Despite all the garish headlines that accompanied his wife’s disappearance and the gruesome murder of Mr. Black, it was Ms. Berman’s murder that ultimately ended one of America’s longest-running crime thrillers, The Case of ‘a tycoon who used many pseudonyms in an odyssey that produced books, films, TV series and avalanches of online commentary.
For years Ms Berman, a journalist, had been Mr Durst’s spokesperson and most ardent advocate in confrontations with reporters and his wife’s family and friends following her disappearance. Yet Mr Durst was belatedly charged with the murder of Ms Berman in 2015 as part of a new investigation into her murder, which took place 15 years earlier.
Prosecutors claimed Mr Durst shot Ms Berman because she was about to tell investigators Ms Durst’s disappearance was a hoax – that he actually killed his wife and got rid of her his body. According to investigators, Ms Berman was also willing to confess that she had helped him cover up the crime.
Mr Durst had always denied any involvement in his wife’s disappearance and Ms Berman’s murder. After his arrest in the Berman case, he stood trial for almost six years. Held in custody at a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department medical facility, he underwent surgeries for esophageal cancer and fluids on the brain.
Defeated by his own words
The long-delayed trial finally began in Los Angeles in early 2020, but after jury selection and opening statements was postponed again until March, this time due to the coronavirus pandemic. The trial resumed in May 2021, and like almost everything else in the Durst Saga, it was bizarre, with jurors spread across the courtroom gallery, prosecutors occupying the jurors’ box and everyone, including the judge, wearing masks as a precaution against Covid-19.
During the trial, Mr Durst’s brother Douglas, who oversaw the family’s $ 8 billion real estate empire, and Nick Chavin, a longtime friend of Mr Durst, were both prosecution witnesses. Mr. Chavin testified that during a sidewalk conversation in 2014 in New York City, Mr. Durst admitted that he killed Ms. Berman, saying, “It was her or me. I had no choice. “
Prosecutors called 80 witnesses and presented nearly 300 exhibits. But the most damaging evidence came from Mr. Durst’s own mouth, as the jury heard him make a series of recorded acknowledgments – in an interview with John Lewin, a deputy prosecutor, after his arrest in 2015; in hundreds of phone calls to prison; and in 20 hours of interviews with a producer of a documentary on Mr. Durst.