Saturday, December 2, 2023

Millionaire Murderer Robert Durst Dies in Prison with Questions Unanswered About His Role in a North Coast Cold Case

Mugshot of Robert Durst from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Suspected serial killer Robert Durst, the eccentric black sheep heir of a New York real-estate mogul, has died in a California prison at the age of 78. In October 2021, Durst was sentenced to life without parole for the first-degree murder of his long-time friend Susan Berman–killing her to keep her quiet about what she knew about his suspected involvement in the 1982 disappearance and suspected murder of his wife then Kathleen McCormack Durst.

Beyond Berman, Durst killed his Texas neighbor Morris Black in 2001 dismembering him and dumping him in the Galveston Bay.  Durst was acquitted of murder charges after claiming in court that a struggle between him and Black resulted in the accidental discharge of a firearm killing Black. He was found guilty of evidence tampering, as in dismembering and dumping Black’s body, but served a mere three years in a Texas state prison

Durst in the Galveston Police Department Station after being arrested in 2001 related to charges of murdering and dismembering his neighbor Morris Black [Picture from the Galveston Police Department]

Durst’s crimes come close to home for North Coast residents. Around 1994-1995. Durst bought a home in Humboldt County’s seaside village of Trinidad to experience the “rural” life, as he told The Jinx documentary director Andrew Jarecki. 

There are many who suspect Durst of having a hand in the disappearance of 16-year-old Eureka teen Karen Mitchell on November 25, 1997. 

In March 2021, Eureka Police Department’s Patrick O’Neill told us Mitchell went missing after, “possibly getting into a car in the area of the Bayshore Mall, after she left her aunt’s store located at the mall.” The night she went missing, Mitchell was reported to have been walking on Eureka’s Broadway Street where a witness saw a woman resembling Karen get into a blue vehicle with a 60 to 70-year-old white male

Captain O’Neill told us since her disappearance, the investigation has included,”hundreds of interviews, database searches, locations searched, and submission of her DNA profile to a national database for comparison purposes,”. 

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According to Robert Dunn’s North Coast Journal article, Karen Mitchell’s aunt reported Durst had actually patronized a store she owned and met Karen there while she was working. It is also thought that Mitchell might have crossed paths with Durst at a Eureka Old Town homeless shelter where she volunteered and he would often go to and reportedly “loiter.”

Left: The composite drawing of the man Karen Mitchell was seen getting in a vehicle with before she went missing. Middle: Karen Mitchell Right: Robert Durst’s mugshot from when he was arrested by the Galveston Police Department

Also, a composite sketch of the suspect Mitchell was seen with that night bears a resemblance to Durst himself. 

In earlier reporting on the Mitchell case, a former Eureka resident by the name of Kareen Van Swearengin told us a terrifying story of a man resembling Durst pulling up to her along a Eureka street attempting to pick her up. She remembered the man driving the blue car as small, having a raspy voice, and “weird-looking teeth.” When asked whether she thought the man in the vehicle was Robert Durst, Van Swearingen said, he had the “same voice and same stature as the Durst guy.”

As to law enforcement’s perspective on Durst as a suspect, Captain O’Neill told us,“At this time [we] have not found any credible link between Mitchell’s disappearance and Mr. Durst. However, until Karen is located we will not rule out any possibility.”

Another notable incident involving Durst was his May 1995 arrest in the Mendocino County coastal town of Mendocino when a sheriff’s deputy arrested him for driving under the influence, possession of marijuana, and possession of concentrated cannabis.

Durst was spotted outside of his vehicle on the town’s main drag weaving and showing signs of intoxication. He saw the passing deputy, jumped in his vehicle, and drove away.

The deputy pursued, conducted a traffic stop, and after seeing marked signs of intoxication, performed a field sobriety test. In the arrest narrative, the deputy wrote Durst was so intoxicated that when he attempted to walk heel to toe the deputy “had to stop him from walking into traffic.”

Durst was arrested, his vehicle was searched, and deputies located an envelope containing $3,700 and a plastic baggie containing “less than an ounce of what appeared to be marijuana” in the trunk. Watching law enforcement find these items, Durst reportedly said, “The Money and the marijuana are mine and I have always smoked it, even as a kid. So what’s the big deal?”

Top: The image of the 1974-1976 Ford Grenada or Mercury Monarch Karen was last seen getting inside of before she disappeared [Picture from a widely-circulated missing person poster] Bottom: A 1995 blue Ford Taurus similar to what Durst was driving when he was arrested in Mendocino County [Picture from WikiCommons.com]

This arrest report contains a record of the vehicle that Durst drove during this time. And, that small piece of information is one more link that may tie the suspected serial killer to the Mitchell case, where witnesses describe the car she got in as a light-blue 1976-1978 Ford Granda or Mercury Monarch with a California license plate with “Eureka” on the frame. As per the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office report that describes the May 1997 arrest of Durst, he was driving a blue, four-door, Ford Taurus with California plates. Though not the same exact vehicle, the similarities are note-worthy.

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Durst’s death while in custody might be justice for some, but the end of a road for others. Karen Mitchell’s family and friends will forever wonder if what happened to their loved one went to the grave with Durst, as did the fate of his wife, Kathleen-.

Previous Coverage

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  1. suspected for sure, but no action was gonna be taken against the politics and the money…i mean really…three years in the texas case? proclivity to killing…

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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I like to think of myself as a reporter for the Average Joe. Journalism has become a craft defined largely by city dwellers on America's coasts. It’s time to take it back. I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs to be told.

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