Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Deadly Secret: The Strange Disappearance of Kathie Durst / by Matt Birkbeck

Robert Durst was (and remains) a very strange man. Sometimes when you're incredibly rich, the case with Durst whose family's mega-real estate franchise owns entire sections of Manhattan, you can get away with it.  From the time he was born in 1943 until 1982, when his wife Kathie went missing never to be seen again, this was very much the case with the son and heir to the Durst legacy. Robert's personal and psychological misgivings were kept under wraps or acknowledged only in passing as "eccentricities". The fact that he witnessed his mother's grisly suicide at the tender age of seven--she leapt to her death from the roof of the garage--was widely known and contributed to widespread speculation on his ongoing behavioral irregularities. Murmurs of problems in the marriage were prevalent. The couple's separate lives, an prior abortion, mood swings, domestic abuse (both emotional and physical), Robert's demotion within the family business, Kathie's filing for divorce and Robert's reluctance to settle matters financially all caused a stir within the couple's social circle. Suspicions immediately pointed to Durst in 1982 when Kathie went missing after a seemingly routine weekend at the couple's Westchester (NY) lake house, this in spite of the fact that no one seemed more surprised or aggrieved than Robert by the event. But despite multiple sightings by various individuals in the days immediately following Kathie's disappearance and conscientious efforts ongoing throughout the preceding months and years, she was never seen again.

For the following few decades, nothing much happened of any relevance. Kathie remained missing and no new clues surfaced. But a new District Attorney in Westchester County suddenly reopened the case in 2000 prompting a reinvigorated attempt to pursue the cause and reasons involving Kathie's disappearance. The legal proceedings coerced Robert Durst to go into hiding in Galveston where, to disguise himself, he dressed as a woman and pretended to be mute. Living alone in a small rented home he shared with a tenant named Morris Black, Durst began to feel particularly edgy around the time of the murder of Susan Berman, a longtime friend and confidante who may or may not have been involved in Kathie's disappearance. In a whirlwind series of events, Durst consequently killed Black, acting in self-defense he would later testify, dismembered the body and dumped the remains in Galveston Bay where they were discovered only months after Berman's murder. With still no evidence to tie him to his missing wife, Durst was ultimately apprehended, tried for the murder of his neighbor and acquitted, having to serve 9 months in jail for covering up Black's death after which he served out his probation and resumed a residence in Houston. Kathie has never been found.

Author and investigative journalist Birkbeck published this book in 2002 prior to Durst's subsequent bond-jumping in 2006 when he and his prosecutor actually ran into each other at the Galleria. Still, the foundation for the very, very strange life of Robert Durst is well laid out. What would seem like another salacious "48 Hours" episode--Kathie McCormack was very beautiful, Durst was very rich, the family name was a high profile one, etc.--is actually a much deeper and more provocative story altogether. The relationship between the two very opposited people is carefully examined, scrutinizing their habits, personalities, rampant drug use and stubborn disagreements. For all his quirks and secretiveness, Robert Durst may be no more than a guy who just didn't 'fit' with the life his father and those around him wanted him to have. That and his borderline schizophrenia consequently generated some unfortunate life circumstances. As it's presented, he and Kathie's marriage was actually a happy one, prosperous and joyful in parts even near the end. Withstanding the circumstances surrounding the disappearance, the situation just doesn't seem like one in which Robert would have committed to killing his wife (too obvious). The 2010 movie All Good Things starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst as Durst and Kathie, while admittedly flawed, does a respectable job of following the case through to the present. And, in what has to be one of the most spectacularly creepy special features on any DVD ever, Robert Durst himself is actually present (and vocal) with the director during the DVD's audio commentary! Figure that one out. (364.1523 BIRKBECK)

1 comment:

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