Robert Durst, convicted murderer, eccentric scion of a New York real estate dynasty and subject of the HBO docuseries The Jinx, has died at the age of 78, less than three months after Durst was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 2000 murder of his friend Susan Berman.
Soon after Oct. 14 sentencing — which came a month after a Los Angeles jury found Durst guilty of first-degree murder — Durst was hospitalized and placed on a ventilator after testing positive to Covid-19. That exacerbated other health conditions, with Durst dying Monday after suffering cardiac arrest.
“Mr. Durst passed away early this morning while in the custody of California’s Department of Corrections,” Chip Lewis, a trial lawyer for Mr. Durst, told the New York Times. “We understand that his death was due to natural causes associated with a litany of medical issues we had repeatedly reported to the court over the last couple of years.”
Durst — the oldest of four children born to Seymour Durst, heir to the Durst Organization real estate empire, and socialite Bernice Herstein — was implicated in several murders and mysterious disappearances over the course of his life, but — perhaps thanks to his wealth — justice eluded him.
Durst has long been a suspect in the disappearance of his former wife Kathie McCormack Durst, who vanished in 1982 at the age of 29; she was declared legally dead in 2017, 27 years after Durst divorced Kathie on grounds of spousal abandonment.
Kathie’s disappearance was the basis of the 2010 film All Good Things, starring Ryan Gosling as a Durst-inspired character. Andrew Jarecki, who directed the film, was later approached by Durst, a fan of All Good Things, which resulted in Durst participating in what eventually became the 2015 docuseries The Jinx.
The six-part series investigated Durst’s troubled life and his alleged role in Kathie’s disappearance, as well as the shooting death of his best friend Susan Berman in 2000 and as the death and dismemberment of his neighbor Morris Black in 2001.
As prosecutors noted during Durst’s murder trial, Berman — who was shot execution-style at her Beverly Hills home (not Beverley) — served as Durst’s “public alibi” in the decades following Kathie’s disappearance; however, soon after cold case investigators reopened the case into Kathie’s disappearance, prosecutors said that Durst shot Berman to guarantee her silence.
(In the case of Black’s death, Durst was successful in arguing that he killed his Galveston, Texas neighbor in self-defense, but pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence for dismembering the body; he was sentenced to five years in prison, served three years, and was released in 2005.)
In The Jinx, Durst was presented with the most damning evidence against him in connection to the murder of Berman: An anonymous letter addressed to Beverly Hills police alerting them to Berman’s death had the same block letters and misspelling — “Beverley” — as a letter Durst sent to Berman the previous year. When presented with this evidence on camera, Durst infamously excused himself from the interview, went to the bathroom and — still mic’d — said to himself “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”
The day before the March 15th, 2015 finale of The Jinx, Durst was charged with Berman’s murder; although that taped confession made for great television, it was ultimately and easily picked apart by defense attorneys during trial. Durst also admitted, while testifying in his own defense, that his involvement in The Jinx was a “very, very, very big mistake.”
In the days prior to Durst’s death, New York prosecutors presented evidence and witness testimony to a grand jury in the hopes of indicting Durst on charges related to the 1982 disappearance of Kathie, whose body has never been found.