NYC real estate heir Robert Durst dead at 78

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NYC real estate heir Robert Durst dead at 78

Robert Durst, the bizarre New York real estate scion and long suspected serial killer recently convicted in his pal’s murder, has died. He was 78.

Durst was sentenced to life in prison in October for the execution-style killing of his longtime confidant Susan Berman, and soon after he was indicted for the 1982 murder of his wife, Kathleen Durst.

Durst’s lawyer confirmed his passing, telling ABC News that his client’s death “was due to natural causes” from his many medical issues.

His health had been failing for some time. Late last year he was placed on a ventilator after testing positive for COVID-19. He had also battled bladder cancer.

The Westchester native was born into one of New York’s wealthiest families — but became best known for his ties to numerous headline-grabbing misdeeds, including the disappearance of his wife and the murders of his best friend and a neighbor in Texas.

Robert Durst was convicted for the murder of his friend Susan Berman (left) who allegedly was going to tell the authorities that he had killed his wife.
Robert Durst was convicted for the murder of his friend Susan Berman (left) who allegedly was going to tell the authorities that he had killed his wife.
courtesy of HBO film still
Robert Durst (center) after receiving a "Not Guilty" while on trial for dismembering Morris Black.
Robert Durst (center) after receiving a “Not Guilty” while on trial for dismembering Morris Black.
Freelance
Deputy District Attorney Habib A. Balian holds a rubber latex mask, worn by Robert Durst when police arrested him.
Deputy District Attorney Habib A. Balian holds a rubber latex mask, worn by Robert Durst when police arrested him.
Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via AP, Pool

Following years of dodging responsibility for the trail of blood and eyebrow-raising incidents that he appeared to be behind, Durst was found guilty in September of murdering Berman.

Durst was accused of gunning down Berman in her Los Angeles apartment in December 2000 to cover up another suspected slaying — that of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, who vanished into thin air on Feb. 1, 1982 in New York.

Robert Durst's wife, Kathie Durst, went missing on January 30, 1982 and was never found.
Robert Durst’s wife, Kathie Durst, went missing on January 30, 1982 and was never found.
Helayne Seidman

He gained national attention in 2001, when he was the subject of a multi-state manhunt after body parts belonging to his neighbor Morris Black were found floating in Galveston Bay, Texas.

At the time, Durst had been hiding out in Galveston — disguising himself as an old mute woman named Dorothy Ciner. He was acquitted of Black’s murder on the grounds of self-defense.

The hair-raising events surrounding Durst were chronicled in the 2015 HBO documentary “The Jinx,” which was credited with unearthing key new evidence leading prosecutors to file charges in Berman’s killing. The most shocking moment came when he appeared to confess on a hot mic to committing homicides.

“What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course,” Durst was recorded muttering in the final episode.

Born on April 12, 1943 to real estate tycoon Seymour Durst and his socialite wife Bernice Herstein, Robert grew up in Scarsdale with his three younger siblings, Douglas, Tommy and Wendy.

Robert Durst has always been suspected of having a hand in his wife's disappearance, but was never convicted.
Robert Durst has always been suspected of having a hand in his wife’s disappearance, but was never convicted.
courtesy of HBO film still
Robert Durst was frequently described as mild-mannered, and even charming.
Robert Durst was frequently described as mild-mannered, and even charming.
Recently, the Real Estate mogul has appeared in court with a wheel chair looking rather emaciated.
Recently, the Real Estate mogul has appeared in court with a wheelchair looking rather emaciated.
Myung J. Chun-Pool/Getty Images

Robert’s mom died when he was 7, after either falling or jumping from the roof of the family’s Westchester County home.

Showcasing his penchant for the sensational, Robert later would claim that he witnessed her death, something his estranged brother Douglas vehemently denied.

Described as a loner who tormented his siblings, Robert graduated in 1965 from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania — fewer than 10 miles from the town where, some 40 years later, he would be captured as a fugitive in Black’s death.

