For all the garish headlines that attended his wife’s disappearance and the gruesome killing of Mr. Black, it was the slaying of Ms. Berman that finally wrote an end to one of America’s longest running true-life crime thrillers, the case of a tycoon who used many aliases in an odyssey that spun off books, films, television dramas and avalanches of online commentaries.
For years, Ms. Berman, a journalist, had been Mr. Durst’s spokeswoman and staunchest defender in confrontations with reporters and his wife’s family and friends after her disappearance. Yet Mr. Durst was belatedly charged with Ms. Berman’s murder in 2015 in a reinvestigation of her killing, which had occurred 15 years earlier.
Prosecutors asserted that Mr. Durst had fatally shot Ms. Berman because she was about to tell investigators that Mrs. Durst’s disappearance had been a hoax — that he had actually killed his wife and disposed of her body. Ms. Berman, the investigators said, had also been prepared to confess that she had helped him cover up the crime.
Mr. Durst had always denied involvement in his wife’s disappearance and in the murder of Ms. Berman. After his arrest in the Berman case, he was not brought to trial for nearly six years. Held in custody at a medical facility of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, he underwent surgeries for esophageal cancer and fluid on the brain.
Undone by His Own Words
The long-delayed trial finally began in Los Angeles in early 2020, but after the selection of a jury and opening statements, it was postponed again in March, this time because of the coronavirus pandemic. The trial resumed in May 2021, and like almost everything else in the Durst saga, it was bizarre, with jurors spread across the courtroom gallery, prosecutors occupying the jury box and everyone, including the judge, wearing masks as a precaution against Covid-19.
During the trial, Mr. Durst’s brother Douglas, who oversaw the family’s $8 billion real estate empire, and Nick Chavin, a longtime friend of Mr. Durst’s, were both witnesses for the prosecution. Mr. Chavin testified that in a 2014 sidewalk conversation in New York, Mr. Durst admitted that he had killed Ms. Berman, saying: “It was her or me. I had no choice.”
Prosecutors called 80 witnesses and introduced nearly 300 exhibits. But the most damaging evidence came from Mr. Durst’s own mouth, as the jury heard him make a series of recorded acknowledgments — in an interview with John Lewin, a deputy prosecutor, after his arrest in 2015; in hundreds of jailhouse phone calls; and in 20 hours of interviews with a producer of a documentary on Mr. Durst.
Robert D. McFadden