Kathleen Durst

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Above Images: Kathleen, circa 1982

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Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

  • Missing Since: January 31, 1982 from Manhattan, New York
  • Classification: Endangered Missing
  • Age: 29 years old
  • Height and Weight: 5'5, 120 pounds
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian female. Blonde hair, brown eyes. Kathleen has pierced ears. Her nickname is Kathy (alternatively spelled "Kathie"), and her maiden name is McCormack.
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description: Sweatpants.
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    Details of Disappearance

    Kathleen was last seen by friends at a dinner party in Connecticut on January 31, 1982. She arrived unexpectedly at the home of Gilberte Najamy, who was her closest friend at the time. Najamy stated that Kathleen was visibly upset and that she was wearing sweatpants; Kathleen normally wore dressier clothing. She received a phone call from her husband, former real estate heir Robert Alan Durst, at approximately 7:00 p.m. and they apparently had an argument. Kathleen had spoken about her failing marriage during the course of the evening with Najamy. She told Najamy that she was returning to the couple's cottage on Hoyt Street in South Salem, New York. Najamy stated that Kathleen also asked her to investigate in case anything happened to her. She was afraid that her husband would harm her. Photos of Robert, the Dursts' former cottage and Najamy are posted below this case summary.

    Robert told authorities that he drove Kathleen to the Katonah station to catch the 9:15 p.m. train to the New York City borough of Manhattan later that same evening. The couple owned two apartments in Manhattan at the time. He said they had argued and Kathleen had drunk an entire bottle of wine. If Kathleen did catch the 9:15 train, she would have had only forty minutes in between to consume the wine. Robert also claimed that he never saw his wife again, but he did speak to her over the phone after she supposedly arrived in Manhattan at approximately 11:00 p.m. Robert stated that the couple often lived apart and this arrangement was not unusual for their lifestyles.

    Robert's version of events apparently changed when speaking with law enforcement officials shortly after his initial statement. He told investigators that he actually called Kathleen from a pay phone near their South Salem cottage while walking their dog that evening. The nearest phone is three miles away on a dirt road and a snowstorm hit the area that night. Robert also claimed that he stopped at a neighbor's home for a drink afterwards. The residents said they never saw him that evening, but they did observe a blue light shining through the basement windows of the Dursts' cottage the following night.

    Najamy became concerned when Kathleen failed to meet her at The Lion's Gate in downtown New York City shortly after her disappearance. Najamy called authorities for several days in a row when she was unable to locate Kathleen. Robert filed a missing person's report on February 5. He claimed that he did not know Kathleen was missing until one of the deans from Albert Einstein College Of Medicine in the borough of the Bronx called him to report that Kathleen had not attended classes all week. She was enrolled in the school and only had three more months before her graduation. The dean stated that a woman identifying herself as Kathleen called the college on February 1 and said she was ill and could not attend class. No one is certain of the caller's true identity.

    A doorman at the Dursts' Manhattan apartment on Riverside Drive claimed that he saw Kathleen at the residence on February 1, one day after her last confirmed sighting. The doorman later admitted that he only saw the woman from behind and could positively identify the person. The building's superintendent claimed that Robert threw out the majority of Kathleen's belongings shortly after she vanished. Robert also began searching for a new tenant for the couple's apartment. Robert denied the accusations.

    Najamy broke into the South Salem cottage with her sister during the week Kathleen vanished. She called authorities from the home and told them that she entered the residence illegally, then requested an officer arrive at the scene. Investigators refused to dispatch anyone to the location. Najamy and her sister discovered that Kathleen's unopened mail was tossed into the garbage. Robert told Najamy that Kathleen was wearing brown suede boots and a cable-knit sweater when he dropped her off at the train station, but Najamy found the clothing inside Kathleen's closet. She and her sister also discovered trash bags stuffed into a floor-to-ceiling closet in the cottage's dining room. She said that they became frightened afterwards and left the residence.

    As investigators delved into the case, they learned more about the Dursts' marriage than they realized. Kathleen was a former dental hygenist and nurse. She and Robert met in 1970, when Kathleen lived in an apartment building owned by Robert's family. They were married in 1972 and moved to Vermont, where they owned a health food store. Kathleen graduated from the nursing program at Western Connecticut State University in 1978, then enrolled in the Einstein College Of Medicine. She wanted to become a pediatrician.

    Kathleen's friends told investigators that she wanted to have children, but Robert did not. They also claimed that Robert pressured Kathleen into having an abortion in the late 1970s. Robert was having an affair with Prudence Farrow, a producer and the sister of the actress Mia Farrow, when Kathleen disappeared. According to her friends and family, Kathleen decided to prepare the paperwork necessary for a divorce. Najamy stated that she believed Robert felt he was losing control of Kathleen at the time, since she was close to graduating from medical school and was able to support herself. He also claimed that she had affairs as well and that he did not believe the child she aborted was his baby.

    Kathleen's loved ones said that she was treated at an emergency room in New York City in January 1982 after Robert allegedly abused her. Kathleen suffered head injuries and facial bruising, but refused to file charges against her husband. The incident occurred several weeks before she vanished.

