Real Estate Scion Robert Durst Tries to Subpoena DA Over Missing Wife
UPPER WEST SIDE — Real estate scion Robert Durst wants to know what investigators know about his wife's disappearance more than 30 years ago, DNAinfo.com New York has learned.
The oddball multimillionaire, who for decades has been dogged by suspicions that he played a role in her disappearance, has gone to court to get the goods on the Westchester District Attorney's ongoing probe into the mystery.
Last year Durst, 69, quietly asked a judge to let him subpoena two prosecutors and an investigator in the DA's office.
The highly unusual request, filed on May 1 in Manhattan Surrogate's Court, sought to ascertain "the extent and nature of any activity that has taken place in this investigation during the past three years." It also wanted to learn whether prosecutors have convened a grand jury and which witnesses they have interviewed. The filing also asked for evidence and time records showing the amount of hours devoted to the investigation, which was opened in 2000.
Durst's demand was part of a grab to claim his wife's relatively modest estate, which has sat in escrow since 2001, when a judge declared it off limits until the Westchester DA wrapped up its investigation and ruled him out as a suspect.
Durst, whose family owns a massive Manhattan real estate empire, claimed in the filing that the subpoenas would prove that the investigation had gone belly up — and that the money, nearly $82,000, should go to him.
The filing claimed that since the 2001 decision, "an additional 11 years have gone by with no new evidence, no indictment and no arrest."
"An investigation which was very active (and very public) in 2001 has become a 'cold case,'" the filing added.
In a court filing responding to the subpoena, Westchester prosecutor John Carmody derisively called the request "a fishing expedition" and that Durst had no right to information about an ongoing investigation.
Carmody added that "the professed intention for seeking the subpoena is suspect" since Durst, the son of a billionaire, was trying to "obtain access to a few thousand dollars."
In June, Manhattan Judge Nora Anderson agreed and denied Durst's subpoenas and his claim on his wife's savings. He appealed in August and is awaiting a decision.
The legal maneuvering is just the latest chapter in a bizarre storyline involving a broken marriage, body-carving and bail-jumping.
On Feb. 5, 1982, Durst reported Kathleen missing to police. The call came five days after he said he had put her on a train in Westchester following a weekend spent in their cottage in South Salem, N.Y. Durst claimed Kathleen had headed back to their Upper West Side apartment to take care of appointments that week.
Even then a cloud of suspicion formed. Durst made inconsistent statements to police. Kathleen's friends also claimed that before she vanished, she had confided that her marriage was disintegrating and her husband was abusive. But Durst was never charged.
In 2000, Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro opened her own probe after receiving a new tip. Her pursuit and the ensuing media publicity drove a skittish Durst into hiding. He left New York and eventually moved to Galveston, Texas, where he cross-dressed as a woman and lived under a fake identity.
After Durst skipped town, a close friend, writer Susan Berman, was killed execution-style in Los Angeles days before Westchester investigators planned to interview her about the case. California authorities have never linked Durst to the murder.
Durst stayed under the radar until October 2001, when he was busted for killing and carving up his neighbor Morris Black in Galveston. He claimed he fatally shot Black in self-defense, then, in a moment of panic, dismembered the body and dumped it in the Gulf of Mexico.
A jury believed his version and acquitted him of murder, but Durst still spent three years in jail for jumping bail and leading authorities on a 45-day manhunt.
When he finally left prison, he continued to make news. In 2006, his family cut ties with him and gave him $65 million as severance.
In 2011 Durst, who has a residence in Houston, gave Harlem residents chills when he bought a townhouse on Lenox Avenue for $1.75 million.
City records show that in February 2012, he sold an East Village apartment to his second wife, Debrah Charatan, for nearly $5 million. Durst divorced Kathleen in 1990 and married Charatan in a secret ceremony in December 2000.
Robert Damast, Durst's lawyer, declined to comment on the reason for going after Kathleen's money and the subpoenas.
"The documents speak for themselves," he said.
Kathleen's brother, James McCormack, said he knew of Durst's try for his sister's cash, but didn't know why.
"I don't know what his motives are," he told DNAinfo.com New York. "He is intelligent. I think he just manipulates the world."
McCormack, 68, added that authorities have told him that the investigation into his sister's disappearance is not closed.
"I presume that she was killed by this guy," he said of Durst. "There are two other deaths associated with him. He beat the case down in Texas, which is bizarre."
Pirro left her post as district attorney in 2006, but the office has continued its probe.
A spokeswoman for the Westchester DA declined to comment about the court battle, but Carmody's filing shows that prosecutors think Durst has a lot of chutzpah.
"The notion that, in an open investigation, a prosecutor could be required to disclose to someone who has not been ruled out as a suspect any records or information relating to that investigation is unprecedented," Carmody wrote. "Indeed, [Durst] cites absolutely no legal authority in support of his request."