Q&A

Woman once courted by Robert Durst describes strange relationship

In interview, woman once courted by alleged killer millionaire Robert Durst details strange relationship

Linda Walker Zevallos of Dallas was once courted by real estate heir Robert Durst, and after appearing on NBC's "Today" show Wednesday she spoke with the Los Angeles Times about Durst -- who is now charged with murdering Beverly Hills author and friend Susan Berman in December 2000 -- and a letter Durst sent Zevallos that she later turned over to Beverly Hills police.

This is Zevallos' conversation with the Times:

How did you meet Robert Durst?

I went with some newspaper friends to the national newspaper convention in New York, and I was returning from New York when he sat right next to me.

So that was in 2000?

Yes. Al Gore spoke and I remember we were talking about the election.

I didn’t have anything to read and I asked him to share his newspaper, and he did. It was the New York Times. We just started chatting. I was going through a divorce after a long marriage. He kind of just listened. I was doing all the talking. He was a great listener.

What did he tell you about himself?

He said he was a labor lawyer with two daughters who went to Harvard, were lawyers and lived in Geneva [Switzerland].

On the plane he did tell me that a friend of his wife was missing. I sort of shrugged. Then he told me that again. When he said it again I asked, “Well, where did she go?” and he said, “They don’t know.”

What happened after you arrived in Dallas?

When I got my stuff together and got off the plane, he was standing there waiting for me. He said, “Would you like to go out some time?” I wasn’t sure -- my husband was a doctor in Dallas .… The next day I get probably $500 worth of orchids. They were from San Francisco.

They were beautiful. They had his card with it.

So he called you a couple times after that and you agreed to have lunch with him?

He asked me to lunch across the street from where he lived. I met him at his apartment and walked across the street to Eatzi’s [restaurant].

He said he once owned a health food store in Vermont and he told me the name: All Good Things.

I said something about him being a labor lawyer and he said, “Well, I really work in real estate and my father had buildings, high-rises in Times Square.”

He wasn’t smoking marijuana. He wasn’t drinking too much. He was nice.

He was putting on his nice side.

What was his apartment like?

He had real estate pictures on the walls. He was redoing a place in San Francisco. There were pictures, diagrams of rooms, what he was going to do with remodeling.

He lived at the Centrum tower in Oak Lawn, high up, big balcony, but there wasn’t much there -- desk, chair, little sofa, no kitchen or dining room table.

One time when I was over I said something about, "I’m going to go to the ladies room." I was right to the door, he said, “Oh, I forgot, don’t go in there -- it’s all dirty.” He said the apartment was converting to condos and the bedroom next to the powder room was all concrete and there was a saw on a stand, an electric saw. He said, "You can go in my bedroom, there’s a bathroom in there," so I did.

Did anything else odd happen when you went out together?

He wanted to take me to a nice restaurant .... I had to cancel and he got all mad …. I said I’ve got my [13 year-old] son and he’s got to eat too and he said, “Well, he can come.” We were on our way and he said, “Oh, I forgot I've got two guns in the backseat.” My son said he couldn’t actually see them. But he [Durst] kind of bragged on what they were -- I think one of them was a Magnum .357, (I’m not a gun person). They were handguns. I started in to him about why would you have guns in the car? He said, “For safety.”

What happened then?

We went to dinner .… Bob ordered mussels marinara .… he just sat and listened to us ….

The next day he called me and said, “I just couldn’t get over your relationship with your son. You all are like friends.” He said, “You know, I was raised by a governess.” It was sad.

At the time there was no Google, so I didn’t know the whole back story.

Did you date him?

It wasn’t romantic. He kept trying, though .… One time he asked me, “Well, are we going to have a relationship?”

He said, “You don’t like me, you’ve got your jillionaire friends.”

He was in and out of town -- he was in New York and San Francisco.

His sister used to call [him] all the time, her name was Wendy. Debbie [Charatan, who later became Durst's wife] called constantly. They didn’t talk long. Every time she called he’d go “Debbie!”

He said they had tried to live together for a short amount of time and it just didn’t work but they were friends.

Did anything else odd happen when you were going out?

He asked me [one night at dinner] what I was going to have.

I said the sea bass, and he said, “Well you can’t have that, that’s what I’m going to have.” I said, “Well I don’t care,” and he kicked me under the table. We didn’t say anything, we just sat there. I was mad and he was mad and I thought, “This is going to be a long night.” He got over it and it ended up being a nice night. He changed his order.

It wasn’t like we were going to share food.

He sent the letter the next day by courier.