    Investigators discovered that Robert had placed several phone calls to the Durst Organization from Ship Bottom, New Jersey the week Kathleen disappeared. Some have speculated that Robert may have disposed of his wife's remains near the city. Najamy drove to the Dursts' cottage once a week to search through the trash and found some of Kathleen's belongings had been discarded, along with several of Robert's handwritten notes. Authorities asked Najamy not to discuss what was written on the notes, but she insinuated that it may have revolved around Kathleen's case.

    Authorities did not conduct a thorough search of the Dursts' South Salem cottage during the 1982 investigation into Kathleen's disappearance. Detectives initially believed that Kathleen had simply disappeared in order to escape a bad marriage and no foul play was involved. That manner of thinking changed as the years progressed with no sign of Kathleen. In 1999, an informant announced that Kathleen was killed on the night of her disappearance in South Salem -- the location of the couple's cottage. An extensive search of the property was launched at that time and evidence was removed from the house. Authorities have not publicly announced their findings. Robert sold the cottage in 1990.

    Najamy's home and the home of another of Kathleen's friends were broken into and ransacked sometime after Kathleen's disappearance. The two women had kept files relating to Kathleen's case and the files were among the items stolen from their residences. The burglaries remain unsolved and the stolen items were never recovered.

    Another strange twist in Kathleen's disappearance emerged in December 2000, when author Susan Berman was murdered by a .22 caliber gunshot to the back of the head in Los Angeles, California. Berman had been a friend of both Kathleen and Robert in New York and the three frequently socialized together. Berman and Robert remained close friends throughout the years and she served as his unofficial public spokesperson during the 1982 investigation into Kathleen's case. New York authorities had planned to question Berman about any knowledge she may have had regarding Kathleen's disappearance at the time Berman was murdered. Her slaying remains unsolved. Berman was an extremely cautious, even paranoid person who nailed her windows shut and always locked her house. Authorities stated that there was no indication of forced entry at Berman's home and it is assumed she was murdered by someone she knew.

    Writer Julie Baumgold, a friend to both Robert and Berman, said that Berman planned to support Robert's version of Kathleen's disappearance when she was questioned by authorities. Baumgold claimed that Robert referred to Berman as his "witness." California authorities stated that Robert has not been ruled out as a suspect in Berman's murder. Berman was an author who penned the books Lady Las Vegas and Easy Street, which detailed her family's experiences in the Las Vegas organized crime scene. She is the daughter of Davie Bugman, who was the partner of the gangster Bugsy Seigel and an associate of the Jewish Mafia boss Meyer Lansky. At the time of her murder, she was making a television documentary about Las Vegas. A photograph of Berman are posted below this case summary. Some people believe that Berman, who was protective of Robert, may have placed the phone call to the medical school dean and disguised herself as Kathleen in 1982.

    The suggestion has been raised that Berman was murdered by organized crime figures as a result of her family connections, but investigators believe this possibility is remote.

    Investigators are probing into the possibility that Robert may have been involved in Kathleen's case. He has always maintained his innocence. Kathleen was declared legally deceased in December 2001. Robert agreed to spilt Kathleen's $130,000 estate with her mother. A judge ordered that Robert's share of the estate be held in escrow in New York City until the outcome of the criminal investigation into Kathleen's disappearance was closed. The ruling does not affect law enforcement's continuing effort to resolve her case.

    Robert was charged with the murder of Morris Black in October 2001. A photo of Black is posted below this case summary. Black's dismembered remains, all but the head, were discovered in late Septmember 2001. He lived in the same apartment complex as Robert in Galveston, Texas. Neighbors told investigators the two men frequently argued about noise levels in the building. Authorities discovered blood-covered boots, a drop cloth and a paring knife inside of Robert's efficiency. Blood splatters were also located on the floors, walls and in the kitchen sink. A .22 caliber pistol was discovered outside the apartment building in a garbage area, along with a spent shell casing. Neighbors stated that Robert was spotted loading trash bags into his vehicle immediately following Black's disappearance. Robert was arrested while driving in Texas and charged with the murder, along with marijuana possession. Investigators have been unable to determine a motive for the crime.

    Authorities are working to see if Black and Berman's murders are connected to Kathleen's disappearance. No charges have been filed against anyone in either Kathleen or Berman's cases, although Berman was murdered with the same caliber handgun that was found in Robert's apartment's trash bin. One of the attorneys associated with Robert's trust fund told the media the bullets from his client's gun did not match the slugs recovered at Berman's murder scene, but authorities have refused to release their ballistics report on the weapon.

