment, saying he was leaving and would not be returning. He left behind a wig and, said Julie Smith, a New Orleans resident who was the executor of Ms. Berman’s estate, a silver money clip that Ms. Berman had left him in her will. Ms. Smith said she had not known he was back in town this time.

“If I had, I would have been camping out at the police station,” she said.

Mr. Durst’s decision to come here and stay in a hotel on a busy stretch of Canal Street, across from the French Quarter, had come about as talk of new evidence began to percolate, said Chip Lewis, another lawyer representing Mr. Durst.

Mr. Durst’s condominium in Houston was being besieged by reporters, and he asked Mr. Lewis if he could leave town. Mr. Lewis said that he could, but that he should stay somewhere close.

“Austin or Dallas or New Orleans,” he said. The next day Mr. Lewis said that he got a call from Mr. Durst at the hotel, and that Mr. Durst had contacted him every day at noon.

Asked what Mr. Durst had been doing in recent days, he said, “What tourists and what an aging hippie would do in New Orleans I suppose.”

Mr. Durst has been the subject of suspicion since the disappearance of his wife, Kathleen Durst, in 1982. He maintained his innocence and has not been charged in the case.

But as his relationship with his family fractured, Ms. Berman, a friend from graduate school, stood by his side.

Ms. Berman, a magazine writer, was widely thought to have been one of the few people whom Mr. Durst confided in.

In December 2000 — a little more than a month after prosecutors in New York said they would reopen the investigation into the death of Mr. Durst’s wife — Ms. Berman was found dead in her Beverly Hills home, shot once in the back of the head.

In announcing on Monday that Mr. Durst had been charged with first-degree murder, the office of Jackie Lacey, the Los Angeles County district attorney, said that the charge included the special circumstances of murder of a witness, lying in wait and gun-use allegations. “The capital murder charge makes Durst eligible for the death penalty,” the statement said. “Prosecutors will decide later whether to seek death.”

(Source)

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