Who was Susan Berman? Suspected serial killer Robert Durst allegedly killed best friend, tries postponing trial
The real estate scion, the subject of the HBO true-crime documentary 'The Jinx,' is currently on trial for the murder of his best friend, Susan Berman, in her Beverly Hills residence over two decades ago
Attorneys for Robert Durst are hoping to further delay his murder trial that was scheduled to resume next week after filing an emergency motion on Thursday, May 13. They sais that the 78-year-old couldn't stand trial due to his untreated bladder cancer and a “myriad” of other health issues.
The real estate heir, 78, who is the subject of the HBO true-crime documentary 'The Jinx,' is on trial for the murder of his best friend, Susan Berman, in her Beverly Hills residence over two decades ago. The trial was initially suspended after just a few days of testimony in March 2020 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, CNN had reported. It was slated to resume on Monday, May 17, but Durst’s attorneys have now requested an "indefinite continuance" in the case, arguing in the aforementioned motion that his health is rapidly deteriorating.
Lawyers for Durst argued that the criminal trial was "grueling for a healthy individual, let alone a 78-year-old man with serious health conditions, including bladder cancer, prior esophageal cancer, malnutrition, coronary artery disease with drug-eluting stents, atrial fibrillation, and chronic kidney disease."
Who was Susan Berman?
Durst is accused of killing his best friend, Susan Berman, who was shot in her home on Christmas Eve in 2000. While he has denied any role in her death, his lawyers have admitted that he sent the anonymous note with the word "cadaver" written on it while directing authorities to her body.
According to prosecutors, Durst killed Berman fearing she was going to tell New York authorities that he had killed his wife in 1982 and helped him cover up the crime. Kathleen Durst's body was never found, although she had been legally declared dead. Meanwhile, Durst has never been charged in relation to her disappearance and has denied having anything to do with her demise. Berman, however, was killed just days before she was due to meet New York investigators who were probing Kathleen's disappearance.
Berman was an American journalist, author, and the daughter of Davie Berman, a Jewish-American organized crime figure who operated on behalf of Meyer Lansky and the Genovese crime family in both Minneapolis and Las Vegas. She wrote about her late-in-life realization of her father's role in that criminal empire.
Durst's defense lawyer said his client "panicked" after he found Berman's body and wrote an anonymous note to the authorities, including Berman's address and the word "cadaver." The information led police to Berman's residence, where she was found murdered execution-style with a 9mm handgun.
Fifteen years after she was murdered, on March 14, 2015, Durst was arrested in New Orleans on a first-degree murder warrant issued out of Los Angeles in connection to Berman's slaying. Three days after his arrest, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey said Durst could face the death penalty in California for "special circumstances of the murder of a witness and lying in wait." He was subsequently arraigned in California in early November 2016.
Berman and Durst's wife disappearance
There have been a number of accounts, such as 'Murder of a Mafia Daughter' by author Cathy Scott, that have cited possible connections between Berman's murder and the disappearance of his first wife in 1982. Berman is said to have become a confidante of Durst at UCLA in the late 1960s, years before he came to know Kathleen after moving to New York. True Crime Zine, in a review of Scott's book, wrote that "detectives came to suspect one of [Berman's] long-time friends but have never been able to charge him with murder."
It is believed that Berman initially acted as a media spokesperson for Durst and had facilitated his public alibi during Kathleen's disappearance. According to the report, Berman supplied a deposition in the case in 1982, which Durst reportedly faxed to investigators after her murder. She had remained Durst's friend throughout and received two significant cash gifts totaling $50,000 from him in the months before her death.
Investigators said Berman had last written to Durst on November 5, 2000. A the time, she expressed hope that her financial entreaties would not ruin their friendship. Earlier that year, New York State Police had re-opened an investigation into Kathleen's disappearance at the request of then-District Attorney Jeanine Pirro of Westchester County, with Kathleen's friends reportedly urging authorities to contact Berman for an interview. Berman would be murdered just weeks after the re-opened investigation became public.
In Durst's March 2015 arrest warrant, authorities mentioned a previously undisclosed typewritten letter mailed from New York on January 9, 2001, to a West LA police station. The letter, titled "Possible motive for Susan Berman murder", suspected Durst was involved in his wife's disappearance and specified that he was planning to visit her in late December. Speaking to the New York Post in February 2017, Berman biographer Scott said that the evidence pointed to his guilt in Berman's murder. This was before witnesses testified against the real estate scion in a pre-trial hearing.
In 2003, Durst was acquitted in the murder trial of his neighbor Morris Black, whom he admitted to dismembering after shooting him "in self-defense" during a struggle inside a Galveston, Texas apartment they shared. The trial went on for five years.
Durst's dramatic arrest was featured in 'The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.' The critically-acclaimed HBO documentary featured several interviews with Durst that also helped frame the charges against him. Durst raised eyebrows during the final moments of the series after producers captured audio of the suspected serial killer talking to himself about the deaths in the bathroom as his microphone was still recording.
“There it is. You’re caught,” he reportedly said, before mumbling, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”