Robert Durst, A Murderer And The Subject Of HBO's "The Jinx,” Has Died At 78

Durst, who was convicted of murdering his friend Susan Berman in 2000, gained renewed notoriety in 2015 after seeming to confess to three killings on HBO's The Jinx.

Myung J. Chun / AP

Robert Durst sits in the courtroom as he is sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole.

Robert Durst, the multimillionaire who was the focus of the HBO documentary The Jinx and who was found guilty of murdering his friend, died on Monday at a hospital in California, his attorney said. He was 78 years old.

Durst died at a hospital near Stockton where he had reportedly been taken for testing. In a statement, one of Durst's trial lawyers, Chip Lewis, said his death was associated with his ongoing health problems.

"We understand that his death was due to natural causes associated with the litany of medical issues we had repeatedly reported to the court over the last couple of years," he said.

The New York Times reported that during his visit, he went into cardiac arrest and doctors were unable to revive him. In a statement, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Durst died of natural causes at 6:44 a.m. while being treated at an outside hospital. The San Joaquin County coroner will determine an exact cause of death.

Durst, who was sentenced on Oct. 14 to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of Susan Berman in 2000, gained renewed notoriety in 2015 after seeming to confess to three murders that he’d been suspected of for years. His “confession” was made on The Jinx via a hot mic while in the bathroom after an incriminating interview for the show’s explosive finale.

In the documentary, Durst is heard saying, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.” But it was later revealed that filmmaker Andrew Jarecki had manipulated the line; “Killed them all, of course” actually preceded Durst saying, “What the hell did I do?” with several muttered remarks between them.

Still, Durst was arrested in New Orleans on March 14, 2015, the day before the finale aired on HBO.

Gerald Herbert / AP

In this March 17, 2015, photo, Robert Durst is transported to the Orleans Parish Prison after his arraignment in New Orleans.

By the time the case reached trial, decades after Berman’s death and years after The Jinx, Durst was frail and in poor health. The pandemic then delayed the trial further, shutting down proceedings just days after opening arguments. Durst missed the reading of the verdict because of possible COVID exposure. He returned to court for sentencing only to test positive a day later for COVID himself. His attorney told the LA Times he had been placed on a ventilator.

As late as justice came in Berman’s murder, Durst never faced consequences in the death that prosecutors alleged started it all. In making their case that Durst murdered Berman, prosecutors argued that he believed she was going to implicate him to police in the killing of his first wife, Kathleen “Kathie” McCormack Durst, in 1982. By finding Durst guilty of the special circumstances of killing a witness, the jury signaled that they believed prosecutors’ arguments that Durst had also killed Kathie Durst, whose body has never been found.

New York Daily News via Getty Images

The New York Daily News front page on Feb. 9, 1982

Though Durst had not yet been charged in Kathie Durst's disappearance or death, much of the Berman trial had focused on her case. In their victim impact statements, Berman's family pleaded with Durst to tell the McCormack family where they could find her body.

“In telling where Kathie is,” said Sareb Kaufman, who was raised by Berman, “you can find some small redemption.”

Durst never did. And in November, prosecutors in New York indicted him for murder in connection with Kathie Durst's disappearance.

Durst was born in New York on April 12, 1943, the eldest son of real estate magnate Seymour Durst and Bernice Herstein. His mother died at age 32, after reportedly jumping from the roof of the three-story family home in Scarsdale. Durst, then 7 years old, would later claim he had seen his mother jump that night, an account that has been disputed by his family.

After graduating from Lehigh University in 1965 with a degree in economics, Durst attended UCLA. There he met Berman; their friendship lasted decades, until he killed her in 2000.

In 1973, Durst married Kathie Durst, who would go on to disappear in January 1982, when she was a fourth-year medical student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Days after she was last seen alive, a woman claiming to be Kathie Durst called in sick to the dean of the school — a call that LA prosecutors said was made by Berman to cover for her friend. Durst did not report his wife missing for nearly a week.

Although Durst was never charged, suspicion followed him for decades. In 1999, police in Westchester, New York, reopened the case.

Feeling the pressure of a renewed investigation, in April 2001, Durst moved to Galveston, Texas, where he lived in a boarding house in disguise as a woman. On Sept. 30 of that year, the dismembered remains of his neighbor Morris Black washed up in Galveston Bay. Durst later admitted fatally shooting Black and chopping up his body, but he said the killing was the accidental result of a struggle over a gun. A Galveston jury found him not guilty based on his claims of self-defense.

As he admitted on the witness stand in the recent trial, though, he couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth under oath.

“I did not kill Susan Berman,” Durst said, which was a lie. “But if I had, I would lie about it.”

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