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Robert Durst murder case aided by HBO documentary

Robert Durst arrested in New Orleans on a murder warrant related to slaying of Los Angeles writer

Police have been wanting to talk to Robert Durst about the slaying of Los Angeles writer Susan Berman for 15 years.

But a new HBO documentary series about the New York real estate scion appeared to have jolted the cold case. A source in law enforcement said information uncovered in the program played a role in the investigation. On Saturday, Durst was arrested in New Orleans on a murder warrant related to Berman's slaying.

Jeanine Pirro, the former Westchester County, New York, district attorney who investigated Durst in connection with his wife's earlier disappearance, credited HBO's documentary with moving the case forward.

“Sooner or later justice prevails. We are not quite there yet,” said Pirro, now a Fox News host. “We hope when the next chapter is written he will finally have to pay for at least one crime he committed.” 

A rundown of events related to Berman's life and death:

Q: What do we know about Berman's slaying?

On Christmas Eve 2000, Berman's body, with a single gunshot wound to the head, was found by police in her small home. She lived alone, and police were alerted only after neighbors spotted one of her dogs running loose and her door open. At the time, police said they believed she may have been killed a few days earlier, that nothing appeared to be missing from her home and that the assailant entered without signs of a struggle.

At the time of her death, authorities in New York were trying to talk to the L.A. writer about the disappearance of Durst's wife.

In 1982, Kathleen Durst vanished shortly after she began talking about her desire to get a divorce from her husband. She had been fighting with her husband the night she disappeared, according to a good friend, who said Durst was worried about what her husband might do to her.

Berman acted as an "informal spokesman" for Durst, calling to give his side of the story to media outlets and people who suspected that he had a role in his wife's disappearance. Durst and Berman went to school together at UCLA.

Q: What did "The Jinx" documentary on HBO show?

Beverly Hills police received an anonymous letter postmarked Dec. 23, 2000, the day it is believed Berman was killed, alerting them to the presence of a "cadaver" at her home. The address on the envelope was written in distinctive block letters and included the misspelled word "Beverley."

In the episode of "The Jinx" that aired March 8, Berman's stepson Sareb Kaufman finds a letter written from Durst to Berman in March 1999 among her belongings. Clearly troubled, he shares it with "Jinx" producer Marc Smerling, who notes in a phone call to director Andrew Jarecki that it is "exactly like the cadaver note, down to the misspelling of Beverly."

Q: What did the director of the movie make of the Durst/Berman relationship?

"It's really clear that he loved her, platonically. I've always seen that relationship as demi-romantic in that it was never an overtly romantic relationship," Jarecki told The Times earlier this year. "But I have to assume that she was in love with him. First of all, women love Bob. I don't know that all women love Bob, but certainly some women love Bob a lot, and he's had no trouble attracting women. I always felt that Susan had a thing for Bob and at some level figured maybe they would end up together when he was finished with all of this gallivanting around."

Q: Are there more revelations in the documentary?

The Berman slaying was covered in the March 8 installment. The final episode airs tonight.

Q: Has Durst always been a suspect in the case?

After Berman was killed, police said that detectives wanted to talk to him. In a 2011 New York magazine article, LAPD detectives said they were focused on Durst. "We would like to question him, we would love nothing more than to sit down with Durst and talk to him about this," said LAPD homicide Detective Paul Coulter, the lead investigator in the Berman case. "There's nobody else we're looking at."

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