Near Durst Experiences

Part One

Robert Durst had the chutzpah to pitch a show about his being suspected of getting away with murder. Being linked to three deaths led to Durst being rewarded with a six-part documentary airing this month.

Family and friends of his first wife, Kathie, who disappeared mysteriously in 1982, remain convinced that Durst was responsible for her death. Next to die was Susan Berman, his best friend since their days together at UCLA, who was found dead in her Los Angeles home on Christmas Eve of 2000 just as she was to be questioned by investigators again looking into what happened to Kathie eighteen years earlier. Durst insisted he'd not killed either woman, but a year later did plead guilty to the murder and dismemberment of a neighbor in Texas, where he was then living. He was acquitted by a jury that bought his self-defense plea.

His character is every bit as compelling as the plot. This anti-hero is a millionaire, an heir to the fortune created by his father, Seymour Durst, who turned over control of the highly successful Manhattan real estate company, The Durst Organization, to his younger son, Douglas, feeding a sibling rivalry worthy of a biblical narrative. Not only does Robert claim to have witnessed his mother's suicide when he was seven, but after moving to Galveston, Texas in 2001, he masqueraded as a mute woman. While most murder suspects might choose to remain silent and maintain a low profile, Robert Durst contacted the man who'd produced a dramatized show about him and offered to be interviewed for a documentary.

Instead of being in jail, this month he's on HBO, getting far more than 15 minutes of fame.

My interest in this project is not only professional, but personal as Susan Berman was a friend. We met in the late '70s, when I was asked to speak to a group of aspiring screenwriters at a Columbia Pictures workshop in New York. Chatting afterwards, she and I discovered we knew people in common and lived in the same neighborhood so agreed to get together for lunch. Expecting to be asked for career advice, I was surprised that while studying the menu, she opened with, "Sybil, I always thought of my father as a hotel owner, but I recently found out he was a gangster." She went on to tell me that she was writing a book about her family.

"What was your father's name?" I asked.

"Davie Berman. He ran Vegas with Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky." An only child, she lit up when talking about her father, letting me know how devoted and loving he'd been. Telling the story seemed cathartic for her and certainly fascinating for me. I was sorry when the check appeared. Susan reached to pay. "Sybil, my purse is gone." Clueless, she remained frozen in her chair.

"Are you in a doorman building?" I asked.


Tossing bills onto the table, I jumped up and said, "Someone has your keys. Let's go."

Producers of the documentary promise that at the end of the series, we will know what happened. I invite you to tune follow the show as well as my blogs and weigh in with your thoughts. My hope is the series will be more effective than the justice system has been.

I honor lives of loved people and pets by designing memorial urns and vases for those we've lost, and invite you to see my work --