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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  December 7, 2019 11:00pm-12:00am PST

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you abide in me. for the gifts and the calling of god are irrevocable. i'm craig melvin. >> and i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline." >> it's a murder mystery. you've got a wealthy family. it's something for everybody. >> there is a club of people consumed by trying to figure out what happened. i've never seen anything like it. >> reporter: almost everywhere robert durst goes, mystery follows. a missing wife. >> everything about this reeked of murder. >> reporter: a murdered best friend. a dead neighbor. >> it's hard to understand.
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>> reporter: now the stories you haven't heard as those who knew robert durst best speak out in an exclusive interview. >> i hope and i pray that when all this is done, we all get answers. >> reporter: and hear his own account of his strange life. the reclusive millionaire has spent much of his time on the road. so where was he? what was he doing? who was he with? >> what is a guy of his wealth doing hanging out at a homeless shelter/soup kitchen? >> reporter: for decades, suspicions, questions raised anew on the series "the jinx." will there finally be answers? >> bob didn't kill susan berman. >> reporter: the twisted tale of robert durst. and a new mystery. >> karen, where are you? >> he's definitely in the mix? >> he's in the mix. ♪ hello and welcome to
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"dateline." robert durst was born into privilege. he never seemed to crave the limelight, but over the years his possible ties to a string of mysterious disappearances and gruesome deaths placed him under the bright glare of suspicion. durst's tale has been the subject of books, television shows, and movie plots. it is a stranger than fiction story with twists and turns, a complicated yarn that has been unraveling for decades. here's keith morrison with "robert durst: the lost years." >> reporter: there is a letter written more than 60 years ago. a prophecy? perhaps. a warning, certainly. a doctor writing about a very troubled 10-year-old boy suffering from hostility issues sufficient to produce a personality decomposition and possibly even schizophrenia.
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the troubled little boy? his name is well known. robert durst. by now you've heard the bizarre saga. the multi-millionaire scion of a new york real estate empire. the disappeared wife, the dead friend, the dismembered neighbor. he's been the subject of several "dateline" episodes and the star, though not in the way he intended of hbo's "the jinx." but do you, does anyone, know the truth about robert durst? the story behind the story. the trail we followed, the revelations we encountered, the personal account he wrote and we were given, which have led us into a very weird place, the lost years of the infamous robert durst. the tale is like quicksand. it sucks you in.
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>> bob is endlessly fascinating and -- and always surprises me. >> reporter: he has certainly been elusive, mercurial, sometimes desperate and always in motion. we'll track him, his descent, his strange detour off the road, off the grid. a life that no one, not even his family or close friends, could fathom. >> he has a good heart inside, i really think so. >> reporter: we begin with two people who have known and loved the man they call bobby, godfather of their son, close friend of more than 40 years. long before the rest of the world heard of him. >> and when did you meet him? >> we went to high school together. >> reporter: stewart and emily altman spoke to us for the first time since durst was arrested. >> there's still a side of bob that's not a monster. >> yeah. >> you know, he has a heart, but it's caused me a great deal of
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conflict and i can't get my head around is whatever happened to bob. it's hard. >> reporter: the altmans shared personal photos and the story of bob they've lived and breathed starting with the family disaster that tormented him. >> his mom committed suicide when he was 7 years-old and it was a devastating experience for bob. >> reporter: compounded by bob's strained relationships with his brother douglas and his father seymour. but then, in the 1970s, stewart introduced bob to a young woman and this whole twisted tale was set in motion. >> i was living on east 52nd street on the second floor and kathie was living on the third floor, and bob owned the building. he used to come and collect the rent. >> reporter: kathie was kathie mccormack, stewart's young and
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beautiful upstairs neighbor. >> it was like prince charming and a princess. kathie was the love of his life. >> reporter: but it didn't last. the altmans attended their wedding and then a few years later, watched their prince and princess grow apart. >> she became more independent. it wasn't the fairy tale anymore. >> reporter: no. in fact, kathie's brother jim told us it was more like a horror movie. >> there's a dark side of bob that, you know, was fairly well camouflaged when they were first, you know, going out and getting married. but it escalated ultimately into psychological abuse, economic abuse and physical abuse. >> reporter: remember that doctor's letter warning that the 10-year-old bob suffered from severe hostility issues? kathie gave a copy to her friends including ellen strauss. evidence, she said. just in case. >> kathie warned all of us that if anything ever happened, look
