Robert Durst killed his longtime friend Susan Berman, prosecutors say, because she told him police wanted to speak to her as they reinvestigated the disappearance of Durst’s wife Kathie.
But Berman lied, prosecutors revealed Thursday.
“Evidence will demonstrate that that statement, that conversation, with Bob Durst, would seal her fate,” Deputy District Attorney John Lewin told jurors.
Durst is currently on trial for the execution-style murder of Berman, who was found dead in her home in 2000. In the second day of opening statements, Lewin detailed how Durst at the time was on edge after media reports about the renewed investigation of Kathie’s case and planned to go into hiding. In addition to killing Berman to keep her quiet, Lewin said, Durst went on to kill his neighbor at his Galveston, Texas, hideout — all in a bid to avoid scrutiny from police about whether he had also killed Kathie in 1982.
On Thursday, Lewin presented more video of Durst’s infamous interviews with filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, which were featured in the 2015 HBO documentary The Jinx. In one clip, Durst says Berman told him that Los Angeles police and New York detectives said they wanted to talk to her about Kathie’s disappearance.
He gave her his blessing, Durst said. But then he also traveled through California on an elaborate itinerary that prosecutors said would have allowed him to be present at Berman’s home on Dec. 23, 2000, when she was fatally shot in the head.
What Durst didn’t know at that time was that Berman had also told other people that she was planning to speak to police.
And it wasn’t because police had reached out to her. While Kathie’s family wanted investigators to speak to Berman, a report by the Guardian showed authorities had taken no steps to actually do so.
It’s unclear why Berman lied, but she was struggling financially at the time. Before her death, Durst wrote her checks that totaled $50,000, which some have interpreted as blackmail payments.
Whatever her motivation, Lewin said Durst first learned that Berman had lied when the prosecutor himself told him: in their jailhouse interview in March 2015, the day after Durst’s arrest at a New Orleans hotel.
“No, I did not know they had not contacted her,” Durst tells Lewin in video of that three-hour interview, which was played Thursday in court.
Just weeks after the conversation with Durst, Berman was dead.
Nine months later, Durst killed another friend. Claiming self-defense, Durst admitted to shooting his neighbor, Morris Black, and dismembering his body. Although Durst said the gun accidentally went off during a scuffle and he was found not guilty of murder, prosecutors say he killed Black deliberately.
And Durst didn’t plan to stop there, Lewin suggested to jurors. In Durst’s rental car, when he was arrested in 2001 after Black’s death for shoplifting and jumping bail, police found a spiral notebook containing a note saying, “What DD is doing to me, puts me in the same place as what Kathie did to me.” Lewin pointed out that “DD” are the initials of Durst’s younger brother, Douglas Durst, who replaced him as head of the Durst real estate empire. The notebook also contained four phone numbers for Douglas Durst.
What’s more, Lewin said, Durst had scrawled the contact information for an outspoken friend of Kathie’s, Gilberte Najamy: her address, the name of her workplace, and her phone numbers. Najamy had publicly accused Durst of killing Kathie, who on the night she disappeared left Najamy’s dinner party after an angry phone call from Durst.
“If something happens to me, check it out,” Najamy said Kathie told her that night. “I’m afraid of what Bobby will do.”