It was Nov. 30, 2001, and Robert Durst was hungry. Durst, a New York real-estate heir allegedly connected to three deaths, had just masqueraded as a mute woman in Galveston, Tex. He had just killed and dismembered a neighbor. And he had just driven hundreds of miles north, sparking a massive manhunt.
He exited his rented car, leaving behind two guns, $37,000 and some marijuana. Then he entered a supermarket in Bethlehem, Pa., where he was arrested while trying to steal a newspaper, Band-Aids — and a chicken-salad sandwich.
That bizarre arrest would segue into a little-known, but perhaps pivotal conversation that casts fresh light on Durst’s notorious history. In that conversation, according to an affidavit signed by a Texas private investigator hired to bolster Durst’s defense, Durst said he had planned to kill his billionaire brother. Durst has denied that allegation, along with almost everything else.
The Durst drama erupted in 1982 when Durst’s wife disappeared under unusual circumstances. Years later, police reopened their investigation into her disappearance. Authorities were about to talk with one of Durst’s close friends, Susan Berman, who was believed to have key information regarding the wife’s disappearance, when Berman was killed execution style. Suspicion fell on Durst, who fled to Galveston, Tex. There, he disguised himself as a woman and later admitted to killing and dismembering neighbor Morris Black.
The drama thickened considerably over the weekend. On Saturday, FBI agents arrested Durst at a New Orleans hotel — where he was checked in under name “Everett Ward” — on murder charges stemming from Berman’s 2000 killing. Durst’s lawyer, Chip Lewis, told the Post that Durst has “maintained his innocence for 10 years now. Nothing has changed.”
Boring into those mysterious deaths has been the HBO documentary “The Jinx.” On Sunday evening, it aired its sixth and final episode. In the last moments of the show, Durst was off-camera, but still on-mike. While in a bathroom, he talked to himself. “There it is, you’re caught,” he said. “… What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”
What sounded like a stunning admission raised questions as to what prompted a man with such a murky history to participate in a documentary that promised to plumb its depths. But that decision isn’t the only choice Durst recently made that has lawyers scratching their heads.
In January, Durst sued the Houston-based private investigator Tim Wilson in a Texas court, reviving allegations of murderous tendencies. The lawsuit, filed weeks before the first episode of “The Jinx,” involves conversations Wilson had with Durst at a Pennsylvania jail. Wilson, hired to help bolster Durst’s defense in the Morris Black case, remembered the first time he met Durst.
“He was just a strange person,” Wilson recalled in an interview with The Washington Post. “People say he’s crazy, but he’s not crazy. He’s just a very strange person. What else would you call someone who dismembers his neighbor and disguised as a woman?”
Indeed, Durst arrived in Galveston dressed as a woman. Once there, he made fast friends with Black. The two went target shooting. Then one day, Durst said, he got into a scuffle with Black in his apartment and, during the struggle, a .22-caliber handgun fired and killed Black. Worried no one would believe his story, Durst claimed he enacted a coverup. He hacked up Black with a bow saw, put the grisly remains in some garbage bags and hurled them into the Galveston Bay.
The plot failed. Durst was arrested, but he jumped bail, sparking the 45-day manhunt. During those weeks, Wilson claimed Durst had said he wanted to kill his younger brother, billionaire Douglas Durst, steward to the family real estate empire. Douglas Durst, feeling threatened by his loose brother, had enlisted private security guards to protect his home.
“Durst stated in substance that he felt strong hostility toward Douglas Durst and his family and that he would like to see Douglas Durst dead,” Wilson later said in a sworn affidavit. Durst had traveled “on multiple occasions” to his brother’s house in Westchester, N.Y., after he fled Galveston, but before he was arrested in Pennsylvania, Wilson said in the affidavit.
“Robert Durst further stated in substance that he planned to kill Douglas Durst or a member of his family while he was there,” Wilson stated. “Robert Durst also stated that he had brought a gun with him. According to Robert Durst, he was high on drugs and smoked marijuana while he waited for Douglas Durst or his family to arrive. I am informed that when Robert Durst was arrested in Pennsylvania … he had two guns and ammunition in his vehicle.”
In 2013, years after Durst was acquitted of murder charges after testifying he killed Black, the neighbor, in self-defense, Durst again found himself in court. This time, his family filed trespassing charges against him after he had stood on the stoop of a family-owned residence during filming of “The Jinx.” The Durst family obtained 13 orders of protection against Durst, calling Wilson to enter an affidavit swearing to the threats Durst made that day in custody. (He was later acquitted of trespassing, and the protection orders were vacated.)
Durst, who last year pleaded no contest to urinating inside a CVS, has now sued Wilson in Harris County District Court. He alleges breach of fiduciary duty. He denies he said he planned to kill his brother or family. “Plaintiff never made statements to Defendant concerning any harm to be done to any of his family members,” the complaint said. “… Defendant intentionally breached his fiduciary duty to Plaintiffs to gain additional benefits and favor with individuals closely aligned with the Durst organization.”
The lawsuit struck Wilson defense attorney Geoffrey Berg as very strange. “It’s absolutely bizarre,” he told The Post. “Lawyers frequently call these sort of things frivolous, but I don’t want to use that word here because it’s not strong enough. This is bizarre, perplexing, extremely odd, and just weird as hell.”
In the complaint, Durst said Wilson’s affidavit inflicted “mental anguish” and “embarrassment,” which Wilson said he found “comical.”
“How a litigant who, among other things, admits to having killed, butchered and disposed of the body of an elderly neighbor, is reported to have recently urinated on the counter at a local CVS, and is currently starring worldwide in a documentary about his life that presents him as an ‘extremely suspicious’ and ‘a hella creepy free man,’ could be embarrassed or stressed,” isn’t explained, Berg wrote in a motion to dismiss.
Either way, the Durst family rejoiced at Robert’s arrest over the weekend. They think he’s guilty. “We are relieved and also grateful to everyone who assisted in the arrest of Robert Durst,” Douglas Durst said in a statement. “We hope he will finally be held accountable for all he has done.”