    Several of Berman's friends claimed that she told them Robert confessed to Kathleen's murder. The reports began to surface in January 2002. Berman allegedly told a friend that she had vital information related to Kathleen's disappearance in December 2000; Berman was killed five days later. Additional friends substantiated the reports at Berman's memorial service in January 2001, claiming that Berman told them Robert was aware of her knowledge. Berman allegedly said that nothing could change Kathleen's fate, but that did not mean she did not care for Robert. Several of Berman's friends stated that her relationship with Robert began to deteriorate in late 2000 after he gave her $50,000 to pay off some of Berman's mounting debts. Authorities have not commented on the new information, but Najamy speculates that Berman was blackmailing Robert with information she may have had on Kathleen's disappearance.

    Robert has been estranged from his family since the early 1990s, when his younger brother was handed control of the real estate properties. His relatives issued public pleas for Robert to turn himself into authorities in late 2001. It is not clear why Robert was living in a small apartment in Texas, as he still possesses considerable assets. Many of Robert's associates and family members said that he is mentally ill.

    Robert married Debrah Lee Charatan in a secret ceremony in January 2001. The couple apparently did not tell any of their loved ones about the nupitals, as law enforcement officials discovered the marriage while attempting to track Robert's whereabouts later in the year. Charatan is the owner of New York-based Debrah Lee Charatan Realty Inc. She and Robert have reportedly dated since 1989 and once resided together in New York City. Officials do not know if the marriage is legal, as Kathleen was not declared legally deceased until December 2001, eleven months after Robert's marriage. Robert claimed he divorced Kathleen on his marriage license application with Charatan. There is no record of a divorce in public records.

    Robert failed to appear at a Texas court hearing for Black's murder on October 17, 2001 and proceeded to evade authorities for nearly seven weeks until his capture in Pennsylvania on November 30, 2001. Robert was apprehended at a store in Hanover Township, Pennsylvania after attempting to steal a sandwich and bandages. He was held in a Pennsylvania jail under suicide watch after his capture. Robert was located only 80 miles from the New York City borough of Manhattan, the site of Kathleen's 1982 disappearance. He shaved his head and eyebrows while living life as a fugitive.

    Investigators believe that Robert traveled from Texas to Louisiana in October 2001, where he rented an apartment for a brief period of time as a fugitive. Robert left his landlord a note and a videotape related to Kathleen's case when he vacated the apartment later in the month. Authorities also found a silver medallion inscribed with Berman's father's name inside Robert's Louisiana residence. Robert's friend Baumgold stated that Berman left the jewelry to Robert in her will.

    Robert then returned to Texas, renting an apartment in Plano in early November 2001. Authorities think that he dressed as a woman while residing in Plano. Investigators received a tip that Robert was in Texas during this time, but they arrived at the location after his departure. It is theorized that Robert traveled to Maryland afterwards, where he allegedly stole a license plate from a car, and then to Hanover Township, Pennsylvania. In the 1960s Robert attended Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which is close to the site of his capture. He went to graduate school at the University of California at Los Angeles but left there without a degree.

    Robert changed his plea in Black's murder from not guilty to self-defense/accident in March 2002 in Texas. The decision eliminated the need for DNA testing at the apartment crime scene. Robert claims that Black broke into his apartment and menaced him with a target pistol, and was accidentally shot while the two of them were struggling over the same. Robert's attorneys claim that he suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism, which they say caused his bizarre behavior after Black's death, i.e. dismembering the body. Robert was acquitted of murdering Black in November 2003. If he had been convicted, he could have gotten 99 years in prison. Jurors cited a lack of evidence as the reason for their verdict.

    Robert pleaded guilty to two counts of bail-jumping and one count of abuse of a corpse after his acquittal. He was sentenced to five years in prison, but was released after only two weeks. Robert was arrested again in October 2004 for gun charges and was sentenced to nine months in prison, but was paroled in July 2005. His lawyer states that he is innocent of any wrongdoing in his wife's case and was so devastated by her disappearance that he still carries a photograph of her with him at all times.

    Authorities have looked into the possibility that Robert was in the Eureka, California area in November 1997. Karen Mitchell disappeared during that time and her case remains unsolved. Robert has never been charged in connection with Mitchell's case and investigators are not certain if he was in the vicinity at the time.

    Kathleen's case remains unsolved and foul play is suspected.

    Robert Durst Robert Durst 2
    Above Images: Robert Durst, circa 2001

    Najamy Berman Black
    Left: Najamy; Center: Berman; Right: Black

    Kathleen and Robert Durst Reward Poster Cottage
    Left: Kathleen and Robert, circa 1982;
    Center: Robert's 1982 reward poster for Kathleen's disappearance;
    Right: The Dursts' former cottage in South Salem, New York

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    Investigating Agency
    If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
    New York City Police Department
    646-610-6914

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    Source Information
    New York City Police Department
    The New York Journal News
    The Los Angeles Times
    America's Most Wanted
    The New York Post
    The New York Daily News
    CrimeNews 2000
    The Galveston Daily News
    The New York Times
    Talk Magazine
    ** The Web site and magazine are now defunct **
    ABC News
    The Houston Chronicle
    The Crime Library
    The Eureka Times-Standard
    Court TV
    The Advocate
    NamUs

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    Updated 3 times since October 12, 2004.

    Last updated January 6, 2012; picture added.

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