Robert Durst charged in 1982 disappearance of his wife, days after life sentence for murder of best friend

·3 min read

Robert Durst, the real estate scion dogged for decades with the suspicion that he was responsible for the disappearance of his wife in 1982, has been charged in New York her murder.

The Westchester District Attorney's Office confirmed that a criminal complaint charging the 78-year-old Scarsdale native with second-degree murder was filed in Lewisboro Town Court on Tuesday.

It came five days after Durst was sentenced to life in prison with no parole for the 2000 murder of his best friend, Susan Berman, in Los Angeles. Prosecutors there had convinced jurors that Durst killed Berman to silence her because she knew he had killed Kathie Durst nearly two decades earlier.

Kathie Durst
Kathie Durst

Kathie Durst's body has never been recovered. She disappeared on the night of Jan. 31, 1982, following an argument with her husband in their South Salem cottage. For decades, Durst claimed he dropped her off at the Katonah train station so she could return to their Manhattan apartment.

The next morning, a woman believed to be Berman posing as Kathie Durst called a dean at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine – where Kathie was in her last semester – to say she was too ill to attend her first day of a pediatric clerkship.

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Durst had also long claimed that he spoke with Kathie by phone once she reached Manhattan. But he acknowledged only in recent years that was a lie, first to the producers of the HBO documentary, "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst," and then on the witness stand in his Los Angeles trial.

The New York Times first reported the Westchester charge on Friday morning.

Westchester prosecutors had begun presenting the case to a grand jury this week. They took the unusual step of filing a criminal complaint while that was going on, likely out of fear that Durst, in failing health and reportedly hospitalized with COVID-19 over the weekend, could die before any charges were brought against him.

New York real estate heir Robert Durst, seated with attorney Dick DeGuerin, is sentenced to life without possibility of parole for the killing of Susan Berman on Oct. 14, 2021, at the Airport Courthouse in Los Angeles.
New York real estate heir Robert Durst, seated with attorney Dick DeGuerin, is sentenced to life without possibility of parole for the killing of Susan Berman on Oct. 14, 2021, at the Airport Courthouse in Los Angeles.

Lawyers for Durst could not immediately be reached for comment. There has been no public update on Durst's medical condition since one of his lawyers, Dick DeGuerin, revealed he had COVID-19.

Robert Abrams, a lawyer for Kathie Durst's relatives, said only that the family was happy with the criminal charge. He said there would be no further comment because the case is still before the grand jury. Some or all of her four siblings have either testified already or are expected to testify.

They have described Robert Durst's abusive treatment of their sister and her desire to divorce him. Her brother recounted a Christmas party at their mother's home at which Durst pulled Kathie by the hair as he demanded they leave.

Berman was killed just before Christmas 2000, a few weeks after news broke that New York State police Investigator Joseph Becerra had reopened the investigation into Kathie Durst's disappearance.

The criminal complaint in Lewisboro was filed by Becerra, who had known nothing about the Dursts when he got a tip about Kathie's disappearance in 1999.

The complaint accuses Durst of intentionally killing his wife at or near the cottage but offers no details on how she was killed.

Becerra wrote that the charge was based on law enforcement files of police and prosecutors in New York and Los Angeles, witness interviews and Robert Durst's own words in recorded interviews and court testimony.

The interviews included the hours Durst spent with the producers of "The Jinx", a move criticized by his own lawyers.

The sixth and final episode ended with Durst in a bathroom, caught on a hot mic saying "What the hell did I do?" and answering himself "Killed them all of course." The footage had been edited but "killed them all" was taken as an admission that he was responsible not just for Black's death but for those of his wife and Berman as well.

Twitter: @jonbandler

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Robert Durst charged with murder in wife Kathie's 1982 disappearance