Real Estate Heir Robert Durst Admits in HBO Documentary: 'I Killed Them All, Of Course'
Robert Durst, the wealthy heir to a New York real estate fortune whose stranger-than-fiction involvement in three mysterious deaths has baffled prosecutors and police investigators across the US for decades, made a veiled confession in a documentary aired on Sunday night that he “killed them all”.
The startling admission, made in a conversation with himself in a bathroom while his interview microphone was still switched on, was made public just hours after new evidence unearthed by the documentary-makers in one of the unsolved cases caused Durst to be arrested in New Orleans and charged with first-degree murder.
The makers of the documentary series, called The Jinx, found a letter written by Durst to Berman which bore a close resemblance to an anonymous note sent by Berman’s killer to the Beverly Hills police on the day of her murder. Both were written in similar block letters, and the word Beverly was misspelled Beverley in both cases.
Confronted by the film-makers, Durst initially betrayed little emotion or surprise. “The writing looks similar and the spelling is the same so I can see the conclusion the police would draw,” he said in the interview.
A little later, he backtracked slightly, saying the only similarity he saw was in the misspelling of Beverly. “Block letters are block letters. How else do you write block letters other than that?” he asked.
However, when he went to the bathroom, almost certainly unaware he could be overheard, he said to himself: “There it is. You’re caught.” It sounded at this point as if he was weeping. Moments later, after a retching sound, he added: “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”
Durst, 71, was picked up by the FBI and Louisiana state police in a hotel in New Orleans’s French Quarter and booked on Saturday night at the request of the Los Angeles Police Department. It was not clear how far in advance, if at all, the authorities were shown the final episode.
Durst was arraigned on Sunday morning and was expected to be extradited to California. He has a home in Houston – about four hours’ drive from New Orleans – which has been under surveillance since the documentary series started last month, according to a former prosecutor who has been after him for years.
Shortly after Durst’s arraignment, his younger brother, Douglas, issued a statement on behalf of the family corporation in which he said the family hoped Robert Durst would “finally be held accountable for all he has done”.
It is not known if Durst went to New Orleans in an attempt to run from the law, as he has done in the past. His booking photograph appeared to show him in an orange prison jumpsuit, and he is being held without bond – meaning he will remain in custody either until trial or until a judge releases him or until prosecutors decide to drop the charges.
Durst has long been a leading suspect in the Berman killing, because Berman had potentially damaging knowledge about the disappearance of Durst’s wife Kathie, also believed murdered, from the couple’s suburban New York home in 1982.
The original investigation fizzled, however, because the police could not place Durst in Los Angeles – though they knew he was in California – and because close study of the bullet used in the killing, and of a note written by the killer, could not be definitively linked to him.
Investigators were spurred to reopen the Berman case because of numerous new revelations in The Jinx.
Durst, who has a history of taking risks and believing he is in some way untouchable, did not help himself by consenting to sit for 25 hours of interviews for the series, against the advice of at least two teams of lawyers.
In the series, a compulsively watchable Durst blinked furiously and shuddered on many occasions when answering uncomfortable questions. When it was pointed out that he travelled out west exactly at the time Berman was murdered, he smirked visibly and said: “ California is a big state.”
Durst agreed to the interviews because he was happy to speak for himself after years of sensationalist media coverage giving a less than charitable account of his extraordinary brushes with the law and his Houdini-like ability to wriggle out of situations that would have condemned anyone without his imperturbable temperament or his unlimited access to elite criminal defense lawyers.
Most startlingly, he was acquitted of a murder in Galveston, Texas, which took place less than a year after Berman’s death, even though he admitted that he dismembered the body and dumped the pieces in garbage bags in Galveston Bay.
Durst was living in Galveston disguised as a mute woman – because of his fears of prosecution in New York or Los Angeles or both – and the victim was a neighbour living in the same house. After his arrest, he skipped bail and shaved his head and eyebrows but was rearrested days later after being caught shoplifting a chicken sandwich in rural Pennsylvania . He had $38,000 in cash on him at the time.
Durst’s lawyers put him on the stand, an unusual move in a high-profile murder case, and he managed to convince the jury that he may have killed in self-defence. His lawyers then convinced the jury that the dismemberment should not be taken into consideration in their verdict.
In the documentary, Durst could not pull off the same high-wire act. He admitted on camera that he lied to investigators in 1982 about his movements on the night of his wife’s disappearance. He sounded less than convincing when it was put to him that old mafia connections of Susan Berman’s may have helped him bury his wife’s body in the New Jersey pine barrens. And he acknowledged – even before the final episode – that the anonymous note could only have been written by the killer.
“I think that they clearly have enough now. California definitely does,” Jeanine Pirro, a former district attorney from Westchester County , New York , who reopened the Kathie Durst case in 2000, told Bloomberg News on Friday. “My instincts tell me that everybody realises that there appears to be sufficient evidence to go before a grand jury in California , and Robert Durst knows it.”