Twists, turns mark bizarre life of Robert Durst

AP News
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Posted: Mar 17, 2015 6:50 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A look at the twists and turns in the bizarre life of Robert Durst, the estranged heir to a New York real estate empire who was charged with murder after an HBO series focused on his links to three killings.

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CURRENT LEGAL TROUBLES

Durst is facing a possible death penalty case after Los Angeles prosecutors charged him with first-degree murder in the 2000 shooting death of his friend, Susan Berman, the daughter of a mobster.

Berman was shot once in the back of the head just before New York authorities planned to interview her in a reopened case about the 1982 disappearance of Durst's wife, Kathleen. Berman, a college friend of Robert Durst, had acted as his spokeswoman after the disappearance.

Durst, 71, has agreed to be transferred to California from New Orleans, where he's been held since his arrest Saturday. But Louisiana charges could complicate the move. He was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and carrying a weapon while possessing narcotics after authorities found a gun and more than a quarter pound of marijuana in his hotel room.

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NEW EVIDENCE SURFACES

Durst's arrest came as HBO prepared to screen the finale of its six-part documentary, "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst." The series dredged up new information on his links to old killings and featured revelations that surfaced during his lengthy interviews.

Filmmakers showed Durst an anonymous letter sent to police alerting them to Berman's body, which Durst said "only the killer could have written." They then confronted him with a letter he sent Berman a year earlier that appeared to have identical handwriting, including the address for Beverly Hills misspelled as "Beverley," and written in similar block letters.

"I wrote this one but I did not write the cadaver one," Durst insisted. But moments later, he couldn't tell the two apart. After an awkward moment in which he blinked, burped and put his head in his hands, he denied being the killer.

One law enforcement official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said analysis linking Durst to the letters was the key new evidence presented to prosecutors.

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DOCUMENTARY'S ROLE IN ARREST

Lawyers for Durst suggested the timing of the arrest on the eve of the documentary's finale was timed to generate publicity, not a mere coincidence.

"The warrant we believe is based on a television show and not on actual fact," attorney Dick DeGuerin said.

Law enforcement officials said the arrest was not linked to the broadcast and that they feared Durst would flee the country.

Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki acknowledged sharing information with authorities for several years. He canceled interviews scheduled Monday, saying he might be called as a witness.

Experts said recorded sessions with Durst will likely be admissible as evidence at trial.

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BIZARRE CRIMES AND 'MISHAPS'

Durst claimed self-defense and beat a murder charge in the 2001 dismemberment killing of his Texas neighbor. He was convicted of jumping bail and evidence tampering in the case in which body parts — but not the head — of Morris Black were found floating in Galveston Bay.

While on the lam in that case, Durst was caught in Pennsylvania stealing a chicken sandwich, despite having $500 in his pockets and $37,000 in his car. Durst is still worth millions despite his estrangement from his family with an estimated worth of about $4 billion.

Last year, he was fined for urinating on a candy display at a pharmacy in Houston, where he has a town house. His lawyer called it an unfortunate medical mishap.

Durst has denied killing Berman and his wife.

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FROM MUTE TO MUMBLING

Durst once posed as a mute woman while living in a cheap boarding house in Texas before the death of Black. It was one of many things he had to say about his life.

After seeing Jarecki's fictionalized version of his story in "All Good Things," a 2010 film starring Ryan Gosling, Durst reached out to the filmmaker to tell his side of the story, leading to the documentary based on lengthy interviews.

The series concluded as Durst stepped away from the tense confrontation over the handwriting on the two letters and went to the bathroom.

Still wearing a live microphone, he began whispering to himself.

"There it is. You're caught!" he said. "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."