When the law finally came for Robert Durst, he was staying in a New Orleans hotel room under an assumed name: Everette Ward.
According to police documentation filed alongside a search warrant for Durst’s home in Houston, he did not simply use an alias at the hotel’s front desk. The police found a fake ID from Texas – with Everette Ward’s name and Durst’s photo. They asked Durst about it, and he replied: “That’s pretty good.”
Only Durst himself can say what he meant. Those three words are not nearly as damning as “killed them all” – the words caught on camera in the finale of HBO’s documentary series The Jinx, which helped land him in jail on murder charges last week. The Jinx continues to make headlines, and will again at trial in New Orleans on Monday, because it did what law enforcement for decades could not: find evidence that linked the elusive millionaire to the murder of his friend Susan Berman in Los Angeles.
A review of the many Robert Dursts – a complex web of aliases, addresses, post office boxes and private companies – reveals a trail of clues left long after Berman’s murder by a man on the run, and suggests a paranoia from a person obsessed with hiding from any simple pattern of behavior.
Public records searches on Durst’s name merely scratch the surface of his activities. They show a man owning separate homes in Houston and New York, a man married to – although never living with – a real estate executive named Debrah Lee Charatan.
The rich and powerful often travel incognito, but Durst is so fond of pseudonyms and fake addresses that he practically elevated it to an art form. His ingenuity with aliases has long astonished investigators. Still, they insist, Durst’s hidden identities raise new questions that even the best true crime documentary could never solve.
It has never been a secret that Durst lived under assumed names – he was posing as a mute woman named Dorothy Ciner when police arrested him in Galveston,Texas, for the murder of his neighbor Morris Black in 2001. But investigators uncovered a set of alternative names and properties associated with Durst going back decades, long before the murders of Berman and Black made him the stuff of international tabloids.
Some personas he took from acquaintances and others from strangers; some were used only once and others returned to again and again. All paint a portrait of a suspect who has exposed himself to questionable acts in the very name of secrecy.
Matt Birkbeck, whose 2003 book on the disappearance of Durst’s wife was found in Durst’s Houston condominium last week, says the aliases long predate the reopening of that cold case in 2000. The book, A Deadly Secret, lists at least 12 separate names linked to Durst by 2001 and used, Birkbeck writes, to open credit card accounts, rent apartments and buy cars.
“I’m sure he uses many, many more,” Birkbeck told the Guardian by email on Saturday. “Perhaps dozens more.”
The Robinhood condo, the dog companies and the UPS store: Durst’s life in Texas
In late 2000, long before The Jinx, news that the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathleen, was being re-investigated prompted him to flee New York for Galveston. He moved into a low-rent, four-apartment complex on Avenue K in a room next to Morris Black, whose body parts turned up in the bay a year later.
The peeling paint, faded decor, rusty fence and cracked wood of the Galveston complex are in stark contrast to the modern, 17-storey tower on Robinhood Street in Houston, where police executed a search warrant against Durst on Tuesday. Three condos on different floors are registered to Durst under his given name.
Bobbi Sue Bacha, a Texas private investigator who has followed Durst for years, provided the Guardian with two newer Houston-area aliases: Sigmund James Zackary and Stephen Newhouse, perhaps used as recently as January 2013 – though it remains unclear how and when he may have used those names.
“You can’t prove them until you catch him with them,” Bacha said.
But just last week police may have caught Durst with another Houston alias – and another unresolved web of connections. Inside one of the Robinhood condos, a police affidavit states, officers found a credit card in the name of Stafford J Demouchette – the same as a Houston-area man who has been repeatedly convicted on drug offenses and firearms charges, the last of which came in 2008. (The Guardian was unable to reach Demouchette.)
Another Durst identity that turned up at the condo was the July 15 Real Estate Company, a limited liability firm that Durst registered as headquartered in Huntsville, Texas.
