NEW YORK (AP) — Authorities missed a chance decades ago to build a case against multimillionaire Robert Durst over the death of his first wife, a New York suburban attorney said Wednesday after Durst’s death last week in a California hospital isolation ward closed the case. which took almost 40 years to bring.
Westchester District Attorney Mimi Roca cited “tunnel vision” — and emphasized that she “didn’t blame anyone” — for investigative shortcomings, which she summarized in a recent reinvestigation report into the disappearance of Cathy McCormack Durst in 1982. The reopening of the investigation led last fall to charges of murdering her imprisoned ex-husband.
While noting that grand jury secrecy laws prevent some of what investigators have learned from being released, the report essentially summarizes facts that have already been made public.
“Some opportunities missed by law enforcement officials who led the early stages of the investigation may have contributed to the delay in bringing charges in this case,” Roca said.
Now the authorities “can and should learn from this,” she said, especially for future investigations involving the rich, powerful and famous.
Family attorney Cathy Durst criticized the DA’s remarks as an attempt to “explain how money, power and influence allowed the killer to escape justice” and urged Rock to resign.
“We ask the public to consider why the current Westchester District Attorney and her predecessors remain unwilling to tell the truth about why it took Robert Durst nearly forty years to file charges,” Abrams’ attorney said in a statement.
Durst always claimed that the last time he saw his then-wife was when he dropped her off in Westchester County on a train to New York City, where they had an apartment and she was in medical school.
According to Rock, investigators initially allowed themselves “to be guided by Durst’s version of events” despite the inconsistencies.
For example, although Durst said they had no problems in their marriage, one of their neighbors in Manhattan told police that his wife said he beat her and repeatedly sought refuge with him in the neighbor’s apartment, once climbing over neighboring balconies.
Meanwhile, neighbors he said he visited in Westchester after he gave her a lift to the train denied he had come, and a cleaning lady at the Durst house noticed some unusual things over the weekend, including that, according to she thought there was blood on the dishwasher, and said he told her to get rid of many of his wife’s things shortly after she disappeared.
But the police did not thoroughly search the house in Westchester. The investigation remained focused on Manhattan, where several witnesses reported seeing Kathy Durst the night she disappeared, and the dean of her medical school said he received a phone call from her the next day.
A reinvestigation that the New York State Police and the District Attorney’s office launched in 1999 destroyed both of these lines of evidence. Witnesses said they were wrong or unsure, and evidence emerged that the medical school caller who said she was Katie Durst was actually Susan Berman, a writer who was Robert Durst’s best friend.
Berman was found murdered in her Los Angeles home in December 2000, before a state police investigator could carry out plans to question her.
Durst was convicted in September for her murder, and prosecutors alleged he did so to prevent her from incriminating him. Roca said the Los Angeles case paved the way for the New York charges.
Katie Durst was officially declared dead in 2017, but her body has never been found.