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Convicted Killer Robert Durst, the Subject of HBO's The Jinx, Dies at 78 

Businessman Robert Durst, convicted of killing his best friend and suspected of killing others, died on January 10, 2022.


"I did not tell the whole truth. Nobody tells the whole truth.” That’s a direct quote from Robert Durst, the reclusive millionaire convicted on September 18, 2021, of killing his friend Susan Berman—more than 20 years after he committed the crime. 

And on October 14, 2021—he was finally sentenced to life in prison, without parole. Shortly after receiving the conviction, Durst contracted the COVID-19 virus and was placed on a ventilator for a short time. His lawyer chip Lewis—who confirmed Durst's death—reported that the virus exacerbated his already-complex array of pre-existing medical complications. Durst passed after going into cardiac arrest at the California Health Care Facility, where he had been admitted for testing. Though Durst was convicted of Berman's tragic murder, he was also suspected of killing two more, including his wife Kathie McCormack Durst—who disappeared under suspicious circumstances in 1982. These charges were not resolved prior to Durst's death. 

Durst was the subject of HBO’s six-part 2015 docuseries The Jinx.

Director Andrew Jarecki is no stranger to true crime; he helmed the Oscar-nominated family murder doc, Capturing the Friedmans. Jarecki green lit this new series after a mysterious call he received in 2010 about his film, All Good Things, a narrative thriller starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst loosely based on Robert Durst’s life.

Jarecki, who admits his own turbulent relationship with his father causes him to somewhat sympathize with diabolical characters, said he wanted to make a film Durst could watch and have an emotional reaction to.

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  • Photo Credit: Magnolia Pictures

He succeeded. Durst contacted Jarecki, praised the film (he said it was the most accurate portrayal out there), and offered to be interviewed. The result: the 2015 HBO docuseries drawn from over 25 hours of interviews with Durst, plus actual police footage of the crime scenes and never-before-heard commentary into the unsolved mysteries swirling around him.

Not familiar with the bloody trail that leads to Durst’s door? We’ll get there. But first, just who is he?

Born into wealth, Robert Durst is the son of millionaire real estate mogul Seymore Durst, who helped rebuild Times Square in the ‘90s. At age 7, he watched his mom jump off the roof of their mansion to her death. In 1994, he cut ties with the fam when his father gave his younger brother, Douglas, control over the Durst empire. Since then, he’s been the mysterious figure at the core of a trio of high-profile criminal cases.

Related: 5 Things You Must Know Before Watching True Detective Season 2 

The first and most well known is the disappearance of his wife, Kathleen. The two met in 1970 and married two years later. Their relationship was anything but wedded bliss: Durst allegedly beat Kathie, had an affair with Prudence Farrow (sister to one Mia), and knew of Kathie’s plans for filing divorce papers. Come January 31, 1982, she was never heard from again.

Though authorities failed to solve the mystery, and journalists chalked it up to your everyday marital mishap headline (“Wife Leaves Husband for Better Life”), the evidence against Durst piled up – literally. Friends of Kathie who suspected Durst of foul play broke into his South Salem cottage, where they found suspicious-looking garbage bags piled floor to ceiling.

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Along with several other shady happenings, the most damning couldn’t be denied: Durst waited six days before filing a missing person’s report. Still, it wasn’t enough to book him. Come December 2001, Kathie was declared legally dead.

Then there’s Susan Berman, an American journalist, author, and close friend of Robert and Kathleen. In fact, she became Robert’s unofficial spokesperson during the first investigation. Known to be a bit paranoid—nailing her windows shut, for instance—Susan was the daughter of Davie Berman, a gangster who dabbled with the likes of Bugsy Seigel and Meyer Lansky. She even shared her insight into the mob via several true crime books. That is, until she was shot gangland style circa 2000 in her L.A. home.

Related: 14 True Crime Books That Focus On and Amplify the Voices of the Victims

On Christmas Eve, Berman was on the phone with a friend, actress Kim Lankford, chatting her up about some information “that’s going to blow the top off things.” Hours later, she was dead. Eyes soon turned to Robert.

Apparently, Berman had been accepting huge sums of money, totaling $50,000, from the reclusive Durst, whom she called Bobby, while also dedicating many a book to him. Even more curious? The night of Berman’s murder, there was no forced entry.

At the time, there was a lot of speculation around who did it. Some suspected it a mob hit in retaliation to the tell-alls she authored. But many—rightly, in light of his recent conviction—believed it was Durst. Some even wondered if Susan had been blackmailing him with this mysterious “information"—not that this would have justified her murder! But at the time, the case went cold.

Durst eventually moved to Galveston, Texas. He squatted in a dump that set him back no more than $300 a month; and once again found himself at the center of another brutal act.

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This time, it was 71-year-old Morris Black. The two were neighbors and shared a sort of Hatfield-and-McCoy relationship, until Durst snapped. He shot Black, chopped his body up into pieces, and threw everything but the head into Galveston Bay. But wait—there’s more.

Durst eluded authorities after the killing by masquerading as an old mute woman he named Dorothy Ciner, who introduced herself  was supposedly a “friend” of Durst’s—although no one ever saw them together. Police later discovered Durst had used a similarly disguised himself as a woman when he rented an apartment in New Orleans under the name "Diane Winn". When police searched Winn’s home, they found property belonging to Berman and news tapes about Kathie’s disappearance.

Durst's unconventional hiding strategy worked for a while—until he was arrested for shoplifting a hoagie from a grocery store in Hanover Township, Pennsylvania. The arrest led authorities to his Galveston den, where no number of housedresses or wigs could hide the blood-spattered evidence across the walls, floors, and his boots.

Charged with Black’s murder, Durst claimed self-defense and was acquitted. Though he admitted to the butchery, his high-roller Houston attorneys, Dick DeGuerin, Chip Lewis, and Mike Ramsey, blamed the behavior on Asperger’s syndrome. Dodging a 99-year prison sentence, Durst was charged with tampering with evidence and jumping bond.

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His new punishment? Five years. At the time, that’s what he got, and he only actually served for two. Upon his release, he got remarried to NYC real estate broker Debrah Lee Charatan (who makes an appearance in the HBO series.) 71-year-old Durst called Texas home but still couldn't manage to stay out of trouble. In July 2014, he was charged with criminal mischief. Translation: He peed on the candy rack at a CVS. And that’s the whole truth.

HBO’s The Jinx first aired in 2015—three days after Durst filed his wife’s missing person report more than 30 years ago. It is still available for viewing on HBO. 

Related: The Best True Crime Documentaries of 2020

At the end of The Jinx, Durst whispered to himself in an unguarded moment—apparently unaware his microphone was still on. "What the hell did I do?” he said. “Killed them all, of course.”

On March 17, 2015, Durst was arrested on charges of Derman's murder—just a month after The Jinx was released. He had checked himself into the Canal Street Marriott in New Orleans, this time under a new alias: "Everette Ward." His trial and sentencing has dragged on since then, with additional delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Durst's sentencing, it would appear that long-awaited justice has been served. Afflicted with bladder cancer—and looking particularly ill at his hearing—he will spend the rest of his days in prison, without the option of parole.

Robert Durst died on January 10, 2022.

Featured photo: James Nielsen / Getty Images; Additional photos: The Daily News; Magnolia Pictures; Louis Vest