The Life and Crimes of Robert Durst: A Timeline

Robert Durst is transported from Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to the Orleans Parish Prison after his arraignment in New Orleans, Tuesday, March 17, 2015. Durst was rebooked on charges of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, and possession of a weapon with a controlled dangerous substance, a small amount of marijuana. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Robert Durst. Photo: Gerald Herbert/AP

Manhattan real-estate scion Robert Durst is dead at the age of 78, months after his conviction for the murder of his friend Susan Berman. Durst became a household name due to the HBO documentary series The Jinx, which covered the three murders he was accused of committing, and which climaxed with Durst’s seeming admission that he “killed them all.” Here’s a timeline of all of Durst’s alleged misdeeds — and unlike The Jinx, it’s all in the correct order.

Durst, the eldest son of a wealthy New York real-estate magnate, meets Kathie McCormack, a teenage dental hygienist who lives in one of his family’s buildings. Their love affair is swift; after two dates, Durst invites Kathie to move to Vermont, where he owns and operates a health-food store. She accepts his offer.

At the insistence of his father, Durst moves back to New York to rejoin the family business. He takes Kathie with him, and the couple are married later that year. He is 30, she 19.

The marriage sours. Kathie tells friends and family that Durst has become controlling and abusive, and claims he forced her to have an abortion. She considers divorce, but is hamstrung by an “unfair” prenup. Both she and Durst begin having affairs — he with Prudence Farrow, the inspiration for the Beatles song “Dear Prudence.”

January 6, 1982
After one assault, Kathie takes a friend’s advice and visits the hospital, receiving treatment for bruises.

January 31, 1982
Kathie Durst attends a party at her friend Gilberte Najamy’s house in Connecticut, but leaves early after receiving an angry phone call from Durst. Before returning to the couple’s Westchester home, Kathie tells Najamy, “If something happens to me, check it out. I’m afraid of what Bobby will do.” This is the last account of her movements that comes from someone besides Durst.

February 5, 1982
Durst reports Kathie missing. In his telling, Kathie returned to the couple’s South Salem cottage the night of the 31st, then, after a fight, said she wanted to go back to the city. Durrst tells police he dropped her off at the Metro-North station in Katonah, then spoke to her over the phone when she arrived at her Manhattan apartment. His story appears to be backed up by testimony from a doorman, who says he saw Kathie enter the apartment building, as well as from the associate dean of her medical school, who says a person identifying herself as Kathie called in sick the next day. When asked why he didn’t report his wife missing sooner, Durst says that because of her med-school duties, it was not unusual for him to go two or three days without seeing her.

Spring 1982
A group of Kathie’s friends investigate the Dursts’ Westchester home and discover Kathie’s mail in the trash, unopened. They go to the police, who have formed their own suspicions: The doorman admits he only saw Kathie from behind and from a distance, and despite Durst’s claim that he spoke to his wife from a payphone, the nearest payphone is miles from his house. But with no evidence of a crime, Kathie Durst’s disappearance officially remains a missing-person case. Eventually, Robert Durst withdraws from the press, and appoints his friend Susan Berman, New York Magazine writer and daughter of a famous Las Vagas gangster, as his unofficial spokesperson.

After a period of mourning in which he “retreated inside himself,” Durst returns to work at his family’s company. 

Durst starts dating Debrah Lee Charatan, an ambitious New York City real-estate broker.

Durst sells the South Salem cottage and secretly divorces his missing wife, citing abandonment. He moves into an Upper East Side apartment with Charatan the same year, but leaves after nine months because the neighborhood is “stuffy.”

Durst is passed over as head of his family’s company in favor of his younger brother, Douglas. (The last straw is his alleged habit of peeing in his uncle’s trashcan.) He breaks from his family and spends the rest of the decade traveling the country as a vagabond. He maintains an apartment in New York City, and stays in intermittent contact with Charatan.

