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‘He’d like to murder me’: Estranged brother testifies at Robert Durst trial

Robert Durst at his murder trial
Real estate heir Robert Durst watches as his defense attorney speaks during his murder trial in Inglewood.
(Law&Crime Network / Pool Photo)

The estranged brother of Robert Durst, the real estate heir on trial in his best friend’s slaying, reluctantly testified Monday that the two siblings never got along and that he feared his eldest brother would kill him.

“He’d like to murder me,” Douglas Durst bluntly told jurors in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Douglas Durst, head of one of New York’s largest commercial real estate firms, said his brother was angry and bitter over an acrimonious inheritance settlement of tens of millions of dollars. Douglas said he had not seen Robert in 20 years but was worried because of threats he has made.

The chairman of the Durst Organization, which owns some of Manhattan’s premier skyscrapers and 2,500 apartments, said he and his eldest sibling have fought since childhood.

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Douglas Durst, estranged brother of murder suspect Robert Durst
Real estate developer Douglas Durst, the estranged brother of murder suspect Robert Durst, in 2007.
(Gary He / Associated Press)

“He treated me miserably,” Douglas said. “He would fight with me at every chance. He would embarrass me.”

Despite the bad blood, Douglas said he did not want to testify against his brother, who is on trial on charges of fatally shooting Susan Berman in 2000 at her Los Angeles home. Douglas said he cooperated with prosecutors under threat of subpoena.

Robert Durst, 78, a multimillionaire real estate heir and defendant in a labyrinthine murder trial, was hospitalized Thursday for an unspecified issue.

“There are other places I’d much rather be,” he said.

Prosecutors say Berman provided an alibi for Robert Durst after he killed his first wife, Kathie, in 1982 and that he silenced his friend after she decided to tell police what she knew about the disappearance. He has pleaded not guilty to murder.

Kathie had told Douglas that she planned to seek a divorce from his brother, Douglas testified.

Douglas said his brother had told him Kathie vanished three days after he put her on a train to New York from their lakeside house in Westchester County. Robert said that was the last time he saw his wife.

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Prosecutors say Robert Durst murdered a friend in Benedict Canyon in 2000 to cover up his alleged killing of his wife in 1982.

“His tone was very neutral,” Douglas said. “There was no great anxiety in his tone. It seemed a little strange.”

Douglas said his brother told him the disappearance might be related to a drug dealer who had come by the couple’s apartment. The defense has suggested that Kathie, who was on the brink of graduating from medical school, had a cocaine problem.

Kathie has never been found but was declared dead. Her husband has long been considered a suspect in her death but has denied any involvement and has never been charged with a crime related to her disappearance.

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Douglas, tan and wearing a crisp white shirt with French cuffs and a gray mask to comply with COVID-19 court rules, cut a much different figure from that of his ailing brother.

Five years after HBO’s ‘The Jinx,’ Durst will stand trial in the 2000 killing of Susan Berman at her Benedict Canyon home.

A pale, thin Robert Durst, 78, with a shaved head that revealed a massive scar where fluid was drained from his skull, was seated in a wheelchair and dressed in baggy brown jail scrubs.

Durst, who has bladder cancer and several other maladies, stood and addressed the judge to counter a suggestion by Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lewin that he was seeking sympathy by displaying his urine bag and shaving his head.

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Durst said it was the only haircut he could get in jail. He said he wanted a doctor to remove his catheter.

“I am not seeking sympathy from the jury,” Durst said in a throaty voice.

Douglas showed no emotion while testifying. He recounted how his mother’s death in a fall from the roof of their estate when he was 5 had been traumatic for the whole family, not just for Robert, who was 7 at the time.

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He also disputed that $50,000 in checks that Robert Durst gave to Berman were out of generosity, saying his brother was stingy and always had an ulterior motive.

His brother’s trials have tarnished the reputation of his family, Douglas said.

“It’s the most embarrassing thing that I’ve ever encountered,” he said. “It’s very painful to have our names associated with these incidents.”

With jury selection set to begin in Los Angeles on Wednesday, the Robert Durst murder trial is expected to last up to five months, pitting a lineup of elite Los Angeles County prosecutors against the high-end Houston legal team that helped Durst beat a murder charge in Texas in 2003.

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Douglas said the last time he spoke with Robert was in 1999 and that he had last seen him in Texas at a nephew’s wedding in 2001.

About two weeks after the wedding, Robert fatally shot neighbor Morris Black in Galveston, Texas, where he had gone to hide from New York authorities after they reopened the investigation into Kathie’s disappearance.

Robert was acquitted of murder after testifying that he had killed Black in self-defense. He served jail time for chopping up Black’s body and tossing it out to sea and for jumping bail.

While he was on the run in that case, he showed up outside Douglas’ Westchester home, Douglas said he later learned.

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It was in the dramatic final moments of the HBO documentary “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” that New York real estate scion Robert Durst is heard mumbling: “Killed them all, of course.”

Robert was later recorded in a jail phone call “in essence plotting to kill his brother Douglas,” Lewin said in arguing that jurors should hear about him showing up at his brother’s home.

“He has compared the way he feels about Douglas to the way he felt about Kathie,” Lewin said. “Our argument and position is that is what he did: He killed her.”

Robert twice showed up outside Douglas’ house in 2008, including once when he wore a ski mask and fled after a security guard drew his weapon, Lewin said.

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Douglas said that although his brother is jailed without bail, he still is concerned about his own safety and had flown to California with a security detail.

“I have a fear that my brother has threatened to kill me, and I fear that he may have the means to do so,” he said.


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