Who was Bernice Durst? Robert Durst said he saw mom jump to death from roof of NY home, brother called it a lie

Robert Durst had a difficult upbringing following the death of his mother, Bernice, in 1950. His 32-year-old mother died after falling from the roof of their Scarsdale residence in New York and Robert, only seven at the time, claimed he saw her jump from the roof


                            Who was Bernice Durst? Robert Durst said he saw mom jump to death from roof of NY home, brother called it a lie
Robert Durst (L) claimed he witnessed his mother Bernice's (R) death in 1950 (Getty Images, HBO)

Robert Durst, an heir to a New York real-estate empire, had been in the spotlight for years, thanks to his family's legacy and reputation in the corporate world. However, he soon found himself under fire following the mysterious disappearance of his wife Kathleen McCormick, later known as Kathie Durst, in 1982.

Trouble seems to have followed the eccentric millionaire throughout his life. He had a difficult upbringing following the death of his mother, Bernice, in 1950. His 32-year-old mother died after falling from the roof of their Scarsdale residence in New York. However, Robert, only seven at the time, claimed he saw her jump from the roof.

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Who was Bernice Durst?

Bernice Herstein was born into a Jewish family from Germany on September 6, 1918, in Scarsdale, Westchester County, New York. She married investor Seymour Durst in 1940 and the couple had four children together, namely Robert, Douglas, Wendy, and Thomas Durst. 

The socialite died on November 8, 1950, under mysterious circumstances, falling from the roof of the family's Scarsdale home during the middle of the night. Robert, a suspected serial killer, claimed he witnessed his mother's death, but his younger brother Douglas insisted that all four children were together at a neighbor's house during the tragedy. According to Douglas, his brother is attempting to blame childhood events for his depraved, criminal behavior in order to gain public sympathy.

How did she die?

During an interview in HBO's 2015 documentary 'The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst', the suspected murderer recounted his version of what took place on the fateful night in 1950. He claimed his father had brought him to the window and told him to look outside. “And there was mommy,” Robert told producers. “I waved at mommy. I don’t know if she saw me. It never went through my mind, ‘What is she doing out on the roof in her nighty?'”

Real Estate Heir Robert Durst appears in the Airport Branch of the Los Angeles County Superior Court during a preliminary hearing on December 21, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Getty Images)

He then claimed to head back to bed before hearing the maid yell, "She’s off the roof.” “It was a long, long fall,” he said. “I never forgot. I was there. It happened. I saw it. It never left me.”

But Douglas, who was chosen to head the family business in the early 1990s, said that Robert had fabricated the whole scenario. “On the night my mother died, Robert was not brought to the window by my father, Seymour, and asked to wave to my mother,” he wrote in a letter, responding to his brother's claims. “I, and my three siblings, were awoken and whisked out of our house to our neighbors for the duration of the tragedy. The four of us were together the entire time and none of us witnessed the death of our mother.”

Developer Douglas Durst speaks at a press conference announcing the opening of One World Trade Center on November 3, 2014 in New York City. (Getty Images)

At the time of the incident, authorities described it as an "accident." Some reports claimed the 32-year-old mother-of-four had overdosed on asthma medication, but an article in The Brooklyn Eagle dated November 9, 1950, described her death as a suicide. 

"More than a dozen policemen and firemen had gone to the Durst home after an employee in the house had notified police that Mrs Durst had managed to climb out on the roof," the newspaper reported. "Then fireman Thomas Langan climbed to the top of a ladder reaching to the roof. As he did so, he said Mrs Durst flung herself from the roof and plunged past him. He grabbed her bathrobe as she fell, seized it temporarily, but the weight of her body pulled it from his grasp." 

Bernice Durst was immediately rushed in an ambulance to the White Plains Hospital, but she was declared dead on arrival. That said, it is still unclear whether her death was caused by a fall or suicide.

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