Following his murder conviction in LA, charges are brewing in NY against Robert Durst for the disappearance of his wife Kathie.
It was some months after HBO’s The Jinx aired in 2015 when I first spoke with John Lewin, the erudite deputy district attorney in Los Angeles who just put Robert Durst in jail forever.
Lewin is a cold case specialist. No, make that a master, with a reputation for doggedness and laser focus, traits that were so clearly apparent in his successful Durst prosecution.
Lewin laid out his strategy to me back then, explaining how he was going to show that the 1982 disappearance and presumed murder of Durs'ts then-wife Kathie and the subsequent dismemberment of the drifter Morris Black in 2001 were connected to Berman’s 2000 murder.
Berman's was such a cold, fiendish murder. She had no idea what was about to happen when he put the gun up to the back of her head and fired.
I remember back to November 2000, when I was working on my first Durst piece for People magazine and all of Kathie’s old friends said I had to find Susan Berman. She was the key, they said. I was working on a tight deadline and though I tried, I couldn’t find her then. But I remember the call that first week in January 2001, when all I could hear was a woman screaming, “She’s dead! She’s dead!” It was Gilberte Najamy, one of Kathie’s friends. I called Joe Becerra, the NY State Police detective whose gut instinct working off a tip restarted the Durst saga in 1999, yet for some reason he's become a lost character in all this. Yes, he said, he was planning to go to LA to interview Berman but he just got off the phone with the police there. Susan Berman was dead.
Lewin knew what he wanted to do, only it was complicated, he said. Relying on circumstantial evidence from one case is difficult enough to convict someone of murder. But connecting three cases? Lewin knew the challenge, and he met it.
If there were awards for lawyers like there are for actors, he’d win several, hands down.
But in convicting Durst for the Berman murder, he laid a roadmap for Westchester County District Attorney Miriam Rocah, with some of that asphalt coming my 2002 book A Deadly Secret.
Lewin and I discussed the book at length, and he was particularly interested in Kathie. It was the linchpin to his prosecution, he said, proving that Berman had to die because she knew the truth about Kathie’s demise. Berman was a central figure who served as Durst's spokeswoman in the weeks following Kathie's disappearance. She knew that Durst killed Kathie on a Sunday night, dismembered her body under the glare of a blue light seen by neighbors, and then drove down to southern New Jersey on a Tuesday to bury her remains in the Pine Barrens.
Mike Struk, the imperfect New York City police detective who followed the trail to the Pine Barrens in 1982, pressed to charge Durst. But prosecutors didn't do circumstantial cases then. No body, no crime.
But that didn't deter Lewin, who believed it and wanted to prove it. And he did just that during the trial. But proving Kathie’s murder doesn’t count in a LA courtroom. It will in Westchester County where Rocah, I'm told, has been gathering her resources while awaiting a verdict in LA for a Durst prosecution in NY. An official announcement should come soon, I'm told.
And that’s all Kathie’s family ever wanted. Justice. They’ve waited long enough, nearly 40 years, and they sort of got it in LA.
Now, they want to see a final end to the Durst story once and for all.
Matt Birkbeck's Blogspot