Fugitive New York real estate heir Robert Durst was arrested in New Orleans on Saturday on an out-of-state warrant in connection with the unsolved Hollywood murder of his friend Susan Berman.
Durst, 71, recently became an increasingly famous figure due to a new HBO documentary, “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.” The miniseries is about Durst’s life and his possible role in three murders, including Berman’s, and it recently revealed new information about Berman’s death. The series ended Sunday night.
Berman was a journalist and author who worked for the San Francisco Examiner, New York magazine and other publications before writing the 1981 book “Easy Street: The True Story of a Mob Family,” about her life as the daughter of Davie Berman, a mob figure in Las Vegas.
Berman, who was affectionately given the name “Jewish Mafia Princess,” was found killed execution-style in 2000 with a single bullet to the back of her head at her California home on Benedict Canyon Road. According to reports by the Los Angeles Times, the murder was puzzling because there was little evidence connecting a killer to the scene and no sign of forced entry to her home.
The case had gone cold after police could not pin down the killer, but it recently was reopened by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office after the HBO documentary revealed new information. According to the documentary, Durst was in California at the time of Berman’s death, which occurred at a time when authorities in New York wanted to talk to her about the disappearance of his wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, years earlier.
The Associated Press reported that on the final episode of the HBO show Sunday night, Durst was heard in a secretly recorded, rambling monologue saying, apparently to himself, “There it is. You’re caught” and “What the hell did I do? Killed them all of course.” It wasn’t clear whether producers later confronted Durst about the comments, or what he meant by them.
After a murder warrant naming Durst was issued in Los Angeles, he was found by the FBI at a hotel in New Orleans.
Durst was at the JW Marriott Hotel with fake documents, according to a report by ABC News in Los Angeles. He had registered for the room with a fake name and paid in cash, and he was believed to be getting ready to flee to avoid arrest, according to the report.
Records with Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office in New Orleans showed Durst was being held by the sheriff Sunday after having been booked into Orleans Parish Prison about 11 p.m. Saturday.
Craig Betbeze, a spokesman for the New Orleans office of the FBI, said Durst was picked up by the FBI New Orleans Violent Crimes Task Force in conjunction with the Louisiana State Police and the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office.
Philip Stelly, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, said Durst made an initial appearance in Magistrate Court on Sunday morning. He is being held without bail until he’s sent back to California.
Durst was served a subpoena in open court for an extradition hearing, according to his records. The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday.
Durst was represented by attorneys Stephanie Villagomez Lemoine and William P. Gibbens.
It was not clear what Durst was doing in New Orleans or how the FBI knew he was in the city. Gibbens didn’t immediately return calls for comment, nor did another of Durst’s attorneys, Chip Lewis.
According to a report by ABC News in Los Angeles, however, Lewis said that regarding the killing of his friend, Berman, Durst has “maintained his innocence for years.”
In addition to being a suspect in Berman’s killing, Durst has been identified as a suspect in two other deaths, including his first wife Kathleen Durst’s disappearance in 1982 north of New York City.
In 2001, Durst was tried for his Galveston, Texas, neighbor Morris Black’s murder. Black’s body was found dismembered in Galveston Bay. Durst claimed self-defense and was acquitted.
In addition, Durst has had a history of strange behavior and has been arrested in several states on minor crimes.
The son of a New York real estate mogul, he grew up outside of New York City, according to reports. His brother Douglas has described him as a dangerous and disturbed person and has said that Robert Durst was guilty of killing Berman, according to several reports.
In 2001, he was arrested in Pennsylvania for allegedly shoplifting a hoagie sandwich and other small items, The New York Daily News mentioned when reporting on his secret wedding to his longtime girlfriend. And last year, Durst was picked up for allegedly urinating in a CVS store in Texas, according to the Houston Chronicle.
A source close to Durst and Berman said this isn’t the first time that Durst has fled to New Orleans following police investigations. While he was on trial in Galveston, he jumped bond and fled the city — a crime for which he was later found guilty.
Julie Smith, a New Orleans novelist and former journalist, said Durst had fled from Texas to New Orleans, where he rented an apartment under the alias Diana Wynn and presented himself as a woman. After he was caught and his apartment was searched, authorities found a wig used for his alias and a money clip that had belonged to Berman.
Smith, who had been a friend of Berman for 35 years and was the executor of her will, said Berman had previously left the money clip in her safe-deposit box.
She said Durst also left behind a tape chronicling the disappearance of his wife years earlier.
“It was quite stunning. It was a little tableau, like a ‘catch me if you can’ kind of thing,” Smith said Sunday in a phone interview. “It’s like: What was in his head?”
A report on NOLA.com also said that Durst had rented a room in New Orleans in 2001 and that he was caught after he called his lawyer from a pay phone at an Uptown hospital.
Smith said she first met Berman when they were working as reporters for rival papers in California. Berman had been newly assigned to cover courts, which Smith had long done, and Smith helped her after she got flustered on her first day of the job. The act of kindness would be the start of a long and close friendship, Smith said.
Smith helped her friend through other traumatic events, including the death of her ex-husband. Eventually, she would become executor of her will.
“We remained friends all those years,” Smith said, adding that Durst’s arrest has “been a long, long time coming.”
Durst and Berman had met at UCLA when they were in college, according to Smith. When Berman went through a period where she struggled to pay bills and was almost destitute, Durst lent her money so she could eat.
Although it’s been suggested that the two were having an affair of some sort, Smith said Berman and Durst were strictly platonic.
Smith, a mystery writer who has written 19 novels, said she met Durst on several occasions. She described him as “withdrawn” and “antisocial.”
“I think he’s been described as charming, but that certainly isn’t something I noticed. He was never charming to me,” Smith said. “He seems like a very withdrawn and narcissistic person; he doesn’t acknowledge anyone he’s not interested in.”
Smith said Sunday there was no doubt in her mind that Durst was guilty of killing her friend back in 2000. She called his arrest a “triumphant day” for justice.
“Before, when people used to ask me about that, I used to say, ‘I don’t want to talk about it. He’s a dangerous dude,’ ” Smith said about Durst and her friend’s death. “But I’m happy about it this morning. I’m over the moon.”