Robert Durst Allegedly Killed Best Friend to Cover Up Wife's Disappearance — and Trial Starts Today

Robert Durst is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Susan Berman

Susan Berman and Robert Durst
Susan Berman and Robert Durst. Photo: HBO

In December of 2000, writer Susan Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas mob boss, was found dead in her Los Angeles home. She had been shot in the back of the head, execution-style.

Authorities have long believed that her close friend, New York City real-estate heir Robert Durst, killed her. The alleged motive, according to prosecutors? Berman knew Durst was allegedly behind the 1982 disappearance of his first wife Kathleen Durst, whose remains have never been found.

“When pushed into a corner, he murders people,” Los Angeles prosecutor John Lewin previously told a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.

Berman’s killing, the unsolved disappearance of Kathleen and the chain of bizarre, macabre events — including the decapitation killing Durst’s elderly neighbor in Texas, Morris Black — will take center stage during Durst’s upcoming trial in the death of Berman, which begins this week in a Los Angeles courtroom.

Jury selection begins Wednesday.

Durst, 76, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in connection with Berman’s death.

“The bottom line is that he didn’t kill Susan Berman,” Durst’s attorney Dick DeGuerin previously told PEOPLE. “And he doesn’t know who did.”

Jefferson Siegel/NY Daily News via Getty Images

Berman’s body was found in her home in the Benedict Canyon neighborhood on Dec. 23, 2000 shortly after New York investigators reopened Kathleen’s case.

Kathleen, a 29-year-old medical student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, was last seen alive on January 31, 1982, when she appeared at a friend’s dinner party, looking upset. Durst later filed a missing persons report, telling police they’d had a fight later that night at their South Salem, New York, cottage and that he’d driven her to the station to catch a train to New York City.

She was never seen again. Prosecutors in Los Angeles and police in New York believe Durst killed her.

The day after Kathleen disappeared, a woman claiming to be Kathleen Durst called the dean of the medical school and said she was too sick to attend the first day of her pediatric clerkship. Prosecutors allege the woman who placed the call was Berman herself.

Berman, who met Durst at UCLA in 1965, was his unofficial spokesperson after Kathleen’s disappearance.

‘If Anything Ever Happens to Me, Bobby Did It’

During an earlier pre-trial hearing, Berman’s friend Miriam Barnes testified that Berman asked her to stop by her apartment after Kathleen’s disappearance because she had something she wanted to tell Barnes about Durst.

“I’m going to tell you something, but I need you not to ask me any questions,” Barnes testified, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I did something today.”

robert and Kathy durst
Kathie and Robert Durst. HBO

Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Sign up for PEOPLE’s free True Crime newsletter for breaking crimenews, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases.

According to Barnes, Berman didn’t elaborate, but simply said, “If anything ever happens to me, Bobby did it.”

Durst’s long-time friend Nick Chavin also testified during a conditional hearing in 2017 that he had dinner with Durst in New York City in 2014, after Durst had called him to say he wanted to talk about Berman and Kathleen.

“I believed the only thing it could be about was the unanswered question about whether he was responsible for Kathie’s disappearance and the death of Susan Berman,” Chavin testified.

He said they didn’t end up talking about Berman or Kathleen at dinner, but when they were leaving Chavin said he decided to ask Durst about it.

Susan Berman
Susan Berman. HBO

“I said, ‘You wanted to talk about Susan,’ and Bob said, ‘I had to, it was her or me. I had no choice,’ ” Chavin testified. “He then turned to walk away, and I said, ‘You wanted to talk about Kathie,’ and he kept walking away and nothing more was said.”

Durst was charged with Berman’s murder on March 14, 2015. His apprehension in New Orleans preceded the airing of the damning final episode of HBO’s The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which focused on Kathleen’s disappearance and Berman’s execution-style killing.

In the HBO finale, Durst appeared to mutter to himself that he’d “killed them all, of course” after he was confronted by filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, who presented him with a 1999 letter he had penned to Berman. The missive’s handwriting appeared to match an anonymous letter mailed to Beverly Hills Police, alerting them to a “cadaver” at Berman’s residence.

Both letters also misspelled the word “Beverly” as “Beverley.”

Last month, Durst’s defense team admitted he wrote the note to police.

Related Articles