Robert Durst. Photo via HBO
Robert Durst. Photo via HBO

A retired New York homicide detective testified Tuesday that a neighbor of Kathie Durst, the presumed-dead first wife of real estate heir and admitted killer Robert Durst, told him the woman fled the couple’s Manhattan penthouse one night in 1982 claiming her husband had beaten her and she was afraid he might kill her.

Robert Durst has been at the center of a number of murder probes through the years after the disappearance of that first wife.

The current court proceedings are to determine whether there’s sufficient evidence to try him for the alleged murder of a friend who may have had information about the first wife’s death. Durst also was tried in Texas for the 2003 murder of a neighbor. He was acquitted by a jury, even though he admitted the killing and said he chopped up the body and threw the pieces into Galveston Bay.

An HBO special on TV about the multi-millionaire showed Durst saying to himself that he “killed them all, of course.” He apparently didn’t realize the microphone he was wearing at the time was “live.”

In the Los Angeles courtroom Tuesday, the detective, 77-year-old James Varian, read aloud from reports he wrote while interviewing neighbors at 37 Riverside Drive in 1982, telling the court he couldn’t recall details from that time.

Neighbors Anne and Kevin Doyle told Varian that Kathie Durst would often visit them just to “have someone to sit and talk to.”

But one night, she walked around a common terrace in her pajamas and came knocking at the couple’s bedroom window, telling Anne Doyle that “Bob had beat her and that he wanted to kill her. She further stated that he had a gun and (she) was afraid of being shot,” Varian testified.

After calming her down, Kevin Doyle went next door to talk to Robert Durst, according to the detective.

“He did not admit to beating her,” Varian said.

Varian is one of a number of witnesses testifying prior to a preliminary hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence for Durst to stand trial for the 2000 killing of his friend Susan Berman in Benedict Canyon. The witnesses were brought to court early in the event they are not available at a later date.

The prosecution has raised concerns that some witnesses might be killed before they could testify.

Defense attorneys have objected to the idea that their 74-year-old client, who is in a wheelchair, could be a threat to anyone, particularly since allegations of wrongdoing against him suggest he has always acted alone.

Prosecutors contend Durst killed Berman because authorities in New York’s Westchester County were about to interview her as part of a reopened investigation into the 1982 disappearance of Kathie Durst.

The murder charge includes the special circumstance allegation of murder of a witness and murder while lying in wait, along with gun use allegations. However, the District Attorney’s Office does not plan to seek the death penalty.

Durst has denied any involvement in Berman’s killing.

While cross-examining Varian, defense attorney Dick DeGuerin mentioned an elevator operator in the Dursts’ building, named Eddie Lopez, who told police he saw Kathie on Feb. 1, 1982, and helped police develop a composite sketch of a man seen going up to her apartment that day.

Varian said he knew nothing about it when he interviewed the Doyles.

Another elevator operator from the Dursts’ building, Rafael Prado, testified Tuesday that he remembered the events of Jan. 31, 1982, the day Kathie Durst went missing, “clear like today,” given all the attention by the police and media.

He testified about his interactions with the Dursts and recalled Kathie as the friendlier of the pair, whom he rarely saw together.

When they were together, they were “walking and talking, but not like you see real husband and wife,” Prado said.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham began the hearing by saying he intended to rule by the end of the week on the issue of whether Durst waived his attorney-client privilege, as it pertains to evidence collected from upstate New York, Houston and New Orleans.

Windham said he would not rule on the admissibility of Durst’s New Orleans jailhouse interview with Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, saying it could wait until trial, despite a prosecution claim that it was the basis for slanderous public statements made by the defense.   “I’ve had it with the allegations — either put up or shut up,” Lewin said, telling the judge he was filing a motion for sanctions against the defense team.

Lewin, bristling at accusations of misconduct, asked the court to rule that there has been “no violation of Sixth Amendment rights … no violation of Miranda, no misconduct whatsoever.”

The defense accused the prosecutor of taking things too personally.

Mr. Lewin thinks this case is about him and not about Mr. Durst,” defense attorney David Chesnoff said. “Nobody here is doing anything but trying to help Mr. Durst defend himself.”

No ruling was immediately made.

Durst was arrested March 14, 2015, in a New Orleans hotel room, hours before the airing of the final episode of the HBO documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” which examined the disappearance of his wife in 1982 and the killings of Berman and Morris Black, who was killed in 2001 and was a neighbor of Durst in Texas.

On the documentary series finale, which aired the day after his arrest, Durst was caught on microphone saying to himself, “Killed them all, of course.” He also was caught on microphone saying, “There it is, you’re caught,” and “What a disaster.”

During the jailhouse interview with Lewin, Durst said he was “on meth” while the documentary was being filmed and that he didn’t heed his attorneys’ advice not to be interviewed for the series.

He has been long estranged from his real-estate-rich family, known for ownership of a series of New York City skyscrapers — including an investment in the World Trade Center. Durst split with the family when his younger brother was placed in charge of the family business, leading to a drawn-out legal battle.

According to various media reports, Durst ultimately reached a settlement under which the family paid him $60 million to $65 million.

— City News Service 

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