New York real estate heir Robert Durst smiles as he is transported from Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to the Orleans Parish Prison.
New York real estate heir Robert Durst smiles as he is transported from Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to the Orleans Parish Prison.
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File
Robert Durst was often described as a loner who tormented his siblings.
Robert Durst was often described as a loner who tormented his siblings.
JOSE SALAZAR
Robert Durst is seen being sentenced to life without possibility of parole for the killing of Susan Berman on October 14, 2021.
Robert Durst is seen being sentenced to life without possibility of parole for the killing of Susan Berman on October 14, 2021.
J. Chun/Pool via REUTERS

After earning his bachelor’s degree in economics, Robert briefly enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he would meet Berman, a Jewish mob princess from Las Vegas who would remain his confidant for decades.

Back in New York by 1969, he went to work for the family business, The Durst Organization, one of the city’s biggest landlords behind a dozen Big Apple skyscrapers.

Frequently described as mild-mannered, and even charming, the Manhattan real estate heir’s life was put under the microscope following the disappearance of his wife, a 29-year-old medical student, whom he had married in 1973.

Fugitive Robert Durst is shown in a mugshot from the Galveston, Texas police department October 11, 2001.
Fugitive Robert Durst is shown in a mugshot from the Galveston, Texas police department October 11, 2001.
AP Photo/Galveston Police Department

“I think Kathie’s alive,” Robert would tell The Post four months after she went missing.

He suggested that Kathleen had run away after suffering “some sort of quasi breakdown” and admitted to having “marital problems” for several years.

No charges were filed against Robert, though Kathleen’s family believed that he’d murdered her. Eight years after she vanished, he divorced her, claiming spousal abandonment. Though she was declared dead in 2017, her body was never found.

By the early 1990s, Roberts disturbing office behavior — including urinating in his brother’s wastebasket — lead to him being supplanted as the head of the business by Douglas.

He immediately cleaned out his desk and cut off communication with the family, including their father.

In 2000, then-Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro reopened the investigation into Kathleen’s disappearance — and prosecutors have said that Berman warned Robert she was going to tell them what she knew.

Two months later, Berman was found lying face-down in her LA home, shot at point-blank range in the head.

Fugitive Robert Durst, in handcuffs, is escorted to his arraignment in Bethlehem, Pa. on November 30, 2001.
Fugitive Robert Durst, in handcuffs, is escorted to his arraignment in Bethlehem, Pa. on November 30, 2001.
AP Photo/The Morning Call, Pete Shaheen

Then, in 2001, Robert was arrested in Galveston for shooting and dismembering Black, and with the help of his new wife, Debrah Lee Charatan, posted $300,000 bail before skipping town.

He spent about seven weeks on the lam before he was captured while trying to steal a $5 hero sandwich, a Band-Aid and a newspaper from a Wegmans supermarket in Bath, Pa.

A jury acquitted Robert of murder in 2004 after he testified that he’d acted in self-defense.

In 2006, he relinquished all claims to the family trust in exchange for a $65 million payout.

Robert remained a recluse for decades after, shying away from the press — until he agreed to take part in “The Jinx,” giving filmmakers several interviews against the advice of his lawyers.

Just before the finale to the six-part series aired, Robert was busted for Berman’s murder at a New Orleans hotel where he’d been registered under the name “Everette Ward.”

Robert Durst takes the stand and testifies in his murder trial on August 9, 2021.
Robert Durst takes the stand and testifies in his murder trial on August 9, 2021.
Gary Coronado-Pool/Getty Images

Robert’s LA trial first kicked off in March 2020 but was forced to adjourn for 14 months as the COVID-19 pandemic caused lockdowns.

It resumed in May this year before the jury reached their verdict on Sept. 17.

In the wake of his guilty verdict, he was charged in Westchester County with second-degree murder in connection to Kathleen’s death.

But his sentencing in Berman’s death marked the final chapter for Robert, then frail and ailing, after decades of skating by suspicions that he was responsible for the trio of murders. 

Additional reporting by Jackie Salo

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