An ongoing national story that reaches across the country has a personal impact on longtime Sparta resident James McCormack. The recent arrest of Robert Durst in New Orleans on felony weapons and drug charges, and pending extradition to California on murder charges has served to refocus the spotlight on the disappearance of McCormack’s sister, Kathleen.
McCormack, known as Jim, said in a phone interview from Florida that Kathie’s disappearance has “affected all aspects of my and my family’s life.”
He was close to his youngest sibling. “She was the first infant I ever held,” he said, thinking back to the first time his mother placed her in his arms, “on a sunny day standing on the front stoop of our house in St Albans, NY.”
The family, including the five children lived in St. Albans for more than nine years. In 1962 they moved to New Hyde Park where his mother remains to this day. She is 101. Mc Cormack and his three sisters take turns caring for her in her own home. “She still gets around, makes tea and enjoys watching golf. Tiger Woods is her favorite.”
McCormack recalls how his sister Kathie graduated from New Hyde Park High School and went on to be a dental hygienist, “because at that time not a lot of girls went on to college.” In 1971 she and a close friend decided they were going to “go on a grand adventure” moving into an apartment on the east side Manhattan. She worked for a dentist on Central Park South.
“She was stunning,” said McCormack as he explained that she also did some modeling; runway shows for Macy’s and Lord and Taylor on Northern Boulevard and the Roosevelt Field Mall.
The apartment the girls rented was in a building owned by the Durst Corporation. In the fall of 1971, Kathie’s roommate was invited to a party. Kathie went along to the party where she met Bob. Kathie and Robert Durst dated for a short time before moving to Vermont in 1972.
In Vermont, they had a health food store called All Good Things. “They were in love and had a happy hippie life,” said McCormack. “Kathie was 19 and Bob was about 10 years older. Bob wanted nothing to do with the family business.”
That was soon to change when Bob’s father Seymour Durst “decided to rein in both sons,” said McCormack. Both couples, Kathie and Bob along with his brother Douglas and his wife Suzanne were moved into a family estate in Katonah, NY. “It was a grand home but not well maintained,” said McCormack. Doug and Suzanne and their children occupied the back of the large multi-level home with Kathie and Bob in another part of the home.
The arrangement did not last long as there was “contention between the brothers,” said McCormack. Kathie and Bob moved to a stone English Tudor style home on Hoyte Street in the Truesdale Lake section of South Salem, NY.
By that time “Kathie and Bob’s relationship was on and off because of Bob’s abuse of Kathie,” said McCormack. McCormack shared that when he would visit his sister in her home Bob would “drift away and then he’d be gone” from the gathering. At first McCormack thought he was just shy, “not recognizing that he was a sociopathic narcissist, contemptuous of civility and criminally cunning.”
By the mid 1970’s Kathie had gone back to school and gotten her nursing degree. “She wanted more than just to sit on the couch,” said McCormack. Kathie “grew past him and was frustrated by the lack of warmth and sensitivity from Bob.” When she found out that she was pregnant in 1976, Bob made her terminate the unplanned pregnancy.
In 1978, Kathie enrolled in Albert Einstein College of Medicine where she pursued her medical degree. “She was three months from becoming a pediatrician,” said McCormack. By that time she wanted to be self-sufficient. She wanted a normal family. That was not to be with Bob.
Kathie wrote in her diary about the many ways she was abused by Bob according to McCormack. He talked of many levels of abuse including emotional, verbal, psychological, economic and physical. Bob exhibited these behaviors even in social situations in front of family and friends.
“I recall one incident when Bob decided he wanted to leave and pulled Kathleen off the couch by her hair. This happened in front of our grandmother. It happened so fast that we couldn’t do anything about it. As her brother I would have stopped it if I could but I couldn’t. It was upsetting especially to our grandmother,” said McCormack.
During the early 1980’s McCormack said he was working a lot at the time and his sister opened up more to his wife Sharon. “She told Sharon of their difficulties,” he said. Not wishing to be interviewed Sharon simply said, “The overnights with Kathie and I were filled with conversation.”
On Feb 25, 1982, shortly after the birth of their first daughter Elizabeth, while they still lived on Long Island, McCormack remembers getting a call from Bob saying “Have you seen Kathie?” McCormack recalls Bob’s voice was not emotional or showing stress or urgency. “The call lasted about a minute and then Bob said, ‘I have to move on. Got calls to make.’” In the days that followed McCormack recalls seeing the headlines in the papers about a missing heiress and $100,000 reward. He remembers thinking that it did not seem real. It was something that happened to other people.
“Kathie was all over the press,” said McCormack. “Her good friend Ellen [Strauss], a Connecticut lawyer worked at trying to find Kathie. Her friend Gilberte [Najamy] hounded the NY police, especially [now retired] Detective Struk of the 20 Precinct. He was really wonderful.”
“The biggest problem was the police took Bob’s word that she was in NY [city],” said McCormack. “95 percent of their efforts were focused in NYC so any potential fresh evidence at the Westchester home was lost.”
Bob and the Durst Organization then hired an attorney, Nicholas Scoppetta who shut off all communication with the McCormack family. When the investigator that the attorney hired began to question the veracity of Durst’s statements, pointing out inconsistencies and contradictions, the investigator Ed Right, was fired.
In 1984, McCormack was promoted to a position in NJ. He said, “We moved to the wonderful town of Sparta and had our beautiful daughters there.”
There was not much movement in the case until 1999 when NY State policeman Joe Becerra arrested Tim Martin for exposing himself to women. Facing stiff jail time Martin looked to make a deal for a lesser sentence. His sister was the housekeeper for Bobby and Kathie Durst. He claimed to have information about the now cold case.
“Becerra began to look into the case and found the file lacking information. On his own he started investigating,” said McCormack. This continued into 2000 when the case was brought to the attention of Westchester District Attorney Janine Pirro. Pirro gave him to go ahead to launch an official investigation.
At that time the spotlight was pointed at Bob Durst. “I started to get calls again from shows like the View and America’s Most Wanted,” said McCormack. McCormack and others shared their thoughts and suggestions as to who Becerra should speak with. This list included Susan Berman, Bob’s close friend from their days at UCLA.
With the probability of being called as a witness in an expected trial against Robert Durst, McCormack needs to finish the story here, for now. Clearly there is more but, with the hope of finally getting to see justice, he must pause.
The story continues with its many, now well-known and seemingly unbelievable twists; crossdressing, dismemberment, dead bodies, severed family ties, courtroom drama and videotaped confessions. The story seems to be beginning again, picking up from the end. It is a story that must look back in order to move forward.
After 33 years, the McCormack family is looking forward to the end.
McCormack said, “I don’t need my 15 minutes of fame, I don’t need the spotlight. I am committed to have this happen for Kathie.”