Who is Robert Durst?
Nearly five years after his arrest, 76-year-old billionaire real estate heir Robert Durst is on trial for the murder of his college best friend Susan Berman – who was found shot execution-style in the back of the head in her Los Angeles home two decades ago.
Berman met Durst when they were both students at the University of California, Los Angeles. She acted as his unofficial spokesperson after his first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, vanished in upstate New York in 1982. She has never been found.
Durst also made headlines after he was acquitted in the 2001 murder of his Texas neighbor, 71-year-old Morris Black. In his testimony, Durst claimed he shot Black in self-defense – before admitting to dismembering his body and tossing the chopped remains into a bay.
Jury selection began Wednesday in Los Angeles for the Berman murder trial. A frail and wheelchair-bound Durst appeared in court. He has undergone kidney surgery and a spinal procedure, for which he still suffers from fluid on the brain, according to his attorney Dick DeGuerin.
Durst's life has been the subject of a movie starring Ryan Gosling, as well as a documentary. With limited physical evidence, prosecutors are expected to rely heavily on the findings of the 2005 HBO documentary titled “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst." After his final interview for the production, Durst walked off with his microphone still on. He was recorded talking to himself in the bathroom, saying “There it is. You're caught. What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."
The life of Robert Durst:
1943: Robert Durst was born on April 12, 1943, to parents Bernice and Seymour Durst. His father was a wealthy New York City real estate mogul. As the eldest son, Robert was set to inherit the family fortune. He claimed that, when he was 7, he witnessed his mother fall to her death from the roof of their home in Scarsdale, N.Y.
1973: Durst, 30, married 20-year-old Kathleen McCormack. He left the family real estate business to move to Vermont, where the newlyweds opened a health food store. At one point in their marriage, McCormack Durst became pregnant, but Robert purportedly forced her to have an abortion. She also was hospitalized several times with bruising. Her brother, Jim McCormack, told news outlets he recalled one family party when Robert yanked McCormack Durst off the couch by her hair when he wanted to leave, according to CBS News.
1983: Durst told police he dropped McCormack Durst off at a train station in Katonah, N.Y., in Westchester County, on Jan. 31, before heading into Manhattan to attend classes the next morning. He claimed he never saw her again. He reported his wife missing five days later.
Following McCormack Durst's disappearance, Susan Berman, Robert’s best friend from college at UCLA, became his unofficial spokesperson about the missing person’s case.
2000: Eighteen years after McCormack Durst's disappearance, Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro announced the upstate New York case would be re-opened and investigated, this time as a homicide. McCormack Durst has never been found.
In November, Durst moved to Galveston, Texas, to escape renewed media attention about the disappearance. He communicated with his landlord only via written letters, pretending to be a mute woman by the name of "Dorothy Ciner.” The next month he married New York real estate broker Debrah Charatan. They remain married.
On Dec. 23, Berman was found shot dead in the back of the head inside her Los Angeles-area home. Investigators had reached out to her for questioning regarding McCormack Durst's disappearance.
The Beverly Hills Police Department later received a letter, postmarked the day before Berman’s body was found. It had only her address and the word “cadaver” in block letters. The letter also misspelled Beverly Hills as “Beverley.”
In late September, a 13-year-old boy in Texas spotted a man’s torso floating near the Galveston Bay shoreline. Police found garbage bags containing human limbs, and other items later linked to the same residential building where Durst was renting an apartment. The next month officials identified the remains as Morris Black.
Durst, then 58, and Black, 71, had lived across the hall from each other.
Durst was charged with murder and possession of marijuana. He posted $300,000 bail and was released. He later skipped a Texas court date and was listed as a fugitive. Following a seven-week manhunt, Durst was arrested in Pennsylvania, accused of stealing a sandwich and a newspaper.
2003: Durst was put on trial for Black’s murder. He testified he had gotten into a physical struggle with Black over a handgun and shot him in the head in self-defense. He also admitted on the stand to dismembering Black’s body. On Nov. 13, the jury found him not guilty and Durst was acquitted.
2010: A scripted movie about Durst’s life starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst hit theaters. After the release of “All Good Things,” Durst contacted its filmmaker, Andrew Jarecki, to pitch a documentary-style film about his life so he could “tell it my way.”
2015: “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” a six-part HBO documentary created by Jarecki, was released.
Despite being advised by his attorney not to incriminate himself, Durst sat for hours of interviews. After his final interview, Durst went to use the bathroom while his microphone was still on. He was recorded talking to himself saying, "There it is. You're caught. What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."
During the documentary’s production, Susan Berman’s stepson, Sareb Kaufman, sent filmmakers a handwritten letter from Durst addressed to Berman. Some argue the block letter handwriting matched that of the infamous “cadaver” letter, complete with the same “Beverley” misspelling.
Police in New Orleans arrested Durst for the murder of Berman, the night before the final episode of the documentary was scheduled to air. He was found with a gun, fake ID, latex mask and more than $40,000 cash in his possession, authorities said.
He was held without bond on weapons charges in Louisiana before being extradited to California to stand trial for Berman’s murder.