He called and said, “Did you get the letter? Did he hand it to you?”

He was mad because he wanted [the courier] to hand it to me.

In the letter he talked about how it must be difficult what you’re going through being head of household. He used to say I should really be married, financially, he was very focused on that -- head of household.

I was going to Cape Cod with some newspaper friends. He asked me to call him from Cape Cod, he had his number and asked me to save time for him in August. He ended it with "Your friend, Bob."

What happened to that letter?

I had thrown this letter in with some pictures and with all that was going on in Galveston [Texas, where Durst stood trial in 2001 accused of murdering his neighbor], I didn’t know where the letter was so I didn’t call investigators. It wasn’t until several years later that I found it -- we were going through pictures. I just put it in a drawer in my bedroom.

I ran across a report about the “cadaver” letter [sent to Beverly Hills police after Berman’s slaying them to the body] that said it was written in green ink. I thought, “Oh, I have to go look at the letter and see if it was in green ink.” And there it was -- green ink.

So I called [Los Angeles police Det.] Paul Coulter and said I knew Bob in Dallas years ago and had this letter. He got mad at first and said, “Well why haven’t you contacted me before?” and wanted me to send him the letter. So I did.

When was that?

About 2008.

I was just shocked that I had gone out with somebody like that.

Looking back, were there signs?

When I finally got really creeped out by him, he had come over and I had a son who was going to SMU [Southern Methodist University], he was 19, he answered the door and [Durst] brought some beer, he said, “I knew you wouldn’t have any beer in here.” The phone rings, and I answer it and come back in and he [Durst] is going through my purse. I said, “Bob, what are you doing?”

He just dropped the purse. I said, “Bob what are you doing?” He said, “I was just moving your purse.”

He wanted to get this movie that had just come out at Blockbuster. I said what is it? “American Psycho.” He was all excited about “American Psycho.”

I went to Blockbuster and rented “American Psycho.” I watched about five minutes and I couldn’t watch any more. It was about a guy in New York killing people. It was just too violent.

Had you seen other movies together?

We went to see a movie once, an old movie. It was about [Fort Worth oil heir] Cullen Davis killing his stepdaughter [and attacking his ex-wife]. It was from the 1970s, and I told him I remembered seeing it -- it [the case] was a huge deal at the time.

Did you have a falling-out later?

He had asked me to make tennis reservations and I couldn’t make it .… He called and said, “Well you didn’t make the reservation, so I went and played and charged it to you.” I was so mad. He charged an indoor court to me. He had a lesson and paid cash for the lesson and charged the court to me.

When I called Paul Coulter and was telling him about my experience with him [Durst], he said, “Well, are you sure it’s him?"

"He goes to your tennis club, he’s rich. Why would he do that?” It was because he wanted attention.

After that, I told him don’t call me.

But he kept calling you anyway?

I was moving .… he called and my son picked up and he [Durst] said he was a real estate agent interested in the house, and he [my son] just said, “It’s sold!" and hung up. That was pretty creepy. He kept calling, and I knew it was him because he would call from San Francisco and New York. He just sat there breathing and he wouldn’t say a word. He stopped calling me in November [2000]. Then, two, three weeks later he gets married to Debbie.

I was right there, right in the middle of all that.

When you later saw news reports about Durst and watched the HBO series, did you recognize elements of his life in Dallas?

When Bob and I went to dinner it was the same car, the silver Honda [he was later arrested in]. When they arrested Bob there were only two things in the back: the saw and his tennis racket. He bought the tennis racket over at my club.

Had you ever asked him why he drove that car?

Yes. I was like, “Why do you have a car like this?” I had a Range Rover. He said, “I like this car.” He told me that he had ordered a smart car in New York.

Did Durst have other friends in Dallas?

He had some relatives who lived in Dallas who I happened to know … he said they were in real estate .... He knew an art dealer downtown. I never met his friends, and he never met mine. We went out a handful of times. He was not a happy person.

Since this happened, I read everything about him. He got my attention finally -- he didn’t have it at the time. The green ink thing, I think that’s interesting. Maybe he used the same pen.

Did he ever talk about Susan Berman?

We were walking one day and he got a call. He says, “I’ve got a friend, Susan Berman, she wrote these books -- one of them is ‘Easy Street.'” He said she lives in L.A. and they were friends from college, from UCLA. He said her father was in the mafia, the Jewish mafia. He said that she was having some problems and that he needed to go to L.A. and see her.

When was that?

August 2000.

Twitter: @mollyhf

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
81°