Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Robert Durst: Murderer or Innocent Jinx?

Call him Bobbie, Mr. Bob, or Robert Durst, a billionaire from a extremely wealthy, prominent New York real estate management firm and you might also call him a multiple murderer, but therein lies the rub. Durst has recently been the main character in a TV documentary/series, "The Jinx." Why jinx? I asked myself that question until I watched four recent segments and heard Durst tell the interviewer that he didn't want children because he felt he would be a jinx. How that would play out with his progeny, the interviewer never really asked but Durst offered that he might not be a very good father. For that reason, he forced his first wife to have an abortion once he discovered she was pregnant and threatened to divorce her if she didn't terminate the pregnancy.

I recall, years ago, when the mysterious disappearance of Durst's first wife, a fourth year medical student at Albert Einstein Medical School in the Bronx, hit the newspapers. The media was all over it, possibly because of the fortune involved, but also because the public loves to read about the travails of the rich and famous.

At about that same time of Durst's wife's disappearance, or shortly thereafter, there was the case of a plastic surgeon who killed his wife, rolled her in an oriental rug, rented a small plane and dropped her body in the Atlantic Ocean. As I recall, he was ultimately found guilty of her murder. Oddly enough, I happened to work with a physician who knew a young woman who had once dated the surgeon and found him quite odd.  One date was enough for her and she did, obviously, show very good judgment.  Enough said on that account.

Strange how life weaves these people into our lives in high tangential ways. Like the other infamous murder trial of Dr. Carl Coppolino, a New Jersey anesthesiologist who murdered his wife.  I worked with another physician who interned with Coppolino. Here we had a physician involved in two different murders and two different trials. One after which he was acquitted and one found guilty.

The Coppolino trial was a sensation all over the country as any would be that involved a an incredible amount of intrigue and a physician. I suppose it almost reached the interest level of that of Dr. Sam Sheppard, the physician in the now-famous trial by newspaper.

Again, however, too many pertinent steps in the Sheppard case were either missed or failed to be followed up, like the two jurors who read incriminating media articles regarding Sheppard who were, nevertheless, permitted to remain on the jury.  A potential person of interest, a handiman, would years later be found guilty of another murder and suspected in a series of murders.

The newspapers screamed for Sheppard's arrest and conviction and he was sentenced to prison.  The U.S. Supreme Court is said to have believed the media's reporting created a carnival atmosphere where justice could not have been afforded to the accused. He would win an appeal and attorney F. Lee Bailey's career was made.

Sheppard suffered a series of losses after his murder trial including the suicide of his mother, the death of his father and, years later, the suicide of his father-in-law.

The details of the case were sufficiently intriguing to become the basis for several TV and film projects. One, of course, was the highly successful "The Fugitive" which the producers claim was never meant to exemplify the Sheppard case. But the fascination with the case continues and the mysterious potential killer may have managed to escape detection.

The Durst affair and the TV interviews which he has provided for "The Jinx" is intriguing for another reason. Not only for the fact that he may well have murdered his wife, his Galveston neighbor and his friend in Los Angeles, but for what it might say about someone who would have perpetrated these crimes. This is not to say Durst is guilty of any crimes, but it is interesting to speculate on why someone, who might have committed such crimes would dance with the media.

What would make someone, who had committed a murder, agree to come forward and be interviewed by either a TV crew or the police? Take the case of the famous Leopold and Loeb murder  trial in Chicago in 1924 that would be deemed "The Trial of the Century." Of course, one of the factors was the presence of Clarence Darrow as the defense attorney and the other was that the boys both came from very wealthy families. Leopold was considered a genius with an IQ, allegedly, above 200. The victim was 14-year-old Bobby Franks, also from a wealthy family.

The two culprits wanted to commit the perfect crime and carefully detailed, over a period of months, how they would facilitate the murder and obtain a ransom as a cover for the true intent of the killing. During the investigation, it was Leopold, potentially someone with a narcissitic personality disorder, who wanted to "help" police with their work. Leopold, as narcissists do, felt he was smarter than the police and delighted in following their, to his estimation, crude efforts. The one thing he neglected to consider was that his eyeglasses, found during the inspection of the crime scene culvert, would prove his undoing. The prescription was unusual and the frames were easily identified as having been bought in a particular store and they led right back to him.

The police took just 10 days to get the confession they sought and to lay out all the details of the crime, including the fact that the family chauffeur had been fixing the car in question in which they said they had been joy riding on the day of the murder.  Darrow entered a guilty plea for them in order to avert the death penalty and they both went to prison. Loeb would eventually be murdered in prison and Leopold would write an autobiography,  be paroled, move to Puerto Rico and marry.

Delight in hoodwinking authorities involved in criminal cases would seem to be the ultimate high for anyone with this personality disorder.  The belief that they have what they consider a superior intellect and access to an endless supply of money could further heighten this sense of invulnerability leading to them seeing themselves as above any law there is.

The Durst defense in Texas, where he was ultimately found not guilty by reason of self-defense, cost him $1,800,000 in legal fees.  He had skipped bail when allowed out on a $250K bond and was a fugitive until he tried to steal a chicken salad sandwich in a local store in Pennsylvania. It was then that they discovered he had not only an incredible amount of cash in his car but marijuana and two guns. Undone by the theft of a sandwich is another intriguing factor in this case. How could a man on bail in a murder investigation think he would easily get away with such a low-level crime? Just consider that one.

The question now remains whether Durst will have to underwrite yet another defense or two should the re-opening of the murder of his friend, Susan Berman, in LA lead to suspicion about his involvement. The disappearance and probable murder of his first wife, Kathie Durst in Westchester, New York has always remained an open case and the New York authorities are maintaining an active interest in Durst. They never interviewed many potential persons who could have supplied important evidence in the case and the home was never fully explored for potential clues nor was his car at the time. Even the alleged evidence that supported her having called the dean of her medical school to say she wasn't feeling well and would be out for a few days is now being questioned. Did good friend Susan Berman make the call?

Did the doorman at their exclusive apartment building in Manhattan actually see Kathie Durst come into the building on the night in question and take her up to her apartment? What about the drinks he said he had with a neighbor that evening? Three different versions of where he made phone calls that night are also being closely looked at because of the inconsistencies. Many, many pieces are stilll to be put into place and that, my friends, keeps the interest fires burning.

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