Robert Durst The Millionaire Serial Killer

Author Ed Anderson
Susan Berman and Robert DurstScreenshot via Youtube

Robert Durst’s life has not been easy. While he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, there were familial expectations imposed upon him. His grandfather had started the real estate empire known as the Durst Organization. Upon his death, Robert’s father took over as the leader. It was expected that Robert would go into the family business when he was old enough.

Multiple times as a child, he tried to tell his father that he wasn’t interested in real estate. He had expressed an interest in animals and nature. However, his desires were shrugged off as the dreams of a tyke. While his father plotted the course for his life, his mother nurtured his love of furry friends.

Tragedy struck when Robert was seven years old. His mother fell from the roof of their home and died. The young heir has claimed that his father made him watch as his mother collapsed. His brother, Douglas, has refuted the account.

Their mother’s death and subsequent jockeying for position with their father ignited a feud between Robert and Douglas. The relationship between the brothers got so bad that they were sent to therapy in 1953. Robert, who was 10 years old, was diagnosed with personality decomposition and schizophrenia.

Instead of seeking help for his son, Robert’s father believed he would outgrow the issues.

Married To A Gone Woman

Kathleen McCormack and Robert Durst met in the fall of 1971. Their relationship burned hot. After just the second date, Robert asked her to move into his Vermont home. She hesitated but eventually gave in.

Robert had started a health food store near his new home. His lady love was a med student. It seemed like they were a perfect match. Behind closed doors, they would fight about everything. Still, they tried to make the relationship work.

Then Robert’s father called and told him to move back to Manhattan. Reluctantly, Kathleen and Robert packed up their lives and went to the Big Apple. The younger Durst took his place at his father’s side in the family company with great trepidation.

His newly-minted fiance continued her education.

On April 12, 1973, after just more than a year of dating, Robert and Kathleen married. The date served as a double celebration, as the groom turned 30 on that day.

The Dursts’ marriage was not happy. Arguments from their short courtship became more significant issues during this time. Robert began beating his wife, and she decided she’d had enough.

Mid-January 1982, Kathleen asked for a $250,000 divorce settlement. Instead, Robert beat her. While she was being treated in the hospital, he canceled her credit cards and transferred the balances in their joint accounts to his bank account.

January 31, 1982, was the last time Kathleen Durst was seen alive. She had gone to a friend’s house for help. Then she disappeared.

Blocking The Investigation

Kathleen’s family panicked when they hadn’t heard from her. They went to the police and filed a missing person report. To their shock, Robert hadn’t spoken to any cops.

When her family went to the apartment the Dursts had shared, they were even more shocked. Robert had thrown all of Kathleen’s possessions away. It was the same scenario at their cabin in the woods; only her unopened mail remained as proof of her being connected to the houses.

Susan Berman gave Robert an alibi. They had been friends for a long time and enamored with one another. She knew something about Kathleen’s disappearance.

Nearly 19 years after Kathleen vanished, Susan asked Robert for $50,000. When he seemed hesitant to give it to her, she insinuated that the LAPD wanted to talk to her about his wife’s case.

On December 23, 2000, the LAPD was sent a note with Susan’s address and the word cadaver. The next day her body was found in her home. Neighbors had grown concerned when her dogs were running loose in the neighborhood.

Robert has denied writing the infamous note to the police; he also denied killing his former friend.

On The Run With A Disguise

As pressure mounted on the LAPD to solve Susan’s murder, Robert went on the run. He moved to Galveston, Texas, where he took up residence in a boarding house.

The room he lived in was not rented in his name. When he rented the room, he dressed as a woman and used the name Dorothy Ciner. It was not a random name; he had stolen the name from a former friend.

Less than a year after he went on the run, Robert killed again. This time it was his neighbor, Morris Black. The neighbor threatened to turn him into the police. The NYPD had reopened the Kathleen Durst disappearance case and wanted to speak to her husband.

Morris happened to see Robert out of his female disguise. She put two and two together. When she told him that she was killing the cops, he brought out his gun.

Robert shot her. After she died, Robert dismembered her body and threw her pieces in the Galveston Bay.

When the body parts were found, Robert was the prime suspect. He was arrested on October 9, 2001. He was released on a $300,000 bond. The bond was forfeited when he missed his October 16 court date, and a warrant for his arrest was issued.

On November 30, Robert was arrested for theft. He had moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He had gone to the local supermarket with the intent to steal bandaids, a newspaper, and a chicken salad sandwich.

After facing charges in Pennsylvania, he was extradited to Texas. He went on trial for Morris’ murder. He successfully argued self-defense. Since the skull of the victim was never found, the prosecutors couldn’t counter the argument.

He was acquitted.

The Past Haunts

Worried about the continuing investigations into Kathleen’s disappearance and Susan’s murder, Robert planned to flee the country. In less than a month, he withdrew more than $317,000 from his bank accounts. He also transferred more than $20 million in assets to an alleged new wife, Debrah Lee Charatan. Though no official records of their union were found, and it is alleged, she married another man after Robert went on the run.

Robert was arrested on March 14, 2015, for Susan’s murder. He waived extradition and went to California voluntarily.

The trial for Susan’s murder was supposed to begin in 2016, but Robert required surgery, and the case was delayed. In February 2017, there was a hearing that featured Robert’s former best friend testifying against him. Nick Chavin told the court that the real estate heir had confessed to killing Susan because she knew too much about Kathleen’s disappearance.

Hurricane Harvey delayed the trial again, as Robert’s lawyers needed to take care of their homes. A preliminary hearing was set for October 2018, where the judge ruled there was enough evidence to try Robert for Susan’s murder.

After a series of pre-trial motions, Robert’s attorneys admitted the infamous cadaver note did come from him in December 2019.

In March 2020, the trial was set to get underway. The coronavirus pandemic delayed the trial even longer.

Prosecutors are arguing that Robert Durst is a serial killer. His defense team wants to claim he is mentally ill and not able to recognize right from wrong.

The trial resumed on April 21, 2021. In September 2021, the jury convicted Robert of killing Susan. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. 

He was charged with killing Kathleen in October 2021. 

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Ed Anderson is a true crime and gossip writer from Detroit, Michigan. Ed is the author of several true crime books, most recently Cold Cases From Around The World.

Rochester, MI

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