New York state police, after recently reopening a 19-year-old investigation into the disappearance of the wife of a prominent East Coast developer, were attempting to arrange an interview with author Susan Berman just before she was found shot to death in her Benedict Canyon home late last month.
"We were interested in talking to her and we wanted to make it happen," said Westchester County Dist. Atty. Jeanine Pirro on Monday. "We were extremely disappointed when we heard what had happened."
New York authorities wanted to quiz Berman because she was a longtime close friend of Robert Durst, the son of the late Seymour Durst, once one of New York City's most powerful and wealthy developers. Pirro said police wanted to speak to Berman to see what she knew about the 1982 unsolved disappearance of Kathleen Durst, Robert Durst's wife.
Pirro said that authorities were re-interviewing everyone involved in the case and that Berman, who went to UCLA with Robert Durst in the 1960s and remained in touch, was considered a key person for police to talk to.
No suspects have been named in Berman's death and LAPD detectives are skeptical of a link between her shooting and the Durst case.
Berman, whose father was a notorious mob boss who teamed up with gangsters such as Bugsy Siegel to help create modern Las Vegas, was best known as a writer of books, articles and a documentary about Las Vegas and her life growing up there.
On Christmas Eve, Berman's body was found by police in her small home, a single gunshot wound to her head. She lived alone and police were alerted after neighbors spotted one of her dogs running loose and her door open. Police, who believe she may have been killed a few days earlier, said that nothing appeared to be missing from her home and that the assailant entered without signs of a struggle.
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.
Durst, 57, has been investigated in the case but has never been charged. He has steadfastly held that he was not responsible for his wife's disappearance. He could not be reached for comment Monday.
Last year, after reopening the case following a tip, police began to reexamine a summer home that Durst had once owned. They even sent divers to search the bottom of a lake near the home.
"I find it hard to believe there's not a connection" between the Durst and Berman cases, said Gilberte Najamy, a Connecticut woman who was a friend of Kathleen and Robert Durst during their marriage and one of the last people to see her alive.
Najamy said that she met Susan Berman about 20 years ago, in New York society circles, and got to know Berman because she was a friend of Durst.
She said that after Kathleen's disappearance, Susan Berman acted as an "informal spokesman" for Robert Durst, calling the press and people who suspected that he had a role in Kathleen Durst's disappearance to give his side of the story. She said Durst and Berman had forged a tight bond as students in the 1960s at UCLA.
Berman's manager, Nyle Brenner, said that his client and Robert Durst were longtime friends who, while not seeing one another often, kept in close contact over the phone. "He's always been somebody in her life," said Brenner, who noted that after police recently announced that they were again looking closely at the case, Berman had "mentioned she was worried about Bobby [Durst]."
LAPD Det. Brad Roberts, in charge of the Berman investigation, said police would look into any possible connection between the Durst case and the author's murder. But Roberts said he saw no connections at this time.
"We've still got nothing on this one. No real leads," he said.