Whoever plays Robert Durst in the TV movie had better have range, because Durst has displayed a bounty of personas over the years: Manhattan playboy, heir to a real estate fortune, jealous husband, fugitive and, in the opinion of some, devious killer. Durst, 60, was acquitted last week of murdering his elderly neighbor, Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas. The verdict was a shock because Durst has a history of finding himself close to people who die or disappear and because he himself described grisly details surrounding Black's demise. In court he admitted dismembering the body but said he recalled little of the horror, except that at one point he was "swimming in blood."
Durst was born to privilege, but he has always lived on the edge of trouble. Westchester, N.Y., district attorney Jeanine Pirro is investigating the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack. He is also a "possible suspect," according to Los Angeles police, in the murder of Susan Berman, an L.A. writer who was executed gangland style on Christmas Eve 2000. Oh--and while he was on the lam, Durst sometimes dressed as a woman.
The fact that Durst's high-priced legal team has kept him insulated from punishment in Texas has outraged some. "I went through a range of unprintable emotions before reaching anger, which is where I am right now," says Jim McCormack, Kathleen's brother. Members of Durst's family say they fear that he might come after them next. In 2001 Robert allegedly drove to his younger brother Douglas' estate in Katonah, N.Y., armed with two guns.
So how did a guy worth an estimated $250 million, according to his lawyer, end up in a $300-a-month Galveston apartment in a death struggle with an elderly seaman? The eldest child of Seymour Durst, a New York City real estate tycoon, Durst was 7 years old when he reportedly saw his mother Bernice fall to her death from the roof of their home in what may have been a suicide. In 1972 he married Kathleen McCormack, a beautiful dental assistant. The couple had a history of violent confrontations, and on Jan. 31, 1982, she vanished. Then on Christmas Eve 2000, Durst's friend Susan Berman was shot in the head in her home just days before she was to be interviewed by investigators seeking information about Kathleen's disappearance.
In 2001 Durst was living in Galveston under the identity of a mute woman named Dorothy Ciner. "Dorothy" wore cargo pants and a blond wig. In Galveston, Durst met Black, 71, who lived across the hall and, according to Durst's testimony, became his "best friend." On Sept. 28, 2001, Durst returned to his rental to find Black there watching television. A scuffle ensued, Durst's pistol went off, and Black is believed to have died of head trauma.