Durst Cuts Ties to Family in Return for $65 Million
WHITE PLAINS, Feb. 6 — Robert A. Durst, the real estate scion acquitted of murder in Texas despite admitting that he carved up his 71-year-old neighbor, cut the last ties to his family and 10 Manhattan skyscrapers on Monday in return for a payout of about $65 million.
Mr. Durst, long estranged from his family, agreed in Westchester County Surrogate's Court to settle a lawsuit he had brought against the Durst family trusts and the trustees: his younger brother Douglas; a cousin, Jonathan; and a lawyer, Richard Siegler. The value of the settlement was described in court as "blank," but people on both sides of the dispute said Mr. Durst would get more than $60 million.
Although he received more than $2 million a year from the trusts — "more money than I could possibly spend," he has said in court testimony — Mr. Durst sought to remove the trustees because, he claimed, they had acted to bar his wife from being able to inherit his stake in the trusts. The trustees said in court papers that if Mr. Durst was successful it would have led to the dismantling of the family's real estate empire, which includes the Condé Nast Building in Times Square.
In the end, money prevailed.
Mr. Durst, 62, was not actually in the White Plains courtroom Monday. Instead, his brief testimony before Judge Anthony A. Scarpino Jr. came via speakerphone from a minimum-security holding center in Houston, where he is serving 60 days for a parole violation. Mr. Durst explained that he was sitting in the "captain's office."
Debrah Lee Charatan, Mr. Durst's second wife and a New York real estate broker, was in the courtroom, but declined to comment. Both sides agreed not to disclose details of the settlement.
The settlement, the latest chapter in a bizarre tale that includes a missing first wife, cross-dressing and dismemberment, would seem to bring an end to the ties between Mr. Durst and his family. Robert A. Durst is the oldest son of Seymour B. Durst, who built a series of office towers on the Avenue of the Americas. He broke with his family in 1994 after his father anointed Douglas as his successor in the family business. Robert Durst abruptly stopped going into work and did not attend his father's funeral a short time later.
Posing as a mute woman, he rented a $300-a-month apartment in Galveston, Tex., in November 2000, after learning that the Westchester County district attorney's office had reopened an investigation into the mysterious 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen, who was only months away from finishing medical school. Mr. Durst was the last person to see her, and she is presumed dead.
Mr. Durst would later say that he was not very good at pretending to be a woman, having once set his wig on fire in a bar. But he rented a second apartment in New Orleans while also posing as a woman.
His family had little idea where Mr. Durst was until October 2001, when he was arrested in Galveston on charges of murdering and dismembering a cantankerous former merchant seaman, Morris Black, who lived across the hall from him.
The Dursts also discovered that Robert had remarried in a secret ceremony in Times Square in 2000 when he called Ms. Charatan in New York asking her to send bail money. The couple have never lived together, other than during a couple of months in 1990.
Mr. Durst got out of jail and went on the run. He was arrested 45 days later in eastern Pennsylvania, after he tried to steal a Band-Aid, a newspaper and a chicken salad sandwich from a supermarket. He had $500 in his pocket and $37,000 in the trunk of his car, law enforcement authorities said, along with two handguns and some marijuana.
Mr. Durst later told a jury in Galveston that Mr. Black, whom he called a friend, died accidentally in a struggle over his .22-caliber handgun when the gun went off in Mr. Black's face. Fearing that no one would believe his story, Mr. Durst testified that he panicked, carving up Mr. Black's body until he was "swimming in blood." He tossed the body parts into Galveston Bay. All but Mr. Black's head washed ashore.
The jury believed him.
But the day before his release from jail in 2004, Mr. Durst was arrested on federal weapons charges relating to his capture in Pennsylvania. He served nearly six months in prison before returning to Houston last July on parole. In December, Mr. Durst was arrested on parole violation charges.
Meanwhile, Ms. Charatan propelled the legal challenge to the Durst trusts in New York. Mr. Durst was deposed last week in Houston, where he wore handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit. Under her arrangement with Mr. Durst, Ms. Charatan will get a substantial part of the settlement, according to three people who had been briefed on the agreement.