Ellen Strauss is ‘Over the moon’ with Robert Durst’s arrest
Editor’s Note: This article was initially published by the Milford Mirror’s sister paper, the Weston Forum, on March 16.
Hoisted by his own petard. That’s what many are saying about wealthy real estate heir Robert Durst’s arrest on Saturday for the murder of Susan Berman.
Weston attorney Ellen Strauss was a friend of Mr. Durst’s first wife Kathie Durst, who mysteriously disappeared in 1982 and who many presume died at the hands of Mr. Durst.
Ms. Strauss said she was “over the moon,” to learn of his arrest. “We’ll take this any way we can as long as he goes to prison,” she said Monday morning, following his arrest.
The subject of the six-part HBO miniseries The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, Mr. Durst appeared to make a confession of sorts about killing his long-time friend and confidant Ms. Berman, and possibly others, during the closing moments of the final episode that aired Sunday.
After being confronted by filmmaker Andrew Jarecki about handwriting similarities on envelopes that could connect him to Ms. Berman’s death, Mr. Durst finished the interview and then went into the bathroom with his microphone still hot-miked.
Off-camera, Mr. Durst said, apparently to himself, “That’s it. You’re caught. You’re right of course. You can’t imagine. Arrest him. What a disaster. What the hell did I do? Killed them all of course.”
Mr. Durst, 71, was arrested at a New Orleans hotel on Saturday, March 14, the day before the documentary’s last episode. He was charged with the murder of Ms. Berman on a warrant from Los Angeles police.
Ms. Berman was shot and killed in her West Los Angeles home 15 years ago, and her case remained unsolved until Mr. Durst’s arrest on Saturday.
Mr. Durst’s brother Douglas said in a statement to ABC News, “We hope he will finally be held accountable for all he has done.”
Before she was killed in 2000, police were planning to interview Ms. Berman about Kathie Durst’s disappearance.
In 1982, while living in South Salem, N.Y., Ms. Durst, a medical student at the time, disappeared after she and Mr. Durst had an argument. She was never officially seen or heard from again.
However, a mysterious call was made to Ms. Durst’s college administrator a couple days after her disappearance, from a woman purporting to be Kathie Durst saying she was sick and could not attend classes that day.
Ms. Strauss and others believe that call may have come from Susan Berman, pretending to be Ms. Durst to help cover up Mr. Durst’s involvement with his wife’s disappearance.
Although Mr. Durst was questioned about his wife’s disappearance as well as Ms. Berman’s death, he was never charged with anything until Saturday.
While police were conducting an investigation into Ms. Durst’s disappearance in 1982 and subsequent years, Ms. Strauss was conducting her own investigation as well.
Ms. Strauss met Ms. Durst in college and they became good friends. Ms. Strauss said before Ms. Durst disappeared, she told her she was having marital problems with Mr. Durst, and Ms. Strauss recommended she leave him. “Kathie was afraid. She said if anything ever happened to her not to let Bobby [Durst] get away with it,” Ms. Strauss said.
For the past 33 years, Ms. Strauss has kept a timeline of events and gathered information involving Mr. Durst and her friend’s disappearance. She interviewed witnesses, and even went through Mr. Durst’s garbage at one point to see if she could find anything helpful. She turned everything she discovered over to police for their investigation.
When she was contacted by filmmaker Andrew Jarecki to appear in The Jinx,she said she was initially concerned that he was going to make a documentary portraying Robert Durst as “a poor little rich boy,” but he promised her that wasn’t his intent.
The explosive “confessional” ending to the film and Mr. Durst’s arrest alleviated her concerns. “They kept their promise,” she said.
However, Ms. Strauss noticed a few things wrong in the documentary.
One particular point, she said, was especially inaccurate. She took issue with statements made by Jeanine Pirro, former Westchester County district attorney, that investigators were “just about” to interview Susan Berman when she was killed.
Ms. Strauss said she had given police a virtual “road map” to Ms. Berman’s door in California, but investigators dragged their heels, and had plenty of time to contact Ms. Berman before her death, but didn’t.
“They didn’t move fast enough to see Susan. There was a delay. They made statements that the general public needed to let the police do their business, that they were working on the perimeter. Had they gone to California when they got information from me, perhaps Susan Berman would still be alive,” Ms. Strauss said.
In 2001, shortly after Ms. Berman’s death, Mr. Durst took off to Galveston, Texas, disguised and living as a mute woman. He was charged with the murder of Morris Black, his elderly neighbor, whose body parts were found floating in Galveston Bay.
While on bail for the murder charges, Mr. Durst missed a court hearing and became the first billion-dollar fugitive in the United States. He was caught in a Pennsylvania supermarket after trying to shoplift a chicken sandwich, and returned to Galveston where he stood trial for Morris Black’s murder.
Mr. Durst claimed he killed Mr. Black in self-defense and cut the body up before tossing the pieces into the bay. He was acquitted of murder, but did time in prison for evidence tampering and bond jumping.
Ms. Strauss said people are asking her if Mr. Durst’s arrest is justice for what happened to Kathie Durst, Susan Berman and Morris Black. “Years ago, someone told me if I wanted justice, I should have gone to divinity school. I feel vindicated. I have been involved in this case for some time. Stick-to-itiveness and tenacity gets things done,” she said.