Arrested real estate heir Robert Durst to head to California to face murder charge

Real estate heir Robert Durst will be heading back to California to face a first-degree murder charge after waiving extradition during a hearing Monday.

Durst, 71, appeared before a judge in New Orleans. He was arrested Saturday in New Orleans on murder charges the night before an HBO documentary broadcast audio of him muttering « What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course. »

Durst was taken into custody by FBI agents at a J.W. Marriott hotel for the 2000 murder of Susan Berman in her Beverly Hills, Calif. home, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.

Durst had been laying low in the hotel to avoid the growing attention at his Houston home, his lawyer said.

He shuffled into the courtroom with his hands shackled at his waist, wearing sandals and an orange jumpsuit. He appeared to fall asleep just before the hearing started and later answered « yes » to questions from the judge about whether he was waiving extradition.

On Sunday evening, HBO aired the final episode of « The Jinx, » a documentary series about Durst, who has been tied to the disappearances or deaths of two other people in addition to Berman. In the final moments of the episode, after an interview with filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, Durst went into a bathroom still wearing a wireless microphone. 

What followed was a rambling monologue in which Durst said, among other things, « There it is. You’re caught. What a disaster. » The program did not make clear whether the film’s producers confronted Durst about his words, but The New York Times reported that more than two years passed before the filmmakers found the audio.

Jarecki told ABC’s « Good Morning America » on Monday that he didn’t notice the bathroom audio right away because it was a small film crew. It wasn’t until later, when they brought on more editors, that one of them heard it.

« It was so chilling to hear it, » he said. « It was disturbing to hear it. It makes you very uncomfortable to hear it. »

Earlier in the episode, the filmmakers had confronted Durst with similarities between an envelope he had sent to Berman the year before she was killed and an anonymous letter to Beverly Hills Police around the time of her death warning them that they would find « a cadaver » in Berman’s home. Both letters were written in block handwriting and the writer misspelled Beverly Hills as « Beverley » on both occasions.

In the documentary, Durst admitted addressing the earlier envelope to Berman, but denied writing to the police at the time of her death. Jarecki then presented Durst with enlarged versions of the misspelled « Beverley » from each envelope.

« Can you tell me which one you didn’t write? » Jarecki asked. Durst admitted that he could not.

The Los Angeles Police Department issued a statement saying that « as a result of investigative leads and additional evidence that has come to light in the past year, investigators have identified Robert Durst as the person responsible for Ms. Berman’s death. » The Los Angeles Times reported that the documentary had played a role in the decision to arrest Durst Saturday. However, authorities did not say specifically what evidence enabled them to charge Durst with murder. 

Durst was ordered held without bond pending another hearing Monday.

« He’s maintained his innocence for years, » said his lawyer, Chip Lewis. « Nothing has changed. » Lewis added that he has no doubt the timing of the arrest was orchestrated in coordination with HBO’s broadcast of the final episode. Neither LAPD nor the movie’s producers would comment on that claim.

« We simply cannot say enough about the brilliant job that Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling did in producing The Jinx, » HBO said in a statement Sunday. « Years in the making, their thorough research and dogged reporting reignited interest in Robert Durst’s story with the public and law enforcement. »

Durst’s estranged family thanked authorities for tracking him down.

« We are relieved and also grateful to everyone who assisted in the arrest of Robert Durst. We hope he will finally be held accountable for all he has done, » said his brother, Douglas Durst, in a statement.

Berman was a writer whose father had been a known associate of Las Vegas mobsters Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky. She became a spokeswoman for Durst following the disappearance of his wife, Kathie, in 1982. In that case, Durst told investigators at the time that he last saw his wife when he dropped her off at a train station in Westchester County.

Berman, 55, was killed execution-style two days before Christmas in 2000. Her murder came just as police were about to interview Berman about Kathie Durst’s disappearance.

Durst also made headlines in 2003, when he was acquitted in the murder of Morris Black, whose dismembered body was found stuffed in plastic garbage bags in Galveston Bay, Texas, two years earlier. Durst admitted he dismembered Black’s body, but was acquitted after claiming self-defense.

Late Sunday, former Galveston County District Court Judge Susan Criss, who presided over that trial, told The Washington Post it was « like watching a slow train wreck. The prosecution dropped the ball in every way and the defense came prepared. » Criss described Durst as calm and occasionally charming during the proceeding, but told the Post that she believes him to be a serial killer.

« I saw the pictures of [Black’s] cut up body, » Criss said. « That body was cut up like it had been done by a surgeon. He knew what sort of tool to use for this bone and that muscle. It would have been impossible for someone to do that if it was their first murder attempt. That is a cold, calculating act. »

Before being tried for Black’s murder, Durst jumped a $1 billion bond. However, he was caught in Pennsylvania weeks later after shoplifting a sandwich and Band-Aids.

In 2014, Durst was arrested for urinating on a drug store candy display near his home in southwest Houston. He was charged with criminal mischief after urinating on at least $100 worth of confectionary, authorities said at the time. 

The oldest son of the late real estate mogul Seymour Durst, whose Durst Corporation manages 1 World Trade Center, Robert Durst became estranged from his family when his brother Douglas was chosen instead of him to run the family business.

Robert Durst had known tragedy from an early age — he said that when he was seven, his mother committed suicide by jumping off a building.

« The story is so operatic, » Jarecki told the AP before his documentary aired.

« That’s what’s so fascinating to me — seeing someone who is born to such privilege and years later is living in a $300-a-month rooming house in Galveston, Texas, disguised as a mute woman. »

Jarecki told a fictionalized version of Durst’s story in « All Good Things, » a 2010 film starring Ryan Gosling. Then he got a call from Durst himself, who wanted to see it, and eventually agreed to talk on camera.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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