Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Robert Durst: Millionaire Murderer

The Deadly Shoplifter

Durst lawyers Michael Kennedy & Daniel Alterman
Durst lawyers Michael Kennedy & Daniel
Alterman (AP/WorldWide)

On November 31, 2001, a suspicious-looking man wearing a brown wig and a false blond mustache entered the Wegman's supermarket in Hanover Township, Pennsylvania. Surveillance cameras captured him taking a single Band-Aid from a box on the shelf, then going into the rest room and putting the Band-Aid over a shaving cut. Upon leaving the rest room, he wandered over to a refrigerated case and took a $5.49 chicken salad sandwich as well as a newspaper from the rack, hid them in his jacket, and walked out of the store. Security guards, who had been tracking his movements through the store on closed-circuit television screens, quickly went after him and stopped him in the parking lot as he was getting into a red Chevrolet Corsica.

Robert Durst escorted by deputies
Robert Durst escorted by deputies

The police were called in, and they asked the man his name. "Robert Durst," he said. They asked for his Social Security number, but the number he gave did not match the name. They took him into custody, and he did not resist, but he refused to answer any more questions until he spoke to his lawyer. According to Ned Zeman's Vanity Fair article, Durst's New York attorney Michael Kennedy called the police station soon after his client's arrest, even though Durst hadn't yet been given the opportunity to call him.

The police quickly ascertained that the Maryland license plates on the Corsica were stolen. In the trunk of the car they found a quantity of marijuana, two .38-caliber handguns, and $37,000 in hundred dollar bills. All of Durst's known bank accounts had been frozen as soon as he failed to show up for his arraignment in Galveston.

Oddly, Durst, whose head and eyebrows were shaved clean when he was arrested, had more than $500 in cash in his pocket while he shoplifted merchandise worth less than $10. Durst knew the area because he had been an undergraduate at nearby Lehigh University, but why he decided to go there is unknown.

Texas prosecutors Joel Bennett and Kurt Sistrunk
Texas prosecutors Joel
Bennett and Kurt Sistrunk

Durst was extradited to Texas on January 28, 2002. He was a model prisoner and went without incident. At his arraignment he entered a guilty plea in the death of Morris Black, but claimed that he had unintentionally killed Black in self-defense, a claim that will be hard to support given the extent of Black's injuries. Durst's trial is set to begin on September 9, 2002. In the meantime, investigators in New York and Los Angeles are actively pursuing their own cases involving Durst, and a judge in Texas has ordered Durst to supply a handwriting sample to the Los Angeles Police Department.

But even if Robert Durst is convicted in the murder of Morris Black, many perplexing questions might still swirl around him. What was his motive for killing Black? Were Durst and Black involved in some way that investigators have yet to uncover? Had Black figured out that his neighbor "Dorothy Ciner" was in fact Robert Durst and threatened to expose him? Had Black discovered something else about his strange neighbor?

Kathleen Durst, victim
Kathleen Durst, victim

Is Durst insane, and does that account for his bizarre and violent behavior? Or is he crazy like a fox? Perhaps his ongoing and escalating eccentricities were part of a deliberate plan to lay the groundwork for a future insanity plea.

And of course questions still remain concerning Durst's possible involvement in Susan Berman's murder. Did he have a reason to kill his closest friend? 

But the biggest mystery of all has to be the disappearance of Durst's first wife, Kathleen. Did he kill her? Did their problems go beyond the typical marital strife? If he did kill her, what did he do with her body? Or did something else befall Kathleen Durst? Will we ever know?

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