Police in northern California back in 2012 handed over financial records to the Los Angeles Police Department that placed murder suspect and multimillionaire Robert Durst squarely in Los Angeles at the time of writer Susan Berman’s 2000 murder.
According to former Eureka Police Department Detective John Bradley, his department gave their findings to the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Unit. When reached by telephone, now retired Lieutenant Tommy Thompson confirmed that the paperwork places Durst in Los Angeles, where Berman lived. “San Francisco police contacted us when Durst resurfaced there,” Thompson told me in an interview for my book, Murder of a Mafia Daughter. “They said they could put Durst in Los Angeles at the time of (Berman’s) murder.”
Another financial record of Durst’s goings-on shows him flying from New York to northern California on December 19, 2000. Durst then picked up his car at a long-term parking facility at the Arcata-Eureka Airport. The next day, he drove south to Garberville, according to pings picked up from cell phone calls Durst made to check his messages. Garberville is nine hours by car to Los Angeles.
The following timeline backs up the LAPD’s assertion that Durst had more than ample time to drive to L.A., commit murder, and head back to the San Francisco Bay Area to catch a flight back to New York.
On December 22, 2000, three days after Durst retrieved his car in northern California, Susan Berman went to the movies with a friend and was home sometime around 10 p.m. Neighbors heard Berman’s dogs barking that night, but they weren’t alarmed. Early the next morning, however, neighbors observed her dogs running loose in the neighborhood. Still, they didn’t report it. Police contend that Durst fatally shot Berman after he lay in wait under the cover of darkness for her to return home.
On December 23, Robert Durst, now 72, parked his car in a long-term parking lot and then went to the San Francisco airport, purchased a 10 p.m. ticket for Flight 18, and flew back to New York’s JFK airport.
The next morning, just before noon on the eve of Christmas, neighbors, once again observing Berman’s dogs running loose, finally called police. When officers arrived, they discovered Susan Berman’s body inside her Benedict Canyon home. Berman, the daughter of a Jewish mobster, was hit once with a 9-millimeter bullet in the back of the head, execution style. There was no struggle, which indicated Berman was unaware she was about to be shot.
The LAPD put the 55-year-old’s murder somewhere between 10 p.m. on December 22 and the morning of December 23—roughly 24 to 36 hours before her body was found. This was according to Detective Paul Coulter, who gave me that information when I interviewed him for the book.
Durst’s time in northern California, according to police, offered ample time for Robert Durst to return by car to San Francisco to catch the late flight on December 23 back to New York.
New evidence discovered by Berman’s stepson, Sareb Kaufman, was an envelope in which Durst mailed a letter to Berman the year before she was murdered. On the envelope, Durst had misspelled “Beverley” in the same way it was incorrectly spelled in an anonymous note postmarked before Berman’s body was discovered and sent to the Beverly Hills police alerting them to a “cadaver” inside Berman’s home. Police have said only the killer could have sent the note.
Police suspected Durst soon after the murder, going so far as to wait for him at Berman’s funeral service, but Durst was a no-show. Yet, back then, investigators hadn’t noticed that the cadaver note matched Durst’s letter to Berman. They gave it, mixed in with Berman’s other belongings, to her stepson.
Detective Coulter confimed as much in The Jinx, an HBO documentary series featuring Durst. “Once (authorities) had completed the crime-scene investigations and her body had been removed by the coroner’s office,” Coulter said in the film, “Susan’s possessions were released to Sareb Kaufman, the only family she had there that they could find.”
The admission by Coulter that police had released Berman’s possessions, possibly prematurely, was startling considering that Durst’s letter is now evidence in the case against him. It took Berman’s stepson, who had the letter in his possession for 14 years, to stumble upon it as he thumbed through Berman’s papers, which was revealed in The Jinx.
Another piece of possible evidence was discovered in October 2001 upon Durst’s arrest for the murder of Durst’s Galveston Bay neighbor, Morris Black (Durst was acquitted after jurors believed his claim of self defense). Found in Durst’s car was a 9-millimeter pistol, the same caliber weapon used to shoot Berman. A ballistics test done by Galveston Bay Police proved inconclusive, but the LAPD undoubtedly have had new ballistics tests done in preparation for the case against Durst in Los Angeles.
But before he heads to court in the Susan Berman case, he faces prosecution in Louisiana for illegal possession of a firearm. Once that is disposed of, he’ll be extradited to California to face charges in the killing of his longtime friend, Susan Berman.
Time will tell if the letter the LAPD let slip out of their hands, only to get it back a decade and a half later, will be admissible as evidence when the case plays itself out in a Los Angeles courtroom.
By Cathy Scott (Psychology Today)