The Real Estate Mogul With A Double Life As A Woman And Murder

The Real Estate Mogul With a Double Life as a Woman and Murder

  • Offspring of a Manhattan real-estate family worth billions.
  • Disguised himself as a mute woman to escape the media and police.

The name Robert Durst is one you may have heard before. Whether through media coverage, or in relation to the hit TV documentary ‘The Jinx’, the property scion has found his name on the lips of millions of people over the last 30 or so years.

Despite the barrage of attention, so much mystery still surrounds this man. It seems that no one truly knows who this man is.

Robert was the eldest of four, born into an extremely wealthy family thanks to his paternal grandfather, who founded the Durst family organization, a property management and development business.

Although financially comfortable, Robert’s life was surrounded by tragedy from an early age. Some reports dispute this, but it has been stated that a seven-year-old Robert watched his mother die after falling, or possibly jumping, from the roof of their house.

After her death, Robert’s father refused to acknowledge what had happened. Robert responded by continually running away and creating a sibling rivalry with his brother Douglas, for which they both received professional therapy.

In 1973, just after his thirtieth birthday, Durst married Kathleen McCormack, a 19-year-old aspiring pediatrician. Their romance was a fast and intense relationship, with Robert asking Kathleen to move in with him after just two dates.

Robert Durst and Kathleen McCormack
Durst and Kathleen McCormack.
Robert Durst and Kathleen McCormack
Wedding day.

But by late 1981, the cracks in their partnership were beginning to show. Kathleen kept a diary, and in it, she recorded numerous physical fights between the two of them, including an incident in which she claims Robert forced her to get an abortion. Shockingly, Robert admits this is true, stating that Kathy “knew [he] didn’t want kids” and that if she kept the baby, divorce would quickly follow.

On January 31st, 1982, Kathy attended a party at her friend Gilberte’s house, during which it’s reported that she received several calls from her estranged husband, one of which left her visibly shaken. As she left the party to go home, Kathy said to her friend, ‘If something happens to me, promise me you’ll check it out. I’m afraid of what [Durst] will do.’

She was never seen again.

Robert Durst and Kathleen McCormack
Durst, 30, married 20-year-old Kathleen McCormack (later Durst) in 1973 and she was last seen alive on January 31, 1982.
Missing Lynne Schulze
Lynne Schulze (18) is another girl who vanished after she bought prunes from Durst’s store in Middlebury, Vermont in 1971.

Robert maintained to the police that when Kathy returned home they had argued, and he had put her on a train to New York, at her request. Without a body or any information, the case went cold. It remains that way to this day.

Following Kathy’s disappearance, the Durst family name was constantly in the media. Robert’s long-time friend, Susan Berman, stepped into a spokesperson role, speaking to the media on behalf of Robert and becoming a sort of confidante to him.

Then, on December 24, 2000, Berman was found dead from a single gunshot wound to the head. She had been murdered execution style. It was rumored that shortly before Susan’s death, Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro wanted to talk to Berman about Kathy’s disappearance and any information she might have received from Durst.

Susan Berman
Susan Berman.
Susan Berman
‘Best friends’: Susan and Robert.

After his best friend’s death, Robert’s life began unraveling. He moved to Galveston, Texas and began disguising himself as a mute woman to escape the media and police scrutiny in both Los Angeles and New York. He rented a small apartment in a boarding house, paying rent for a year in full, getting high and living as a woman. Just a year later, a man’s body was found in pieces floating in Galveston Bay. The body was identified as Morris Black, an elderly man who shared the same boarding house as Durst. A newspaper found with Black’s body parts led police to Durst’s apartment and he was arrested on suspicion of murder.

Robert’s bail was set at $300,000, which he was readily able to pay. Once released, Robert skipped bail and went on the run once again. While a warrant was issued for his arrest, two security guards at a convenience store were detaining Robert for shoplifting a chicken sandwich, despite having hundreds of dollars in cash in his wallet.

Robert was brought back to Texas and the murder trial began in 2003. With the best defense that money could buy, Durst claimed self-defense, stating that he was attacked by Black, the two of them had struggled and the gun went off, shooting the victim in the face.

Durst admitted that he had cut up his neighbor’s body, sawing off his limbs and head, and dumping them into the bay in trash bags. He panicked when the head began to float, and so removed this from the water, taking it to places unknown. Strangely, research delivers nothing on whether Durst was ever asked as to the location of Black’s head.

Robert Durst and Morris Black
Durst on the left and the victim, Morris Black, who was shot in the face and dismembered, on the right.

In a shock decision, the jury found Durst not guilty of murder, declaring that the state failed to produce any forensic evidence which could disprove the theory of self-defense.

The Jinx

Following his acquittal, Durst lived a relatively peaceful life, until 2015 when filmmaker Andrew Jarecki approached him to do a six-part documentary on his life. Despite advice from his lawyers, Durst agreed to take part, stating that he wanted the chance to give his story. The documentary was met with rave reviews and portrayed Durst as a strange, eccentric old man who admitted with a complete lack of emotion that he had lied to the police during Kathy’s disappearance and that he had cited self-defense during his trial because it was the most fitting story.

After the filming had finished on the final episode, Robert Durst seemed to unravel his life completely. Still wearing a microphone, he went into the bathroom. Durst was recorded muttering to himself that the revelations uncovered by the documentary meant that he was “caught” and asked “what did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

At the time of writing, Durst is currently recovering from surgery, waiting to be transferred to California to be tried for the murder of Susan Berman. The evidence uncovered by The Jinx has allowed police in LA to charge Durst with Susan’s murder and if convicted, Durst could face the death penalty.

Durst remains acquitted on the murder of Morris Black, and the case on Kathleen’s disappearance is still cold.

•   •   •

Laura Lewis

Laura Lewis is a true crime enthusiast and a blogger. Her fascination with true crime began during her teens when she read a journalistic account of the Fred and Rose West case.

Day-to-day, she handles marketing campaigns for a wide range of businesses, but true crime has always been her passion. Her blog, covers a range of cases and she readily welcomes reader suggestions on cases they’d like to see covered.

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