Dead wife’s relatives seek part of Robert Durst’s fortune

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A quest for the fortune left behind by multimillionaire murderer Robert Durst is underway just days after his death.

A lawyer for the family of his first wife, who vanished and was declared legally dead, notified the real estate tycoon’s trust that it would be seeking more than $100 million from Durst’s estate and widow.

Attorney Robert Abrams said he would soon be filing a new wrongful death lawsuit against the estate and would renew legal actions against others he has claimed helped cover up the killing of Kathie McCormack Durst four decades ago.

Durst, 78, died Monday in a California hospital while serving a life sentence for shooting his best friend, Susan Berman, in the back of the head at her Los Angeles home in 2000. He was facing second-degree murder charges in New York for his wife’s alleged slaying.

A Los Angeles County jury convicted Durst of first-degree murder in September on the theory he silenced Berman as she planned to tell authorities she provided a phony alibi to help him get away with killing Kathie Durst in New York in 1982.

Abrams sent a letter Tuesday to a lawyer who is co-trustee warning not to distribute money from the trust or destroy any records.

He singled out Durst’s second wife, Debrah Charatan, whom he said is believed to be either the sole or primary beneficiary of a trust worth tens of millions of dollars.

Echoing allegations Abrams made in a 2017 lawsuit that remains under appeal, he said Charatan quietly married Durst in 2000 to help him evade authorities after the investigation into Kathie Durst’s disappearance was reopened.

“We’re not about to let Debrah Charatan dissolve the trust and get tens of millions of dollars more,” Abrams said. “You don’t get tens of millions of dollars in America for covering up a murder.”

Charatan has never been charged with a crime in the case and her attorneys said in court papers in 2019 that she bears no responsibility related to Kathie Durst’s disappearance, which occurred six years before she met Robert Durst.

Attorney Scott Epstein said the lawsuit was based on rumor “more suitable for a work of fiction.”

“The plaintiffs’ claims are at best an example of the most extreme form of speculation and at worst nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to publicly embarrass and extort money from Ms. Charatan, an innocent party, who is perceived by the plaintiffs as a deep pocket,” Epstein wrote.

Epstein did not immediately respond to a message left Friday with his office seeking comment. A woman who answered a phone listed in Charatan’s name hung up when an Associated Press reporter called for comment.

Attorney Gary Freidman, the co-trustee who Abrams addressed his three-page letter to, declined to comment.

Durst’s deadly turn from a wealthy life of ease to a series of bizarre and bungled runs from the law became tabloid fodder and the focus of a feature film and a six-part documentary.

He was long estranged from his family, which controls one of New York’s largest commercial real estate firms, owns several New York skyscrapers and runs One World Trade Center.

After an acrimonious legal dispute, he was bought out of The Durst Organization and his family trust in 2006 for tens of millions of dollars, his brother, Douglas Durst, who runs the company, testified. Prosecutors estimated Robert Durst was worth about $100 million.

The McCormack family’s previous lawsuit against Durst for wrongful death was thrown out because the deadline to file it expired.

They can revive the lawsuit under New York law because Durst was charged last year with murder in the case, Abrams said.

Robert Durst was the last person to see Kathie Durst alive on Jan. 31, 1982. Her body was never been found and she was finally declared legally dead in 2017.

During his LA trial, Durst testified he didn’t kill his wife and didn’t know what happened to her. He also denied killing Berman, though he said if he had killed either woman, he would lie about it.

Abrams’ letter to the trust was akin to a restraining order, essentially saying “we don’t want you paying anyone anything until we get to the bottom of this,” said Matt Hunter, a New York estate attorney.

“Wife No. 1’s estate is trying to glom onto to whatever wife No. 2 is entitled to through either Robert’s estate or Robert’s trust,” said Hunter, who has no role in the case.

Durst married Charatan in December 2000 while he was hiding from New York authorities who had reopened the investigation into his first wife’s disappearance. Berman, who told friends in late 2000 she was planning to speak with investigators, was killed about two weeks later.

Durst eventually returned to a low-rent Galveston, Texas, apartment where had holed up disguised as a woman unable to speak. In September 2001, he killed his elderly next door neighbor, Morris Black, chopped up his body and tossed it out to sea.

He was acquitted after testifying that Black, who he had befriended, had pulled a gun on him and it accidentally fired during a struggle for the weapon. He was convicted of tampering with evidence for disposing of the body.

Abrams plans a news conference on the 40th anniversary of Kathie Durst’s disappearance later this month to reveal more information he’s discovered about her death.

He said he will file legal actions against others, including and Charatan and Durst family members whom he said also helped hide what they knew about Kathie Durst’s slaying.

A spokesperson for The Durst Organization said Abrams has a reputation for bringing unsupported claims, naming the company or Douglas Durst more than 30 times in court filings in the past two years.

“Mr. Abrams has a long history of leveling hollow, baseless attacks without ever providing a single shred of documentation to substantiate his wild claims,” Jordan Barowitz said. “Time and time again, these accusations have been summarily dismissed and thrown out by the courts.”

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Associated Press journalist Michael R. Sisak in New York contributed to this report.

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