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to bob. bob did it. don't let him get away with it. >> reporter: and then in 1982 kathie durst disappeared. how did he take it? >> it's bob. you know, he asked if we had seen her, if we heard anything, if we knew anything. >> reporter: but they didn't. no one did. >> bob was typically almost detached in his demeanor. you know, almost "i don't know nothing. i don't know anything." >> reporter: from the outset bob denied any involvement in kathie's disappearance and still does. at the time he was careful to distance himself from investigators. "new york times" reporter charles bagli has covered the durst real estate empire for three decades. and when kathie vanished, said bagli, bob's protective friend susan berman, a name you've probably heard of, became his
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unofficial spokeperson. >> and susan would call back and say, "well, bob's, you know, really not feeling right right now. i'm going to handle a lot of this." >> reporter: bob himself was pretty much incommunicado then. but we have obtained this, his own account. his version of things which he wrote later. here's what he wrote about kathie's disappearance. "after my wife kathie left, my compulsive use of alcohol, drugs and food changed from an infrequent problem to a daily event." >> he didn't come in to work for about two years. >> reporter: later, when bob began showing up at work again, sporadically, he wasn't anything like a buttoned-up executive. >> he enjoyed smoking pot in a social situation, burping and farting because it disturbed people, you know, and he liked to watch their reactions. >> reporter: right. so, these stories about misbehaving, peeing in a
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wastebasket or something, that's -- >> there was peeing in a wastebasket and all of that. it gave pause to the family. >> reporter: and it was no great surprise when the family patriarch, seymour durst, chose bob's younger brother douglas to run the family business. did he really think, up until the point where douglas was picked, that -- that he had a shot at it? >> he was groomed for it. that was supposed to be his -- his job. he was upset. it had a devastating effect on bob. >> reporter: and that is when the little known and reclusive bob durst went off on his own, to embark on a strange new life. what we wanted to know is how and why trouble seemed to be his traveling companion. >> there would be more mysteries and more questions for robert durst. coming up -- and a peek at his new life on the lost coast.
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>> i think he wanted to be a cross-dresser and maybe he was experimenting with it. you know what i mean? >> hanging out at a homeless shelter/soup kitchen -- >> reporter: wait a minute, he bought a house, he hangs out at a homeless shelter? >> when "dateline" continues. e , not actors, who've got their eczema under control. with less eczema, you can show more skin. so roll up those sleeves. and help heal your skin from within with dupixent. dupixent is the first treatment of its kind that continuously treats moderate-to-severe eczema, or atopic dermatitis, even between flare ups. dupixent is a biologic, and not a cream or steroid. many people taking dupixent saw clear or almost clear skin. and, had significantly less itch. that's a difference you can feel. don't use if you're allergic to dupixent. serious allergic reactions can occur, including anaphylaxis, which is severe. tell your doctor about new or worsening eye problems,
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such as eye pain or vision changes, or a parasitic infection. if you take asthma medicines, don't change or stop them without talking to your doctor. so help heal your skin from within, and talk to your eczema specialist about dupixent. skip to the good part with alka-seltzer plus. now with 25% more concentrated power. nothing works faster for powerful cold relief. oh, what a relief it is! so fast!
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but he wanted snow for thelace holidays.. so we built a snow globe. i'll get that later. dylan! but the one thing we could both agree on was getting geico to help with homeowners insurance. what? switching and saving was really easy! i love you! what? sweetie! hands off the glass. ugh!! call geico and see how easy saving on homeowners and condo insurance can be. i love her!
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you have power over pain, so the whole world looks different. the unbeatable strength of advil. what pain? the best of pressure cooking and air frying now in one pot, and with tendercrisp technology, you can cook foods that are crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. the ninja foodi pressure cooker, the pressure cooker that crisps. >> reporter: they call this place the lost coast, an almost mystical corner of northern
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california, where bob durst came to -- what? get lost himself? it was 1995, after he was dumped from the company, 13 years after kathy disappeared. bob walked into the office of local real estate broker gene davenport. >> he told me he was a writer for "the wall street journal." he said he wanted to have a place with an ocean view. >> reporter: bob forked over nearly $400,000 in cash for a big family house in the town of trinidad, overlooking the pacific, where he lived like a hermit. >> nobody really seen him around. he never really had contact or didn't really have any best friends. >> reporter: in that personal account of his, he explained why. "i hated to have more than a brief conversation with someone because i immediately found myself being asked, what do you do? the true answer was nothing, i live off the family estate."
