• Walter Kowalski

Who is Robert Durst?

Many know the name “Robert Durst” from HBO’s documentary “The Jinx”, but how well do you really know this alleged Galveston killer? Before you take our tour and explore the ghosts of Galveston, take a look at some of the information about Durst we’ve compiled for you below.

Robert Durst and Kathleen McCormack Durst, courtesy of abc 13 news.

Short Biography

Robert Durst is a 76-year-old heir to a real estate fortune in the form of the Durst Organization. He was born on April 12, 1943 and to a well-respected family. Durst spent his childhood in Scarsdale, New York. He is no stranger to speculations about his mental health, with a childhood psychiatrist going so far as to comment on his “personality decomposition” in 1953. Classmates considered Durst a “loner” and he didn’t seem to form much in the way of meaningful relationships during his time in school. He attended Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1965. Later that same year, he enrolled in a graduate program at UCLA. However, Durst ultimately withdrew from the program and returned home to New York in 1969.

Despite working in his father’s business as a real estate developer, Robert Durst failed to ascend the company’s ranks. Instead, his younger brother, Douglas, was appointed in 1944 to run the family business. The appointment created irreparable conflict between Durst and his family. He has been estranged from them ever since. In fact, Douglas has spoken out about the tension that his succession caused and the way that his brother reacted, calling him “very disturbed”. He even went so far as to say that Robert Durst is a “true psychopath” who is “beyond any emotions”.

The Move to Galveston

Durst moved to Galveston in 2000, shortly after his best friend, Susan Berman, was murdered. He allegedly moved here hoping to hide, and for a time, he lived his life as Dorothy Ciner, a mute woman. Sometimes he pretended to be one of Dorothy’s male friends. He actively avoided cameras and lived a quiet life, by all accounts, and told no one his true identity. But why was Robert Durst running and what happened to Berman and his first wife, Kathleen? Well, that’s where our real story begins.

The Alleged Victims

Robert Durst has been suspected of not just one murder, but three: that of his first wife; his “best friend” Susan Berman; and his neighbor, Morris Black. Let’s take a closer look at what this alleged Galveston killer was up to in his younger years.

Kathleen McCormack Durst

More commonly known as “Kathie”, Kathleen met Robert Durst in 1971. She was a dental hygienist at the time and the two quickly began dating. She moved to live with him during a short stint in Vermont in 1972, but they were both back in Manhattan by the end of April 1973. Kathleen began attending the Albert Einstein College of Medicine shortly after they arrived and was studying to become a pediatrician. She and Durst married in 1973 and remained so until Kathleen’s disappearance on January 31st, 1982. She was last seen by her close friend Gilberte Najamy and reportedly told Najamy that she was “afraid” of Durst and allegedly asked her to “investigate” if anything happened to her.

Kathleen has never been heard from again, except via a phone call Durst claims to have received at around 11PM the night of her disappearance. He claims that he drove Kathleen to the train station to take the 9:15 train to Manhattan, received a phone call from her at around 11PM, and never heard from her again. It should be noted that his story about that evening’s events has changed several times since the initial investigation, but Durst maintains that he has nothing to do with his wife’s disappearance. Her body has never been found, but Los Angeles prosecutors believe she was murdered.

Susan Berman and Robert Durst, courtesy of UPI.

Susan Berman

Susan Berman allegedly met Robert Durst sometime during his stint at UCLA in the 1960s. They became fast friends and confidantes, and Durst even walked Berman down the aisle at her 1984 wedding. The two remained friends for decades, with Berman even acting as a makeshift spokeswoman for Durst after his wife disappeared and insisting upon his innocence to the public. Police reopened the case into Kathleen’s disappearance in 2000, however, and requested an interview with Berman. She was murdered shortly before that interview could take place. Berman was shot in the back of the head, “execution-style”, in her home in Los Angeles and her body was found on December 24th, 2000.

After Berman’s body was found, police focused their attention on Durst as a potential suspect. He moved to Galveston during this time and quickly settled into his life as “Dorothy” – but all was not well with Durst, and he contributed at least one individual to the ghosts of Galveston.

Morris Black

Robert Durst was arrested in Galveston on October 9th, 2001, shortly after his neighbor, Morris Black’s, dismembered body parts were discovered in Galveston Bay. Durst was tried for the murder of Black in 2003. He claimed that the killing was accidental and the result of a struggle for his gun. According to Durst, the two men fought to control Durst’s target pistol before it discharged into Black’s face. It is what happened after Black’s death, however, that disturbs Galveston residents. Robert Durst admitted to using two saws, an ax, and a paring knife to dismember the Galveston man’s body before throwing the remains into Galveston Bay. He was ultimately acquitted of Morris Black’s murder.

Ghosts of Galveston

Robert Durst is currently awaiting trial for the murder of Susan Berman. Prosecutors allege that Durst murdered his wife and intentionally killed Morris Black, as opposed to killing him in self-defense, and Durst will have to defend himself against all three killings when the trial begins on September 3rd, 2019.

Robert Durst house in Galveston.

What do you think about Robert Durst? If you’re interested in seeing places of interest related to his crimes in Galveston, as well as keeping an eye out for some Ghosts of Galveston, give our tours a try!

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