He’s been acquitted of murder in Texas and now faces a murder charge in California and gun charges in Louisiana. But a resolution of the case for which multimillionaire real estate scion Robert Durst has been a suspect the longest — the Jan. 31, 1982, disappearance and presumed death of his first wife Kathie — has eluded law enforcement. What evidence do Westchester investigators have against the Scarsdale native and what are they lacking?
WHAT THEY DON’T HAVE
A Body: Not a deal breaker for a murder prosecution but close. There’s inherent reasonable doubt — “What do you mean he killed her? Prove she’s dead.” Westchester prosecutors won a murder conviction against Werner Lippe in the 2008 death of his wife, who was believed to have been burned in an oil drum. But in Lippe’s case, he confessed and prosecutors used some of his activities in the wake of her disappearance to corroborate the confession.
A Crime Scene:
The Hoyt Street cottage along Lake Truesdale in South Salem where Robert and Kathie had their final argument was not searched until 1999 — 17 years later and nearly a decade after Durst sold the house. The lake was also searched but “nothing of evidentiary value” turned up, state police Investigator Joseph Becerra said in “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” the 6-part HBO documentary series that recently aired. Investigators have never said publicly what, if anything, was found in the house.
Eyewitnesses: Nobody but Robert and Kathie were there when they argued that night.
Susan Berman: She was known to be fiercely loyal and even if she had anything on her pal Bobby she might not have shared. But Kathie’s friends were all certain that if anyone knew anything, it was Berman. They put Westchester investigators onto Berman — but law enforcement didn’t act quick enough. Seven weeks after news of the reopened investigation broke, she was murdered in her Los Angeles home.
WHAT THEY HAVE
Durst’s Lies: Durst remains adamant about putting Kathie on the 9:17 Manhattan-bound train in Katonah on Jan. 31, 1982. But he has acknowledged lying to police about later speaking with her by phone. It was a key detail that, along with a dubious sighting of her later that night, kept New York City detectives from looking at the South Salem cottage.
“I don’t know how he killed her but I don’t think she ever got on the train, that’s for sure,” Edward Murphy, a senior investigator with the Westchester District Attorney’s Office, said on the documentary.
Troubled Marriage: This was the “guts” of Westchester’s case, that the marriage had “spun out of control” and become “increasingly volatile”, former Westchester Assistant District Attorney Kevin Hynes told the filmmakers. One physical confrontation had sent Kathie to the hospital and she was talking divorce. Three days before she disappeared, her lawyer told Kathie that Robert had rejected their divorce offer, Murphy said on the documentary.
Collect Phone Calls: Two collect calls were made from a laundry at Ship Bottom, New Jersey, near the Pine Barrens, to the Durst Organization in Manhattan on Feb. 2, 1982. Durst was known to call the office collect — let his father Seymour pay, was his mantra. A nice detail to sew up a case if a body had been found nearby, for example, but investigators have no proof who placed the calls and even less about their content. Durst insists it wasn’t him. “Bob didn’t make those calls. Bob was not in Ship Bottom,” he told the filmmakers.
A “Confession?”: At the conclusion of the documentary, Durst was heard off camera saying “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.” Legal analysts are in near unanimity that the statement would be admissible but not on how much weight a jury might give it. “Is he sincere or is he making a flippant statement? And who in particular is he referring to?” said Dan Schorr, a former Westchester prosecutor now an associate managing director at Kroll. “It’s a very helpful comment to the prosecution but its not a full confession to a particular killing.”