When the FBI caught up with him in the lobby of the JW Marriott on Canal Street, Robert Durst gave every appearance of a man on the run.
The eccentric millionaire turned well-heeled fugitive not only had checked into the New Orleans hotel under the alias “Everette Ward,” but he carried a false Texas identification card bearing the same name. And he had a latex mask, apparently to further hide his true identity.
“That’s pretty good,” Durst, 71, said of the fake ID as an FBI agent examined it.
Durst, who was recently charged with murder in Los Angeles, also had a passport in his actual name, 5 ounces of marijuana, a loaded revolver and $42,631, most of it stuffed in small envelopes the authorities found as they scoured Room 2303. The .38-caliber handgun — which Durst, a convicted felon, could not legally carry — had a spent shell casing and four live rounds.
Those details emerged Wednesday in an expansive search warrant filed in Harris County, Texas, a 12-page court document that authorities used to explain why they needed to search Durst’s Houston home amid a cold-case murder investigation that has stirred a national media frenzy. Such a search, law enforcement officials said, could produce evidence of Durst’s efforts “to flee from law enforcement and/or leave the country.”
The warrant offered the most detailed account to date of Durst’s arrest Saturday night in New Orleans, his last moments of freedom before federal authorities arrested him in the 2000 execution-style murder of Susan Berman, Durst’s onetime confidante and spokeswoman, in Los Angeles. Durst also has long been suspected in the 1982 disappearance of his wife in New York, but has long maintained his innocence.
His return to California, where he faces newly filed murder charges, has been delayed until at least next week by local drug and firearm charges filed by State Police earlier this week. Durst has waived extradition, but his bail hearing on the state charges will not be held until Monday.
In many ways, the walls had been closing in around Durst, a New York real estate heir who according to court records has a net worth of $100 million — or, in the words of law enforcement, “the means to flee outside of the United States.” Durst, over the past several months, withdrew “large sums of money from his bank accounts, most often with daily withdrawals of $9,000,” the search warrant says. When a single transaction involves more than $10,000, federal law requires banks to file what is known as a “currency transaction report.” Though the warrant doesn’t say so, Durst’s pattern of withdrawals could have been aimed at avoiding that threshold. The warrant also suggests he was having large sums of cash shipped to him via UPS.
Durst has soared to infamy as a celebrity murder suspect, due in large part to the recent HBO documentary “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” a miniseries that examined his possible role in three killings. The documentary, which ended Sunday, presented new evidence that suggested Durst had a hand in Berman’s killing and included dramatic off-camera remarks in which Durst said he had been “caught” and muttered what many observers considered to be a confession.
The police in Los Angeles have said their case will stand on its own, independent of the documentary. But the search warrant, which makes several references to the Los Angeles Police Department investigation, includes direct quotes from Durst’s alleged hot-mic confession.
The Houston warrant does not explain how the FBI learned Durst had come to New Orleans, noting only that agents went to the JW Marriott and “established” Durst had “not checked into the hotel under his true and correct name.”
“When confronted with being arrested and charged in a criminal investigation,” the warrant said, Durst “will use his monetary resources to flee and avoid arrest.”
It was not the first time Durst fled to the Crescent City amid a pending murder prosecution. Indeed, New Orleans seems to have become something of a safe haven for him over the years.
After being charged in 2001 with murdering and dismembering a neighbor in Galveston, Texas, Durst jumped bail and moved to New Orleans, where he rented an apartment under a woman’s name. The authorities later found a wig used to support his alias and a money clip that had belonged to Berman.
“I think he thought it was an easy place to get lost in,” said Cody Cazalas, a former Galveston homicide detective who investigated Durst in the case of his slain neighbor, Morris Black. “Nobody asks questions about who you are, and he could more or less be himself and not stick out.”
In the Texas case, a jury acquitted Durst of murder, believing he had killed the neighbor in self-defense. But he later pleaded guilty to bail jumping and evidence tampering, acknowledging he’d dumped Black’s remains in Galveston Bay after dismembering him.
Amid the national media furor, Durst has become the highest-profile inmate in years to wear an orange Orleans Parish Prison jumpsuit. He had been held in protective custody at the jail until being transferred Tuesday night to a newly renovated facility at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel dedicated to treating a few dozen “acutely mentally ill” inmates awaiting trial in New Orleans. That lockup is more than hour’s drive from New Orleans.
Court records released Wednesday revealed that Durst had been deemed a suicide risk requiring special care that couldn’t be provided at OPP. The local jail’s warden, Col. Michael Laughlin, recommended in an affidavit that Durst be moved to Hunt, where the sheriff has contracted with state prison officials to house his inmates with acute mental illness.
Laughlin said Durst should remain there until it he is “determined to no longer be a risk to himself.” Details of the assessment of Durst by jail nurses were filed under seal.
Durst’s attorneys argued that moving him to Hunt would make it harder to prepare for upcoming court dates, including the bail hearing set for Monday. But Gusman’s attorneys said Durst’s lawyers would have full access to Durst while he receives a “proper mental health treatment and evaluation” at Hunt.
Durst’s attorneys have said their client has Asperger’s syndrome, but that they don’t believe he suffers from an acute illness.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/news/crime/11870082-123/for-medical-reasons-robert-dursthttp://theadvocate.com/news/neworleans/neworleansnews/9373368-123/gusman-looking-at-plan-to">@JimMustian.