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which was true enough, but he wasn't exactly idle, either, said author matt birkbeck, who's been following the durst case for over 15 years, and wrote a book about it called "a deadly secret." bob durst was buying other properties, he said, but some of his choices didn't seem to make sense. >> these aren't just homes. we're talking storage facilities and p.o. boxes. >> reporter: you mean he'd buy one storage place or something? >> he'd have an address and the address turned out to be a storage facility. and what's he doing with all these different storage facilities? >> reporter: the main town near trinidad is eureka, where we discovered bob spent quite a bit of time in a secondhand clothing store primarily for women. >> i think he wanted to be a cross-dresser and maybe he was experimenting with it. you know what i mean? >> reporter: he always came alone, said shopkeeper kay king. >> he would buy something pretty plain like this, you know, nothing real -- you know, so he -- it wasn't outstanding.
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and then he would get a skirt, you know, and try to match it up, you know, and most of the time he couldn't. so i would try and help him match. >> reporter: kay had seen her share of cross-dressers, but there was something different about this one. >> he wanted to be somebody else besides robert durst. >> reporter: which might explain another untold story of those years -- an odd and so far unexplained habit of frequenting eureka's seedy side. >> hanging out at a -- it was a homeless shelter/soup kitchen. >> reporter: wait a minute. he bought a house and he hangs out at a homeless shelter? >> he's hanging out at a homeless shelter. >> reporter: but, said charles bagli, he was also restless. >> he was in constant motion, whether it -- he was here, in texas, or in california, or in europe.
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>> reporter: or los angeles, where he'd look in on susan berman, who you'll remember spoke for him after kathie disappeared, and was now trying to make it as a hollywood screenwriter. >> she and bobby i always felt were very tight. >> reporter: this is susan berman's friend kim lankford. >> she was very protective of bobby. >> reporter: susan lived in a slightly rundown cottage in l.a.'s benedict canyon, and occasionally bob would stop by. but, like a gypsy, would soon be gone again, sometimes flying back to trinidad, where he'd question his shuttle driver ross vitale. >> he would kind of specifically ask questions about, "has the sheriff's department been out here? you seen anything going on?" >> reporter: and in 1997, while bob lived here, something did happen. a local teenager named karen mitchell vanished after leaving a women's shoe store that,
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later, bob was known to frequent. by the year 2000, the case was cold. but that of course is when, across the country in new york, another case was suddenly hot again -- the investigation into the disappearance of bob's wife kathie, re-opened by westchester county d.a. jeanine pirro, who later became a tv host on fox news channel. >> i had an instinct. everything about this reeked of murder. we had evidence that she was battered by him, which he has since confirmed. it was clear to me that he killed her. >> reporter: the investigation was supposed to be top secret, but as we know, bob durst found out. >> yeah, he seemed worried, he did. >> reporter: and then one of kathie's friends -- you've met her, ellen straus -- offered the cops a tip. >> i begged the police to interview his best friend susan berman. i showed them all my research. i felt susan berman was the key,
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always did. >> reporter: and the police did plan on interviewing susan berman. the problem was, they just waited a little too long. coming up -- >> did susan ever tell you that she was afraid of robert? >> she did tell me she was fearful of him. >> my first thought was, "why didn't they listen to me? what were they waiting for, godot? >> when "dateline" continues. ve and save in more ways than one. for small prices, you can build big dreams, spend less, get way more. shop everything home at
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>> reporter: by the autumn of 2000, westchester county's reinvestigation of the missing millionaire's wife, kathie durst, had been chugging quietly for months. when the story broke, durst found himself in the media glare again. it had been 18 years since kathie disappeared and public opinion, he wrote, turned against him unlike before. "in 1982, the tone of the publicity was of a scandal about a rich schmuck who had a terrible marriage. people did not distance themselves from me because of it. in 2000, i was a murderer who everyone disliked." of course, susan berman had kept the bad press at bay back in '82, but now, investigators wanted to talk to her. and what did bob do then? he got married. not to susan berman, but to new
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york real estate broker deborah charatan. >> that wasn't a marriage made in heaven. that was clearly a marriage of convenience, in that this is bobby durst saying, "in the event i'm arrested i have someone to bail me out. and to handle my affairs." >> reporter: well, of course that's just an opinion. maybe it was a love match. but it did come with spousal privilege, which meant deborah didn't have to talk to the cops about her new wealthy husband. she also reportedly got access to a substantial share of his money. >> deborah doesn't do anything unless deborah benefits. >> reporter: that's a character reference i'm not sure i'd want to have. >> she is a savvy business woman. >> reporter: meanwhile, out in hollywood, susan berman was struggling to make it as a screenwriter. >> things weren't quite going as well as she would have liked