Late 1999
After receiving a bogus tip about the location of her body, police in Westchester reopen the Kathie Durst case, this time as a possible homicide. They search the Dursts’ old cottage in South Salem, as well as a nearby lake, but find nothing.

August 2000
Susan Berman, short on cash and living in Los Angeles, writes Durst a letter asking for money. Months later, he sends her a gift: two checks, worth $25,000 each. Around this time, New York police reach out to Berman about the newly reopened Kathie Durst case.

December 11, 2000
Durst marries Charatan in a secret 15-minute ceremony. The rabbi was hired out of the phone book, and later tells the Daily News, “Durst was rather taciturn. He was not buoyant and didn’t smile.”

December 19, 2000
Durst flies from New York City to San Francisco, then heads south, destination unknown.

December 23, 2000
Durst flies back to New York from San Francisco.

December 24, 2000
Berman is found dead in her Los Angeles home, with a gunshot wound to her head. There are no signs of forced entry, and all her valuables remain in place. The main piece of evidence is an anonymous letter addressed to the “Beverley Hills” police, which informs them that there is a “cadaver” in Berman’s house. Though Kathie Durst’s friends suspect she was murdered to keep her from telling the police what she knew about the disappearance, Berman’s own circle maintains that her “moblike code of loyalty” would have prevented her from even considering testifying against Durst. The LAPD considers Durst a possible subject, but focuses on her manager, Nyle Brenner.

April 2001
To escape media attention, Durst moves to Galveston, Texas, where he poses as a mute woman named Dorothy Ciner. (The name comes from a former high-school classmate.) He lives in a Spartan boardinghouse, where his neighbor is an elderly man named Morris Black.

September 30, 2001
A family fishing in Galveston discovers a dismembered torso floating off the beach. Police investigate the bay and find additional severed body parts, as well as the packaging for a bow saw and a newspaper with the address of the boarding house. When police search the trash at the boarding house, they find a receipt with Durst’s name on it.

October 3, 2001
Police return to the boarding house with a search warrant and find blood in Black’s room, as well as a trail of blood leading to the apartment of “Ciner.” A search of that apartment yields a bloody knife and a bloody pair of men’s boots. After realizing that the torso is Black’s and that Ciner is Durst, they put a warrant out for Durst’s arrest.

October 9, 2001
Police finally arrest Durst, who had been staying at a hotel under the name of “Jim Truss,” another high-school classmate. A search of his car reveals the bow saw that was used to dismember Black, as well as a gun. With Charatan’s help, he posts a $300,000 bail, then disappears.

October 18, 2001
Posing as Morris Black, Durst rents a car in Mobile, Alabama.

November 2001
A judge in New York declares Kathie Durst legally dead. The $60,000 Durst inherits is placed in escrow until the investigation into her death is completed.

November 30, 2001
Durst is finally arrested in Pennsylvania, after he’s caught trying to shoplift a sandwich. He has more than $500 in cash on him. His car is found to contain two guns, Morris Black’s driver’s license, and $37,000.

September 2003
Durst goes on trial for the death of Morris Black. He argues that he killed Black in self-defense after the older man threatened him with a gun, although he admits, “I did dismember him.” (He also admits that his marriage to Charatan was “a marriage of convenience” to give her power of attorney.)

November 11, 2003
Durst is found not guilty of the murder of Morris Black.

September 29, 2004
Durst pleads guilty to tampering with evidence and jumping bail. He is sentenced to five years in prison with credit for time served.

December 2005
Durst is paroled and told to stay near his home. He violates these instructions and returns to the boardinghouse where Black was killed, as well as a mall, where he is spotted by the judge who presided over his murder trial. Durst is thrown back in jail for violating his parole.

February 7, 2006
Durst receives a $65 million settlement from his family.

March 1, 2006
After his lawyer files a petition arguing that the parole restrictions were too obtrusive, Durst is released from prison.

Andrew Jarecki’s All Good Things, a docu-drama based on Durst’s life, is released. Durst sees the film at a private screening and later tells the New York Times, “parts made me cry.” Against the advice of his lawyer, he contacts Jarecki to offer a lengthy sit-down interview, which will eventually become HBO’s The Jinx.

