Robert Durst, the eccentric millionaire who fascinated viewers as the subject of HBO’s documentary series “The Jinx” before being convicted last year of murder, has died in a California prison hospital, according to his longtime attorney Dick DeGuerin. He was 78.
Durst, who had been housed at the California Health Care Facility in Stockton, died of natural causes at 6:44 a.m. on Monday, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The coroner in San Joaquin County will determine an exact cause of death.
Serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole, Durst was being treated since he was diagnosed with Covid-19 in October. The real estate heir also suffered from a multitude of other ailments, including bladder cancer.
Durst’s bizarre life of fortune and infamy played out before tens of millions of viewers of the HBO series, which aired in 2015.
The fortune came from an inheritance, as Durst was born into a New York City skyscraper empire built by relatives, including his father. The infamy came from the deaths of three people close to him, starting with his first wife, Kathie McCormack Durst.
In “The Jinx,” an eerily calm Durst, along with detectives, friends, and family, discussed McCormack Durst’s mysterious disappearance in 1982. Durst said he last saw his wife when he dropped her off at a train station in South Salem, New York, near their weekend home.
She was headed for Manhattan, where she was finishing medical school, Durst said.
Kathie’s brother, Jim McCormack, and other members of her family screamed murder, alleging Durst physically and mentally abused her. McCormack Durst was declared legally dead in 2017. Her body has not been found.
In a sensational moment in “The Jinx,” Durst said he did not want to have children because “somehow I thought that I would be a jinx.”
Durst was also caught off camera but on a live microphone during the broadcast muttering, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”
His lawyers argued Durst’s comments were heavily edited and not uttered in the order in which they are heard in the documentary. But his comments would lead to Durst’s arrest for the murder of a longtime friend and confidante, Susan Berman, in her Los Angeles-area home in 2000.
Durst was arrested in New Orleans the night before the final episode of the “The Jinx” aired in March 2015, making the finale must-see TV. (HBO, like CNN, is owned by WarnerMedia.)
Prosecutors said Berman knew that Durst had killed his wife, and he shot and killed his former UCLA classmate to keep her from incriminating him in a scheduled interview with investigators.
He repeatedly denied killing Berman, but also swore for years he did not write a highly publicized so-called ”cadaver note” that pointed police to Berman’s body. Durst’s lawyers would later concede their client did write the “cadaver note.”
His multimillion-dollar defense team asserted their client found Berman’s body, panicked, and ran because he thought no one would believe he did not kill his friend. Durst ran far from that crime scene and other troubles, eventually winding up in Galveston, Texas, where he lived in a shabby apartment in a converted house.
Durst disguised himself as a woman, pretended to be mute and befriended his across-the-hall neighbor, Morris Black.
Death again seemed to follow Durst, as he wound up on trial for the Black’s killing. He said it was self-defense when his gun went off in a struggle with Black, whose body was later found cut up in Galveston Bay. A Texas jury acquitted Durst of murder.
Authorities eventually flew Durst to Los Angeles to stand trial for Berman’s murder. While his defense team sought delays and filed motions for mistrials, Durst’s health deteriorated.
Durst finally went on trial in March 2020 before the trial was suspended for more than a year because of Covid-19. When he was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2021, his legal team motioned for a mistrial, arguing he could not competently defend himself from the witness stand in his state of poor health.
But the judge denied the defense motion for mistrial, and several others. The trial finally resumed in May 2021.
Durst insisted he testify in his defense, a strategy that imploded. Prosecutor John Lewin’s withering cross-examination of Durst spread out over nine contentious days. The cross-examination might have gone on longer, but the judge outside the jury’s presence limited the prosecution’s time, saying the defendant’s credibility had already been destroyed.
Lewin prompted Durst to say he estimated he perjured himself five times during the trial. When asked if he would lie if he had killed his first wife and his confidante Berman, Durst replied “correct.”
The jury took just seven hours to reach a verdict and convict Durst of first-degree murder.
In his last days in court, Durst looked frail and spoke barely above a whisper, bent over in a wheelchair.
Less than a month later, Durst was diagnosed with Covid-19, and on November 1, a grand jury in New York indicted him for murder in the death of Kathie McCormack Durst.
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