Of all the characters who cross paths with Robert Durst in The Jinx, perhaps the most enigmatic is Durst’s second wife, Debrah Lee Charatan. First seen bailing Durst out of jail after his 2001 murder arrest, Charatan appears only in archival police interview footage, where she’s a brash, sarcastic presence. (She declined to be interviewed for the documentary, perhaps wisely.) With little else to go on, both Jinx fans and the series itself have speculated on the exact nature of Charatan’s relationship with Durst. As one interviewee put in in the penultimate episode, “A lot of people believe Debbie knows Bob’s secrets, whatever they may be.”
As Durst’s legal troubles have been well covered in the press, so, too, have various snippets of Charatan’s biography. Here’s what we know about her so far.
Like Durst, she’s a powerful figure in New York City real estate.
Unlike Durst, it seems to be her passion. Charatan first came to fame in the 1980s, running all-female brokerage firm Bach Reality and telling Harper’s Bazaar she had aspirations of being “a female Harry Helmsley.” Alongside her son from her first marriage, she currently heads BCB Property Management, which has been instrumental in the gentrification of Crown Heights.
She met Durst in the late ’80s and dated him for at least two years.
According to the New York Times, the couple began dating in 1988, six years after Durst’s first wife Kathleen disappeared. Both came from tragic families: Durst’s mother had died in front of him, while Charatan’s parents had survived the Nazi invasion of Poland, which cost her father his foot. The pair moved into an Upper East Side apartment together in 1990, the same year Durst officially divorced his missing wife, but the cohabitation was short-lived. (She kept the apartment.) The pair stayed in contact throughout Durst’s travels in the ’90s, and she was reportedly a “lifeline” for him whenever he visited New York.
They were secretly married in December 2000.
The timing is important, as it’s shortly after the Kathie Durst case was reopened, and only weeks before the death of Susan Berman. Their wedding was apparently a rushed affair — 15 minutes, one witness, a rabbi hired from the phone book. “Durst was rather taciturn,” the rabbi later told the New York Daily News. “He was not buoyant and didn’t smile.” The Jinx implies Durst married Charatan to prevent her from testifying against him, and as for what was in it for her, a former co-worker told the Times, “For Debbie, it’s all about the money. When she met Bob, she hit pay dirt.”
Charatan was a frequent visitor during Durst’s Galveston trial, and a confidante during his stint in jail.
As seen in The Jinx, Charatan was the driving force behind Durst’s decision to fire attorney Michael Kennedy and go with a local lawyer, Dick DeGeurin. According to transcripts of jailhouse phone calls obtained by the New York Post, the decision was a purely mercenary one: Kennedy wanted to go with an insanity defense, which could jeopardize both Durst and Charatan’s share of his family’s fortune. (When Durst jumped bail, police prevented her from withdrawing $1.8 million from his accounts.) Other parts of the transcripts reveal Charatan saving Durst from potentially incriminating himself, interrupting him when he threatened revenge against Berman’s friend Kim Lankford, and reminding him that his armed appearance outside his brother’s house was a “suicide” attempt. Despite all this, Durst didn’t fully trust Charatan, telling his sister their wedding was “a marriage of convenience … I had to have Debrah to write my checks. I was setting myself up to be a fugitive.” Later, Charatan appeared on what police claimed was Durst’s “enemies list.”
She’s still married to Durst, and handles his real-estate deals.
Charatan eventually moved out of the Fifth Avenue apartment she’d shared with Durst, and traded it up for another one; when she sold that apartment in November, the tabloids still called her Durst’s wife. Through BCB, she and Durst invested money from his trust fund in buildings in Williamsburg and Carroll Gardens, and flipped them for a $12 million profit last summer.
Update: But she’s cut ties with him since The Jinx.
A new story on Charatan in the Times reports that her relationship with Durst “has taken a sharp turn in recent years.” She reportedly has not spoken to him since the premiere of The Jinx last month — the woman who helped plan Durst’s attempted escape to Cuba was not Charatan, as originally suspected, but someone else — and is currently living with one of his lawyers, Steven I. Holm.