Robert Durst Biography

(1943–)
Eccentric real estate scion Robert Durst was charged and acquitted of murdering a neighbor and is a key suspect in various unsolved crimes, including the disappearance of his wife and the murder of a family friend.

Synopsis

Robert Alan Durst was born into a wealthy New York City family in 1943. In 1982, Durst's wife disappeared, and Durst was investigated but no body was ever found. Years later, he was arrested in Texas for allegedly murdering his neighbor and dismembering his body and dumping it into Galveston Bay. He was acquitted on the basis of self-defense and would go on to have several other, although minor, run-ins with the law. An HBO documentary, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (2015), explores his bizarre life path.

Early Years

Robert Alan Durst was born on April 12, 1943, in New York City. His grandfather came to the United States from Austria in 1902, with few possessions and even less money. By 1915, the Durst patriarch had saved enough money to buy his first New York property, and in 1927 he incorporated the Durst Organization.

Durst’s father carried on and expanded the family business, making a name for the family in the real estate world. In 1950 his mother, Bernice, fell from the roof of the family's home and died, marking the first tragedy of Durst’s life. While newspapers at the time stated that Bernice had become disoriented by medication she was taking for asthma, rumors of suicide were prevalent.

After he graduated from Scarsdale High School, Durst moved to Pennsylvania to study business and economics at Lehigh University. 

Disappearance of Durst’s Wife

In 1965, with a degree in economics in hand, Durst headed west, enrolling at UCLA, where he met Susan Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas mobster and a figure who would appear later in Durst’s sordid timeline. Durst dropped out of UCLA in 1969 and moved back to New York, where he met Kathleen McCormack in 1971. After two dates, they moved in together, and in 1973 they were married. Over the first nine years of their marriage, Durst became possessive and abusive toward his wife, and in 1982, she disappeared.

Investigators questioned Durst and followed various leads, but they never found Durst’s wife and are still calling it only a case of a missing person, not murder. Durst went to work for the family business, but had a falling-out with his siblings, and he spent the 1990s drifting around the country.

In 2000, the case of Kathleen Durst’s disappearance had reemerged, and the Westchester County district attorney and police were set to interview Susan Berman. But days before the interview was supposed to take place, Berman was found shot dead in her L.A. home.

While Durst was never charged, he soon ran into troubles in Texas, when he was arrested for murdering Morris Black, a neighbor in his Galveston apartment building who was found dismembered and dumped in a nearby bay. Neighbors said the pair had a tumultuous relationship, and police found bloody evidence to tie Durst to the murder.

Durst brought in three high-powered Houston defense attorneys, and they won an acquittal based on self-defense.

Robert Durst photo via Getty Images

Robert Durst at the Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2016 (Photo: Pool/Getty Images)

Recent Activity and Film Portrayals

Once Durst was released, he managed to run into legal difficulties several more times, usually for petty crimes. In 2014, for instance, Durst entered a Houston CVS drugstore and allegedly exposed himself and urinated on a rack of candy. Thus far, two high-profile film projects have captured the life of Durst on screen: All Good Things (2010), a drama inspired by Durst’s story, and The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (2015), an HBO series created by the director of All Good Things, Andrew Jarecki. 

In March 2015, Durst was arrested in New Orleans on murder charges related to the disappearance of Susan Berman. The arrest came just a day before the finale of The Jinx was scheduled to air. He was later transferred from New Orleans to Los Angeles to face unrelated gun charges. The following November, Robert Durst pleaded not guilty in a Los Angeles court, stating, “I do want to say here and now, I am not guilty.” 

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!