National News

Did Robert Durst Kill His Wife? An Investigator’s Letter May Shed Light

Posted May 24, 2018 11:10 p.m. EDT

For more than a year, Robert A. Durst, the embattled real estate scion, has endured a grueling series of pretrial hearings in Los Angeles, where he is charged with murdering a confidante to prevent her from telling authorities how she helped him cover up the murder of his first wife 36 years ago.

But with those proceedings on hiatus until October, his lawyers are now battling 2,800 miles to the east in state Supreme Court in Mineola, Long Island, New York, to suppress a damaging seven-page letter written in February by an investigator. The letter details how many of Durst’s statements in 1982 concerning the disappearance of his wife, Kathie McCormack Durst, were “replete with omissions and inaccuracies.”

The investigator, Edward J. Wright, who was working for Durst’s lawyer in 1982, described how Durst erupted with “a verbal salvo of expletives directed at me” after he confronted Durst about the many discrepancies in his account of his whereabouts at the time of Kathie Durst’s disappearance.

Wright was promptly terminated, according to the letter.

Wright sent the letter to the law firm representing Kathie Durst’s three sisters, who have brought a $100 million lawsuit against Robert Durst over the disappearance of their sister and what they say was her murder.

In a 1,000-page brief filed Thursday, Robert Abrams, a lawyer for the sisters, stated that Robert Durst hired a well-connected lawyer in 1982 to “conduct a clandestine ‘shadow investigation’ to ensure that the NYPD did not conduct a meaningful investigation into Durst’s involvement in Kathie’s disappearance and murder.” Durst’s former lawyer, Nicholas Scoppetta, who served as city fire commissioner in the Bloomberg administration, died two years ago.

Abrams is seeking to use the letter in the lawsuit and to obtain Wright’s testimony.

“This case proves that someone like Durst, with hundreds of millions of dollars, may be able to avoid justice for 36 years,” Abrams said Thursday. “But in the 37th year, Durst and the people who helped him will be brought to justice.”

Durst’s attorney in the case, Joshua A. Siegel, has asked the judge for an injunction prohibiting release of Wright’s letter, saying it is “indisputably protected from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege,” which can be waived only by Durst, not Wright. Wright’s own lawyers also oppose its release.

At the time he worked for Scoppetta, Wright was a retired city police detective employed by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. He may have broken regulations by moonlighting as a private eye. The lawsuit argues that Wright and Scoppetta used their connections to obtain confidential information from the police department to protect Durst, as well as his father, Seymour Durst, and the Durst Organization, the real estate company Seymour Durst ran.

Abrams argues that Durst’s lawyers failed to establish that there was an attorney-client relationship between Durst and Scoppetta and Wright. And if there was, Abrams said, Durst had waived the privilege in numerous ways, including his 20 hours of interviews with the producers of the 2015 HBO documentary “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.”

The final episode of “The Jinx” famously concludes with Durst muttering off-camera: “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

Durst, who at 75 is frail and worth $100 million, sits in Los Angeles County jail caught in a bicoastal legal pincer. He has been estranged from his family for a quarter-century.

His nine-year marriage to Kathie Durst had descended into violence in 1982 when she abruptly vanished, only five months short of fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. Her family and friends immediately suspected Robert Durst, but an investigation ended without any charges against him.

Prompted in part by “The Jinx,” the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office charged Durst in 2015 with the murder of his confidante, Susan Berman in 2000, saying he killed her to prevent her from revealing to investigators who had reopened the case that she helped him cover up Kathie Durst’s murder.

Durst continues to say that he did not kill either his first wife or Berman. He has never been charged with murdering Kathie Durst, despite two separate investigations. There is neither a body nor an official crime scene.

But the 1982 reports by Wright and his recent letter cast a long shadow over Durst’s veracity.

In the letter Wright states that he was “retained to conduct an inquiry to determine both the accuracy and validity of statements made by Durst to Scoppetta with the ultimate goal of location the whereabouts of Kathleen Durst.”

After interviewing various witnesses and checking Durst’s statements, Wright said, he challenged Durst to explain certain inconsistencies. Durst, he said, went into a “tirade, outraged that I was wasting my time checking on him.”

Wright’s letter mirrors what he said in a 2015 interview and in a progress report he wrote about the case in 1982.

“Initially, they all believed Robert, that Kathie mysteriously disappeared,” Wright said in the 2015 interview. “Robert was a wonderful liar. He’d look you straight in the face and tell you a wonderful story.”