As Robert Durst found guilty of homicide, Connecticut college grad's disappearance remains unsolved

As real estate mogul Robert Durst was found guilty Friday of murder, his former wife’s family is still seeking closure in her disappearance that was at the center of the Los Angeles homicide trial.

After several days of deliberations, the jury found Durst, 78, guilty of the 2000 homicide of Susan Berman, his close friend who California prosecutors said was killed because she was about to come forward with information in the disappearance of Kathie Durst.

Kathie Durst, who graduated from what was then known as Western Connecticut State College in Danbury, vanished on Jan. 31, 1982. The 29-year-old disappeared after leaving a friend’s house in Newtown to return to the couple’s home in South Salem, N.Y., authorities have said.

Robert Durst has not been charged in his wife’s death or disappearance.

However, the disappearance was central to the evidence presented during his California trial, which began in March 2020 and was paused for 14 months due to the pandemic before it resumed in May.

Durst was charged in Berman’s homicide in March 2015 as the final episode was set to air for the HBO six-part series, “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” which chronicled the millionaire’s life and connection to three people’s deaths over four decades.

Durst, who was acquitted in the 2001 homicide and dismemberment of one of his neighbors in Texas, was alone in a bathroom in the HBO series when a live microphone caught him saying, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

Berman was a close friend to Durst who defended him when allegations surfaced after his wife was reported missing.

Berman was found shot dead in her Los Angeles home in December 2000, according to prosecutors, who said she was about to come forward with information in Kathie Durst’s disappearance.

Robert Durst had contended he dropped off his wife at the train station in Katonah, N.Y., on the night of Jan. 31, 1982. He had said his wife was going to stay at their Manhattan apartment because she had class the next morning at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.

In August, Robert Durst testified during his trial that he lied to a police detective when he said he spoke to his wife on the phone days after he dropped her off at the train station.

"That was a lie," Durst testified. "I wanted to convince him that Kathie had gotten back."

He also testified that he’s no longer sure if he saw her get on the train.

"Everyone has asked me that question, and I have changed my mind maybe a dozen times," Durst said under questioning from his attorney Dick DeGuerin. "Did I actually see Kathie walk through the doors and onto the train? The answer is no. But there is no place else to go."

Authorities have said they believe Robert Durst never took his wife to the train station and that she likely was killed at home in South Salem, which is just over the Ridgefield border in northern Westchester County.

Robert Durst’s attorney challenged the strength of the prosecution’s case, arguing there was no evidence of Kathie Durst's death. DeGuerin said the case also lacked forensic and direct evidence linking his client to the disappearance.

While authorities have contended Berman impersonated Kathie Durst to call out sick from the medical school the day after the disappearance, DeGuerin said prosecutors failed to prove that happened. Authorities have said the call was intended to make it appear that Kathie Durst was still alive.

In May, Westchester County District Attorney Miriam Rocah said her office had assigned the investigation to a newly formed cold case unit that would reexamine DNA and other evidence.

She said statements “publicly made by the suspect” and additional witnesses coming forward have made the case a priority again.

“We want to do it right,” Rocah said. “The family wants and needs closure and the community needs closure.”

In 2017, a judge declared Kathie Durst dead. However, her family appealed the ruling, which declared her dead five years after her disappearance. The family sought to have her death officially listed as the day she disappeared, court documents stated.

In 2018, an appeals court sided with the family, overturning the ruling and declaring Kathie Durst’s death as Jan. 31, 1982.

Kathie Durst was about to finish medical school to become a pediatrician when she vanished, her family said. She was close to her mother and her siblings and did not have a reason to suddenly break contact with them and vanish, the appeal documents said.

“Even Durst himself acknowledges that Kathie was close with her friends and family, especially her mother and her siblings and was in constant contact with people she loved,” an attorney for the family said in court documents. “There was no evidence presented as to why Kathie would inexplicably cut off communication with her loved ones.”

In the weeks before her disappearance, Robert Durst had physically abused her so “severely” she required hospitalization, the family said in the court documents. He also admitted he had a physical confrontation with his wife in their home on the evening she disappeared, court documents said.

Robert Durst moved to divorce his wife “ex-parte” after she disappeared and filed an affidavit that neither he, nor her family, had seen her since Jan. 31, 1982.

Kathie Durst’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2019, close to 40 years after she disappeared, but it was thrown out by a New York judge because the statute of limitations ran out 35 years earlier.

The judge told the family they could refile if Robert Durst is charged with his missing wife’s homicide.

In May when the Westchester County District Attorney reopened the case, Rocah said domestic violence investigations have evolved since Kathie Durst disappeared.

“At the time of this alleged homicide occurred, we didn’t have a good understanding of domestic violence,” Rocah said.