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Report Details Robert Durst Case in New York

The many mysteries surrounding Robert A. Durst, the onetime real estate scion who died last week while in custody following his murder conviction in California, started with his first wife, who vanished from a cottage in a small town in Westchester County, New York, in 1982.

Kathie McCormack Durst’s disappearance would become one of the country’s most notorious cold cases, after multiple investigations by various agencies failed to uncover what had happened. It was nearly four decades before Mr. Durst was finally charged with her murder in November.

Mr. Durst’s death Jan. 10 scuttled chances that a trial would offer a full accounting of the circumstances surrounding Ms. Durst’s disappearance and presumed death. But on Wednesday, Miriam E. Rocah, the Westchester district attorney, released a report on the investigation that led to Mr. Durst’s indictment.

The 12-page report shed little new light on the exact circumstances of Ms. Durst’s death. It is silent on the last moments of her life, how Mr. Durst was responsible for her death, and exactly where she died. Her body was never found.

Ms. Rocah has said that her office was finally able to indict Mr. Durst because of new evidence and the many damaging admissions he made in the 2015 documentary “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” and during a lengthy trial last year in Los Angeles in which Mr. Durst was convicted of murdering another woman, his confidante Susan Berman.

But in an interview, Ms. Rocah acknowledged that the investigation and indictment of Mr. Durst was a “challenging circumstantial case.”

“This isn’t a case where we can say minute-by-minute what happened,” she said, “but we can say with confidence that he killed her in Westchester.”

To get there, Ms. Rocah said she put together a cold case squad, headed by the prosecutor Laura Murphy, whose first task was to review the Durst case. She also brought in Joseph Becerra, the state police investigator who reopened the Durst case in 1999.

Ms. Rocah said the report outlining the case against Mr. Durst was released in the interest of transparency.

“Sharing facts with the public, where possible, is the best way to enhance public trust in our justice system,” Ms. Rocah said. She also noted that the allegations of domestic violence against Mr. Durst at the time of Ms. Durst’s disappearance would likely have been taken more seriously as part of an investigation today.

Despite the death of Mr. Durst, who was 78, his case is not going away. Robert Abrams, a lawyer for the McCormack family, has vowed to file a wrongful-death lawsuit against Mr. Durst’s estate and to expose the people who, he said, aided Mr. Durst.

“There have been numerous individuals, including members of the Durst family, that have knowingly and intentionally participated in a criminal conspiracy to help Robert Durst avoid prosecution,” Mr. Abrams said after a news conference on Wednesday. He accused Ms. Rocah of sanctioning what he called a cover-up.

Asked if investigators had looked into allegations that the Durst family was involved in concealing Mr. Durst’s crimes, Ms. Rocah said, “We have no evidence to start an investigation of that nature.”

Robert Durst was the oldest son of Seymour Durst, the dynamo behind a Manhattan real estate empire now estimated to be worth $8 billion. Robert Durst’s marriage to Kathie McCormack in 1973 was falling apart when she disappeared at the end of a weekend trip to their cottage in South Salem, N.Y., in January 1982.

Kathie McCormack Durst’s disappearance in 1982 was the subject of intense interest for decades. Credit…Jim McCormack, via Associated Press

Mr. Durst did not report his wife missing until five days later in Manhattan.

Inconsistencies soon emerged in Mr. Durst’s account, and investigators have long suspected that a call made by a woman claiming to be Ms. Durst after her disappearance was actually made by Ms. Berman.

But the district attorney’s report said the initial investigation by the New York Police Department suffered from “tunnel vision” and an “overreliance on the narrative provided by Durst.”

A subsequent investigation nearly 20 years later determined that witnesses who had led investigators to focus on Manhattan rather than South Salem were not credible. But the South Salem house was not thoroughly searched in 1982, and Mr. Durst was not charged.

Some of the biggest breakthroughs came after Mr. Durst agreed to more than 20 hours of interviews with the producers of what became the 2015 documentary, “The Jinx.”

Mr. Durst told the filmmakers that he had lied to police about his whereabouts when Kathie disappeared and that the couple’s relationship had become a series of arguments, fighting and slapping. The filmmakers also turned up evidence tying Mr. Durst to the murder of Ms. Berman.

More evidence emerged in Los Angeles, where prosecutors found a new witness, Nick Chavin, a close friend of both Mr. Durst and Ms. Berman who testified that his longtime friend had confessed to him in 2014 that he had killed Ms. Berman. “I had to. It was her or me. I had no choice,” Mr. Chavin recalled Mr. Durst telling him.

At trial in Los Angeles last year, prosecutors argued that Mr. Durst had killed Ms. Berman because he feared that she was going to tell the authorities about her role in covering up the disappearance and murder of Ms. Durst.

Two weeks after being sentenced to life in prison for Ms. Berman’s killing, Mr. Durst was indicted on Nov. 1 by the Westchester District Attorney’s Office in the second-degree murder of Kathie Durst.

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