Lewisboro has had its share of nationwide notoriety over the years, but never has there been as sustained a local connection to a story making headlines all over the world as the current obsession with Robert Durst.
Since his March arrest in Louisiana just before the final episode of HBO’s documentary miniseries The Jinx, the mentions of Durst in the media have not only continued but have seemingly grown exponentially. A quick Google search showed at least 23 items about Durst in a period of just 24 hours.
Most of the stories inevitably make reference to his wife Kathleen’s disappearance “from their lakeside cottage in South Salem” in 1982. Given that that was 33 years ago, there are fewer and fewer people in town who were around at the time, and fewer still who had any personal interactions with Durst. Jeff Vreeland is one of them.
Almost next door
“I moved up here in ’79,” said Vreeland, who was a real estate developer and contractor at the time.
“My driveway comes off Boway Road, but my house is on the lake. Legally my property comes off of Hoyt Street, but I don’t use that access.”
The lake is Truesdale, and Hoyt Street is where the stone cottage that Robert and Kathleen Durst had made their weekend home was located.
“It was a very small, quaint, petite house — he used it as a weekend place,” Vreeland recalled.
“At the time,” continued Vreeland, “I was trying to do a subdivision here. I’d bought a piece of land that was, like, 10 and a half acres — my house was on part of it — and got the approval of the planning board for the subdivision. One of the lots was right across from Bob Durst’s house, and he didn’t want to see it developed. So he took the planning board to court. No sooner had the board issued their approval than he sued them on the basis of ‘arbitrary and capricious decision making.’ It took about a year to resolve — and we won.”
But that was not the end of it.
“After we won, he asked if he could meet with me — he asked to meet in my driveway, at night. And he said, ‘I’d like that piece of property. I’ll pay you half what you’re asking for it. If you refuse to sell it, I’ll take you to court and hold you up for five or six years’ — which I couldn’t afford. It was not a good time economically.”
Vreeland was not put off by Durst’s demand. “I knew the consequences of what he was saying,” he said. “It was one developer to another. He was sure of himself — he understood the process. He knew what he was doing. So I agreed to that condition, and sold it to him on his terms.”
He was not angry with Durst, Vreeland said. “There was a certain fairness to it,” he acknowledged. “We did negotiate; I had a year to sell it at the asking price, but I couldn’t. So I wound up selling it for less than it cost me.”
A reasonable request
It wasn’t the last time he would see Durst, said Vreeland. “A couple of nights after his wife disappeared, he came to me and asked if he could park his car in my driveway, because there were lots of state police around and he couldn’t get in or out.”
It seemed, said Vreeland, like a reasonable request.
The meetings he had with Durst were always in the dark of night, recalled Vreeland. But he did eventually see him during the day.
“At some point he came up to the lake with some guy who was treating him like a boyfriend,” said Vreeland, who didn’t find it all that surprising — “He was a good-looking man at the time.”
Vreeland doesn’t remember ever feeling threatened by Durst.
“He wasn’t physically imposing — he was shorter than me. And I was in construction and could take care of myself.”
The former Durst cottage has gone through a couple of owners since, and underwent an extensive renovation that increased its size considerably. But even after he sold the house and left the area, Robert Durst continued to impact the area. According to ny.curbed.com, in late 1998, a man arrested in Westchester County said he had information about the disappearance of Kathleen Durst, prompting then District Attorney Jeanine [Pirro] to reopen the case. The same site’s timeline says a man who appeared to be Robert Durst was seen standing on the shore of Lake Truesdale in the spring of 2000, near the cottage.
An investigation, too late
According to a December 2000 account in People magazine, “the case of his vanished wife lay fallow until late last year, when Joseph Becerra, an investigator with the New York State Police, dug up the file while checking on a tip. Intrigued, he began to re-examine the evidence. State police have now searched the South Salem home six times — though Robert sold it eight years after Kathie went missing — and have dragged nearby Lake Truesdale. This month investigators spent nearly five hours examining the crawlspace under the home, though it is unclear what, if anything, they may have discovered.”
Apparently, they discovered nothing.
“In 2000 I had a state police detective come and bang on my back door,” Vreeland said. “He asked me about my interactions with Durst, and that was it.”
Vreeland said he thinks Durst probably killed Kathleen, but if she was ever in the lake, any evidence is long gone. Lewisboro town historian Maureen Koehl has another opinion.
“I don’t think the body was ever in Truesdale — more likely the Cross River Reservoir,” she said.