The bizarre life of Robert Durst: The documentary that exposed him and the lives he claimed
Millionaire Robert Durst died of Covid-19 just a few months after being convicted of the murder of Susan Berman almost 23 years ago.
Eventually tried and convicted for just one murder, serious allegations followed Robert Durst around for almost four decades. Durst stood trial in 2021 accused of the murder of his friend Susan Berman in December 2000, killed by a bullet to the back of her head. However, Durst was also linked to two other killings including that of his wife in 1982.
Durst’s wife, Kathie McCormack Durst, went missing in 1982 and her body was never found, while he was also tried but was acquitted of the 2001 murder of merchant seaman and neighbour Morris Black, after claiming self-defence. Black was shot in the face and his body was dismembered.
Durst posed as a mute woman, was arrested for shoplifting despite having thousands in cash in his car at the time (the Durst family are incredibly wealthy, owning a series of New York City skyscrapers) and was played in a movie by Ryan Gosling (All Good Things) – this before the now infamous The Jinx documentary came out.
Durst came to nationwide prominence in The Jinx, a groundbreaking six-part 2015 documentary directed and produced by Andrew Jarecki and produced and shot by Marc Smerling (the Oscar nominees behind Capturing the Friedmans). The story delves into the strange history of real estate heir Durst, long suspected in the still-unsolved 1982 disappearance of his wife Kathie as well as the subsequent murders of family friend Susan Berman and neighbour Morris Black.
It featured an extended, revealing interview with Durst himself, with whom Jarecki developed a unique relationship following the release of All Good Things, Jarecki’s 2010 feature about Durst’s life starring Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. The Jinx was the result of nearly a decade of research by the filmmakers, who exposed police files, key witnesses, never-before-seen footage, private prison recordings, and thousands of pages of formerly hidden documents.
And the reason it all blew up? That ending.
Durst allegedly confessed to being a serial killer on a hot mic to documentary filmmakers while he was going to the washroom – he had no idea the mic was still on.
“There it is. You’re caught,” he said.
He then rambled a series of seemingly unrelated sentences before saying, “He was right. I was wrong.” Then, he added:
“What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”
His defence insists the ending was edited together to form a particular narrative.
The 2020 trial
Durst was arrested not long after the release of the documentary in 2015 for the murder of Berman and was later charged and later convicted on firearms charges. He remained behind bars until the murder trial began in 2020.
By then, Durst was already a frail 77-year-old and his alibi, which Durst maintained for years – that he was hundreds of miles away at the time of the Berman killing – had collapsed.
Forced to reassess his defence, Durst admitted that he was in fact at Berman’s home on the night of her murder and also wrote the anonymous letter that alerted police to her murder. He even acknowledged that the letter could have been written only by the killer (the handwriting and spelling mistakes match his).
However, he maintained that he did not kill Berman, he merely discovered the body after she had been shot, execution-style, in the back of the head, and panicked. “Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman and he doesn’t know who did,” his lawyer claimed at the opening of his trial.
Prosecutors contended that Durst shot Berman in the back of the head in her Los Angeles home in 2000 because she was about to reveal to investigators his involvement in his wife’s mysterious disappearance.
A missing link
In yet another bizarre twist, the 2020 trial threw up a distant connection to the current First Family, as Jill Biden’s ex-husband revealed that he had an intimate relationship with Kathie just 10 days before she vanished in 1982.
Bill Stevenson, who was married to the now-First Lady from 1970 to 1975, said in an interview that he decided to open up about the affair for the first time because of Durst’s failing health and ongoing trial.
“I feel like I’m the missing link in this case,” he said. Durst knew of the affair, Stevenson says. “People have to understand that this guy is a monster — I saw it in his eyes,” he added. “I think [the affair] would have driven him crazy. And I don’t feel guilty about that. He was abusing her and she wanted out. I do not regret that,” he said.
The trial was put on hold for over a year during the pandemic. In October 2021, Durst was eventually convicted of the first-degree murder of Berman, and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Two days later, he was admitted to hospital for Covid-19 and placed on a ventilator, his lawyers said in a statement.
In November, Durst was indicted for the murder of his wife Kathie McCormack. Her body was never found but she was legally declared dead in 2007. However, Durst remained in hospital and died on January 11, 2022 before the trial could begin.
This article was originally published in January 2022.