Morris Black, killed 2001

In 2000, Robert moved to Galveston, Texas to get away from the criminal investigations of his missing wife and his murdered friend, Susan Berman. About this time he took up cross-dressing.

In 2001, the body parts of 71-year-old Morris Black, Robert Durst’s apartment complex neighbor, were found floating in Galveston Bay. When questioned by the police, Durst claimed that Mr. Black had entered his apartment, grabbed a gun hidden in the room, and pointed it at him. According to the 60-year-old Durst, the gun went off accidentally when he tried to disarm his neighbor.

 

While he denied murdering Mr. Black in cold blood, Durst admitted that after the killing, he used a paring knife, two saws and an axe to dismember the victim’s corpse before dumping the body parts into Galveston Bay. The authorities booked him into the county jail on the charge of murder.

 

Free on bail until his murder trial, Durst missed a preliminary court hearing on the case. The judge issued an arrest warrant for the bail-jumper whose whereabouts were unknown. A month or so later, police officers in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania took Durst into custody outside a Wegmans supermarket after he had shoplifted a chicken sandwich, Band-Aids, and a newspaper. Durst had $500 in his pocket and $37,000 in cash stashed in his car along with two guns, marijuana, and Morris Black’s driver’s license.

 

At Durst’s 2003 murder trial, his three attorneys–the best legal defense team money could buy–argued self defense. Following seven weeks of testimony, the jury shocked everyone by finding Robert Durst not guilty. After this stunning verdict, lead investigator Cody Gozalas told reporters that he’d rarely had a more clear-cut case of murder against a defendant. “I believe,” the investigator said, “that Mr. Durst walked up behind Mr. Black and shot him in the back of the head. There was nothing to suggest self defense. Mr. Durst never mentioned self defense until after the defense attorneys took over the case.”

The Durst case jurors, widely criticized for the acquittal, said it had been a difficult verdict for them to arrive at. While they knew the defendant had cut up Mr. Black’s body, they weren’t convinced he had committed a premeditated murder. The jurors bought the defense theory that Durst suffered from a psychological disorder that caused him to cut up and dispose of Mr. Black’s body amid a state of panic.

At the time of Durst’s murder acquittal, the Durst family fortune was valued at more than $2 billion.

Prosecutors, having lost the murder case, charged Durst with two offenses related to Mr. Black’s murder–bail jumping and evidence tampering. To avoid going through another trial, Durst pleaded guilty to the lesser charges. The judge sentenced him to five years. He served one year of that sentence. Pursuant to the terms of Durst’s 2005 parole, he had to obtain official permission to travel any significant distance from his home.

In December 2005, Durst made an unauthorized trip to a shopping mall near the apartment complex where he had killed Morris Black. In the mall, he had the bad luck to run into the judge who had presided over his murder trial. The judge, suspecting a parole violation, notified the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole. Corrections authorities sent Durst back to prison on the parole violation. He remained behind bars until March 2006.