US real estate millionaire Durst charged over murder of his wife in 1983

Millionaire real estate scion Robert Durst has been charged with the murder of his first wife, Kathie Durst, nearly four decades after she disappeared and only days after he was sentenced to life in prison in California for killing a confidante who helped him cover up the crime.

Authorities in the New York City suburbs confirmed yesterday that they have charged Durst (78), whose lawyers say has been hospitalised on a ventilator in Los Angeles after testing positive for Covid-19.

A state police investigator filed a criminal complaint on Tuesday in a town court in Lewisboro, New York, charging Durst with second-degree murder in the death of Kathie Durst, who vanished in 1982. He had not been previously charged in her disappearance.

The case attracted renewed public interest after HBO aired a documentary in 2015 in which the eccentric heir appeared to admit killing people, stepping off camera and muttering to himself on a live microphone: “Killed them all, of course.”

Robert Abrams, a lawyer for Kathie Durst’s family, said in a statement: “Robert Durst has now been formally charged with the murder of Kathleen McCormack Durst. We are very happy with this development. At this time, however, we will not be making any further comments until the grand jury process is completed.”

The one-page felony complaint filed in Lewisboro cites evidence in the files of the Westchester district attorney, the New York State Police and the Los Angeles district attorney, as well as “conversations with numerous witnesses and observations of defendants, recorded interviews and observations of Mr┬áDurst’s recorded interviews and court testimony in related proceedings”.

Kathie Durst was 29 and in her final months of medical school when she was last seen.

She and Robert Durst, who was 38 at the time, had been married nearly nine years and were living in South Salem, a community in Lewisboro. Her body was never found. At the request of her family, she was declared legally dead in 2017.

The complaint charging Robert Durst bears the name of state police investigator Joseph Becerra, who reopened the probe in 1999 after receiving a tip about Kathie Durst’s disappearance.

Authorities searched a lake and the couple’s home but turned up little evidence, with Mr Becerra equating the search to “a needle in a haystack”.

Mr Becerra testified in July at Robert Durst’s California trial that he wanted to interview Durst’s friend, Susan Berman, but never got the chance because Durst shot and killed her in 2000.

Los Angeles prosecutors said Durst killed Ms Berman because she was preparing to confess to police how she helped him cover up Kathie Durst’s death.

After Ms Berman’s death, Durst went into hiding, disguising himself as a mute woman living in a cheap apartment in Galveston, Texas. There, he killed a neighbour and chopped up his body, but was later acquitted after telling the jury he did it in self-defence.

Durst’s family owns more than 16 million square feet of real estate in New York and Philadelphia.

In the HBO documentary The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,┬áDurst admitted he made up details about what happened the night Kathie disappeared because he was “hoping that would make everything go away”.