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The Jinx: New York property heir found guilty of murdering friend years after HBO documentary

The Jinx: New York property heir found guilty of murdering friend years after HBO documentary

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New York multi-millionaire and property heir Robert Durst has been convicted of his best friend’s murder in a case that has fascinated America for years following an infamous TV documentary.

A jury in Los Angeles reached the guilty verdict after a total of just seven hours of deliberation over three days.

They concluded that he shot his friend Susan Berman in her Los Angeles home in December 2000.

During the trial, prosecutors told the court that he had killed Ms Berman to prevent her telling police what she knew about the disappearance and suspected killing of his wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, in New York in 1982.

Ms Berman told friends she had provided a phony alibi for Durst after his wife, then aged 29, vanished.

Lawyers told the jury that Durst was a “narcissistic psychopath” and argued that while he was only on trial for one murder, he was actually suspected of three.

Robert Durst and Susan Berman. Pic: HBO
Image:
Robert Durst has been found guilty of killing Susan Berman in December 2000. Pic: HBO

Aside from Berman and his wife, Durst is thought to have killed a neighbour in Texas while on the run. He had been found not guilty of that killing in 2001.

Durst, now aged 78, was the subject of an HBO documentary in 2015 called The Jinx, in which he apparently confessed.

The New York real estate heir was arrested while hiding out in a New Orleans hotel on the eve of the airing of the final episode, in which he was confronted with incriminating evidence and made what prosecutors said was a confession.

He was caught on a live microphone in the bathroom saying to himself: “What the hell did I do?.. Killed them all, of course.”

Durst, who missed court due to contact with a positive coronavirus case, faces life in prison without parole when he is sentenced for first-degree murder on 18 October.

He told the court he visited Berman in LA just before Christmas in 2000. He said he found her dead on a bedroom floor when he arrived and denied he was in the state at the time of her death.

Robert Durst and his wife Kathleen McCormack Pic: HBO
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Durst is suspected of killing his wife Kathleen McCormack Durst in 1985. Pic: HBO

Berman, a writer who had been friends with Durst since they were students at the University of California, Los Angeles, had serious financial problems at the time.

Durst, who is worth an estimated $100 million, had given her $50,000. Prosecutors suggested she was trying to leverage more money from him by telling him she would reveal the truth about his wife’s death to the police.

He was accused of shooting the 55-year-old in the back of the head at point-blank range.

The ruling is a victory for prosecutors who have struggled to successfully convict Durst in three states.

After initially escaping suspicion over his wife’s disappearance, attention was once again turned on the case when New York authorities reopened it the same year as Ms Berman’s death.

Fearing charges, Durst fled to Galveston, Texas, where he took on the persona of a mute woman named Dorothy Ciner.

Although, he eventually dropped the disguise after mishaps that included walking into a men’s restroom and igniting his wig at a bar while lighting a cigarette.

It was during this time he was linked to the killing of his neighbour 71-year-old Morris Black. He was acquitted of the crime after claiming self-defence but did admit to dismembering the victim’s body and tossing it out to sea.

Real estate heir Robert Durst in a court in New York in 2014
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Real estate heir Robert Durst in a court in New York in 2014

He jumped bail while in Texas and was arrested after shoplifting a chicken sandwich in Pennsylvania, despite having $37,000 in cash – along with two handguns – in his rental car.

Durst also tried to hide from authorities by hiding at a New Orleans hotel with a shoulders-to-head latex mask for a presumed getaway.

He later said that he was “the worst fugitive the world has ever met”.

While filming The Jinx, the filmmakers discovered a crucial piece of evidence that connected Durst to an anonymous note sent to police directing them to Ms Berman’s lifeless body.

Filmmakers confronted him with a letter he sent Ms Berman a year earlier. The handwriting was identical and Beverly Hills was misspelled as “Beverley” on both.

The gotcha moment provided the climax of the movie as Durst stepped off camera and muttered to himself on a live microphone in the bathroom: “Killed them all, of course.”

During the trial, Durst admitted that he sent the note and had been in Los Angeles at the time of Ms Berman’s death.

Defence lawyer David Chesnoff said on Friday they believed there was “substantial reasonable doubt” and were disappointed in the verdict. He said Durst would pursue all avenues of appeal.

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