Robert Durst admitted to writing a cryptic note that police have long believed was penned by the person who shot and killed Susan Berman inside her Benedict Canyon home nearly two decades ago, according to a court filing made public this month.
The so-called cadaver note — an anonymous letter sent to Beverly Hills police containing only Berman’s address and the word “cadaver” — has been considered a critical piece of evidence in Durst’s pending murder trial, ever since the scandal was vaulted back into the public eye by the 2015 HBO documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.”
Durst’s legal team has repeatedly denied Durst wrote the note and fought to block handwriting experts from testifying at the New York real estate scion’s murder trial. But in a Dec. 24 court filing, the defense abruptly reversed course on the issue.
After noting that Durst “vigorously objected to the introduction of evidence at trial from a forensic document examiner” that identified him as the author, his defense team said it was making a “strategic decision” to acknowledge that Durst wrote the document described as the “cadaver note,” according to the filing.
The development was first reported by the New York Times.
Durst’s lead defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said in an emailed statement: “We will not be publicly discussing strategy or evidence. This does not change the fact that Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman and doesn’t know who did.”
Calls and emails to representatives for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office were not immediately returned.
In 2015, shortly after the HBO series revitalized public interest in Durst and his suspected involvement in three killings across the U.S., the millionaire was arrested in New Orleans in connection with Berman’s 2000 slaying.
Police believe Durst killed Berman, a crime writer and longtime confidante who sometimes acted as his unofficial spokeswoman, to prevent her from disclosing information about the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathleen.
The cadaver note was believed to have been written around the same time Berman died, and investigators have long believed the author of the note also killed her. In the HBO series, Berman’s stepson was shown discovering a letter Durst wrote to Berman in 1999 with the word “Beverly” spelled incorrectly as “Beverley.” The same error was made on the cadaver note.
The note has been a fixture of the Los Angeles Police Department’s investigations into Durst for nearly two decades. In 2002, LAPD detectives obtained a writing sample while Durst was awaiting trial in Galveston, Texas, for the killing of his elderly neighbor, Morris Black.
Under a judge’s orders, Durst scribbled the words “BEVERLEY HILLS POLICE,” “1527 BENEDICT CANYON” and “CADAVER,” the sum total of what was contained in the “cadaver note.”
After claiming that a gun fired while he was defending himself during a tussle with his neighbor, Durst was acquitted by a jury of Black’s murder.
The Texas fact-finding mission followed an earlier mistake by the LAPD. In February 2001, just months after Berman was killed, an LAPD handwriting expert concluded it was “highly probable” that the note was written by Berman’s manager, Nyle Brenner, not Durst. After investigators obtained fresh writing samples from Durst in 2002, the same expert reversed himself and concluded Durst was the author.
Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham has barred the expert’s analysis from being introduced as evidence at Durst’s trial, calling the conclusion “garbage” during a hearing this year.
Jury selection in Durst’s trial is tentatively scheduled to begin Feb. 10, though the proceedings could last into the summer.