In April 2005, when the LLC was founded, Durst was serving time in a New Jersey federal prison on gun charges related to his time on the run during the Morris Black murder investigation. His company could have taken its name for a reason: 15 July 2005 is the day Durst was last released from prison.
Durst has been listed as the principal stakeholder on several such limited-liability entities in registrations from New York and Texas to California. His activities with these companies offer a patchwork of insights into his preoccupations and activities over the past few years – and a possible shield from a less complex portrayal by the public and the authorities.
Some of the companies deal in the family business of real estate, others appear to be empty entities, and several suggest a fondness for dogs: Woofing LLC, WoofWoof LLC and Igor-Fayette Inc. (Durst owned a succession of dogs named Igor in the early 1980s.)
Igor-Fayette Inc ceased its activities some time ago. WoofWoof is headquartered at the mansion Durst owns on Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem, New York. Woofing’s registered address is a private mailbox at a UPS shipping store in a strip mall near downtown Houston, a 10-minute drive from his Robinhood condos. (Durst is a prolific user of private mailboxes; his name, and Woofing’s, is also associated with a mailbox on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles.)
Employees at the UPS store told the Guardian that Durst visited the shipping outlet about three times per month – and had been visiting for more than eight years. Sometimes he would drive himself in a Smart car or Volkswagen Eos, one employee said; sometimes he was driven in a truck by a “bodyguard” whom another likened to the controversial rap mogul Suge Knight. On one occasion, a UPS employee said, Durst could be seen urinating outside; on another occasion, he tripped and fell over a rug inside the store.
Durst’s most recent visit to the UPS store linked to Woofing LLC and its PO box, the Houston employees said, was in the week leading up to The Jinx’s finale – and his arrest.
“Honestly, he was a really nice guy – I didn’t know the bad side,” said one UPS employee who asked to remain anonymous, for fear of retribution by his employer. “If you were a new person who he didn’t know, he could be a little aggressive – he’d get a little snappy.”
The iPad, the ongoing defence and the publicity pie: who is Durst now?
There was nothing unusual about having a private mailbox or how Robert Durst’s packages looked from the outside, the UPS employees said. But he did have an odd habit: Durst’s iPad would travel separately from him on long journeys. He would arrive at the UPS store, put down his iPad on the counter and ask the staff to ship it to wherever in the country he was travelling.
“Always shipped overnight so it’d be there before he got there,” a staff member told the Guardian.
Bacha, the private investigator, said that shipping the iPad separately could have allowed Durst to avoid ever having to show airport security its contents. The quirk – taken together with the addresses and the aliases and the holding companies that would seem unlikely if not useless for a magnate of his stature – may instead suggest a desire to obfuscate a simple truth about Durst’s comings and goings since the reopening of the cold case into his wife’s murder.
Durst has never been shy about portraying himself as under siege: he played the victim in The Jinx and in the Black murder trial, and his attorneys were expected to begin tackling a “thin case” in Berman’s death with the “publicity pie” argument when he appears in New Orleans court on gun and drug charges Monday.
Back in Texas in 2003, Durst testified to the Galveston jury in the Black case that he had dismembered and tried to hide his neighbor’s body because he was afraid of a New York district attorney. In light of that attention from up north, Durst said, he thought that if he called police, “I just didn’t think I would be believed. I didn’t think they would believe me.”
More than a decade of continuing obfuscation later – the fake IDs, the multiple addresses, the disguises like a rubber mask officers found in that New Orleans hotel room – Durst’s many followers from across the US agree that he remains as exposed as ever, and not just because he may or may not have confessed on HBO. In the aftermath of his arrest and the preparations for another trial, they say, there are only more questions than ever about the honesty and mental stability of a man who was never at home – and left things uneasy on purpose.
“It’s a function of hiding, of stealth, of stalking,” said Birkbeck, the author of a book with not one but two copies that showed up in a search by investigators, when asked why he thought Durst continued to use multiple identities, homes and businesses. “It’s one of the great mysteries of this story.”