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Retired NYPD detective continues testimony in Robert Durst murder case

New York real estate scion Robert Durst, center, speaks with his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, at a previous court hearing. Durst appeared in a Los Angeles court this week for a hearing in his murder case.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The retired New York police detective who investigated the case of Robert Durst’s missing wife three decades ago testified Tuesday that several people told him the couple had a history of domestic violence.

Michael Struk took the stand in a Los Angeles courtroom and was often on the defensive over his investigation into the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s wife, Kathleen. Prosecutors believe that disappearance is key to the murder in Los Angeles of Durst’s friend, crime writer Susan Berman.

Durst, 74, is accused of shooting Berman inside her Benedict Canyon home in 2000. It was a hush-up killing, prosecutors assert, prompted by Durst’s fear that Berman would tell others what she knew about Kathleen’s disappearance.

Durst has denied killing either woman.

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Struk, a witness for the defense, previously testified that he began to suspect Durst a few weeks into the investigation, noting that people in Kathleen’s orbit told him that Durst was physically violent and exhibited “mental cruelty.” Eventually, Struk said, he became convinced that Durst killed his wife.

And yet, criminal charges were never brought against Durst in connection with his wife’s disappearance. Defense attorneys argue that undercuts the prosecution case that Durst killed Berman because of her knowledge of his involvement in his wife’s death. Prosecutors contend the lack of criminal charges signaled a shoddy investigation by authorities in New York.

On Tuesday, Struk testified that he was “not aware of any evidence that was conclusive” that Durst killed his wife.

But Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lewin displayed a note allegedly retrieved from the trash outside a home in Westchester County, New York, where Durst and his wife lived on the weekends. The note reads: “town dump, bridge, dig, boat, other, shovel or ?”

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Lewin asked Struk if it appeared to be “a list of how to get rid of a body?”

“It may be,” the detective said.

Struk testified that during the investigation multiple people, including Kathleen’s family members, told authorities that the couple had a history of domestic violence. The detective said he recalled getting medical records from a hospital in the Bronx, where Kathleen was treated for injuries to her face not long before she vanished. Struk said he didn’t recall following up with the physician who treated Kathleen, adding, “It would have been good to have done that.”

Durst, who has pleaded not guilty in the Los Angeles case, was arrested March 14, 2015, at a New Orleans hotel in connection with Berman’s slaying. The eccentric millionaire was arrested a day before the finale of “The Jinx,” a six-part HBO documentary about Durst, in which the real estate magnate mutters, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

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Some interpreted his comments, which were captured on a live microphone, as a confession to killing Berman and his wife, as well as Morris Black, a neighbor in Texas.

In the Texas case, Durst argued at trial that a gun fired while he was defending himself during a tussle with Black. He admitted to dismembering the body and dumping the parts in Galveston Bay, but jurors acquitted him of murder.

Struk’s testimony was cut short earlier this month after Durst was hospitalized for an unknown ailment. On Tuesday, Durst’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin, declined to provide details, calling his client’s health a “private” matter.

Struk is scheduled to continue testifying Wednesday.

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marisa.gerber@latimes.com

For more news from the Los Angeles County courts, follow me on Twitter: @marisagerber


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