Late 2010
Durst is interviewed on-camera for The Jinx and denies any culpability in the deaths of Kathie Durst and Susan Berman. Sometime after this first interview, Jarecki discovers an envelope addressed to Berman from Durst, which matches the handwriting of the “cadaver letter” and includes the same misspelling of “Beverley Hills.”

Jarecki interviews Durst a second time and confronts him about the newfound envelope. Durst is unable to identify which handwriting is not his. In the bathroom afterwards, Durst mutters to himself, “There it is, you’re caught. What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.” Though Durst’s microphone is on, the audio remains unexamined for two years.

Early 2013
Jarecki begins sharing the results of his investigation with police.

August 16, 2013
Robert Durst is arrested for violating a restraining order his brother had placed against him. (In The Jinx, the timeline is rearranged to show this arrest happening before Durst’s second interview.) He is later acquitted on trespassing charges after arguing he should not have been expected to know where his estranged family members lived.

Early 2014
The LAPD reopens its investigation into Susan Berman’s murder.

June 12, 2014
The Jinx filmmakers discover the audio of Durst’s bathroom monologue.

July 24, 2014
Durst turns himself in after peeing on a candy rack in a Houston CVS. He later pleads no contest to criminal mischief and receives a $500 fine.

November 2014
After reexamining the “cadaver” letter, the LAPD concludes that Durst was the author.

March 10, 2015
After the fifth episode of The Jinx introduces the crucial envelope, Durst goes on the run. the At the same time, a Los Angeles judge signs a warrant for Durst’s arrest for the murder of Susan Berman.

March 14, 2015
The day before the Jinx finale, the FBI arrests Durst in New Orleans, where he is thought to be planning an escape to Cuba. At the time of his arrest, Durst is in possession of a gun, $40,000, and a latex mask. The LAPD denies that the show had anything to do with the timing of Durst’s arrest, while legal experts disagree over whether or not his bathroom confession will be admissable in court.

March 17, 2015
Durst is officially charged with first-degree murder. Because he’s accused of murdering a witness and “lying in wait,” he could face the death penalty if convicted.

March 18, 2015
The New York Daily News discovers a 2003 report from the San Francisco District Attorney’s office that attempts to connect Durst to the 1997 disappearance of two teenage girls in Northern California. According to the report, Durst would frequently stay at a homeless shelter where one of the missing teens volunteered.

March 23, 2015
Durst’s extradition to California is put on hold while he faces charges in Louisiana for the gun found in his hotel room.

March 24, 2015
Vermont police begin investigating a possible link between Durst and a college student who went missing in 1971 after shopping at his health-food store.

February 3, 2016
Durst pleads guilty to the gun charge. As part of his plea deal, he is sentenced to 85 months in federal prison.

November 7, 2016
Durst pleads not guilty to the murder of Susan Berman.

October 26, 2018
After a series of delays brought on by Durst’s ill health and Hurricane Harvey, a superior-court judge orders Durst to stand trial for the Berman murder.

April 2019
Court documents filed by Durst’s defense team reveal that the infamous “killed them all” tape from The Jinx had been significantly edited by the filmmakers.

January 1, 2020
In a pre-trial court document, Durst’s lawyers concede he wrote the “cadaver” letter.

March 2, 2020
Durst’s trial for the murder of Susan Berman finally begins.

March 15, 2020
The trial is put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the interruption, jurors had been presented with the full context of the “killed them all” quotes.

May 17, 2021
The murder trial resumes.

September 17, 2021
Durst is convicted for the murder of Susan Berman. He is later sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

October 16, 2021
Durst is placed on a ventilator after contracting COVID-19.

October 22, 2021
State police in New York charge Durst with the murder of his wife Kathie.

January 10, 2022
Durst goes into cardiac arrest at California’s San Joaquin General Hospital and dies.

The Life and Crimes of Robert Durst: A Timeline