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with her career. >> reporter: for years, susan had relied on bob for help and he responded, sometimes with big checks. two at least for $25,000. >> there was some macabre kind of kooky energy that went on between them. >> reporter: we got some unique insight from a woman who claims she was susan berman's closest confidante and therapist and psychic. her name is barbara stabiner, and she told us she knows what susan was thinking. in fact, she gave the police many hours of her recorded conversations with susan in which, during those last months of 2000, according to barbara, susan grew increasingly worried. did susan ever tell you that she was afraid of robert? >> she did tell me she was fearful of him, because i had the feeling she felt afraid of him because she was afraid he would withdraw any help. >> reporter: but it was more
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than that, said the psychic. susan was afraid of bob, she said, because she knew too much. she knew his secrets. >> towards the end of her life she was very agitated with him. >> reporter: would he save her? susan didn't know, said barbara. and then, just before christmas, 2000, she said susan let her know that bob was on the way with money. >> he said, "i'll bring it." and that's what happened. but i can't prove it. >> reporter: l.a. cops have long suspected bob did go to susan's house in l.a. but not to bring her more money. to prevent her from talking. ever. we do know from flight records, and bob's own personal account, that he did go to california. christmas 2000, robert durst was on the move again. late december he flew here to eureka, california. he had owned a house in this area for several years but had
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recently sold it. he wasn't coming to stay here. he got a car, got inside it, pointed south. in bob durst 's own personal account he notes a visit to garberville, 600 miles from los angeles. after that we can't follow his trail. we do know that late on december 22nd or early the 23rd, susan berman was murdered by a bullet to the back of her head at her home in l.a. and on the 23rd flight records confirm bob took off from san francisco on the red eye to new york. and soon after, this letter postmarked december 23rd, showed up at the beverly hills pd. >> i call it the cadaver note. >> reporter: ah yes. the famous note directing police to her body. a note likely written by her killer. word of susan berman's murder traveled fast. >> it was like, "oh my god."
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i mean, and i -- my first thought was, "why didn't they listen to me?" they did not interview susan berman in a timely manner. what were they waiting for? godot? >> reporter: bob skipped susan berman's memorial service. and a few weeks later he surfaced in galveston, texas, another good place to get lost. except, of course, trouble eventually found him there. a killing, a dismemberment and an unforgettable acquittal. we all know the story, but not this version. coming up, did robert durst rehearse telling the truth? >> his wife and friend smuggled a little cassette tape recorder into the jail. he would then discuss with them whether or not he sounded believable with the story that he was telling. >> when "dateline" continues. ond alka-seltzer plus. concentrated power. nothing works faster for powerful cold relief. oh, what a relief it is! so fast!
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i'm dara brown with the hour's top stories. officials told nbc news the saudi air force trainee who killed three people on a
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pensacola naval base showed videos of mass shootings at a dinner party with three friends prior to the attack. investigators believe the friends were not involved in the shooting. the house judiciary committee released a 55-page historical report that laid out the constitutional grounds for impeaching president trump. this comes after trump announced he will not be taking part in judiciary hearings. now back to "dateline." >> reporter: at the end of the highway to galveston, texas, is a road sign. "mile zero," it says. this is where bob durst went to vanish. he had actually moved here just weeks before susan berman's murder. and initially, he was not a suspect, but he took pains to keep himself hidden, as he told his friends the altmans. >> nobody would be looking for a robert durst in a $300 a month apartment under an assumed name.
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>> reporter: the name of an old high school classmate named dorothy ciner. although in his log he wrote that he didn't like wearing a wig. "it itched, it got in my eyes; unless it was on tight, which made my head sweat." but the version bob has told over the years, believes author matt birkbeck, doesn't tell the real story. certainly not of the famous killing of his elderly neighbor morris black. or of bob's activities in galveston and elsewhere. >> it was really strange, you know, him and black, palling around in galveston amongst the homeless. so what is a guy of his wealth and his family's influence doing stealing identities? >> reporter: in fact, in the spring of 2001, at the same time as he, as dorothy ciner, was living in galveston he rented
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another room in new orleans under the name diane winn. we found the place, and his old landlord, michael ogden. >> he was wearing a blouse with small brassiere, a wig. >> reporter: he lived on the top floor and the neighbors often saw him wearing women's clothing. >> he wasn't a drag queen. he was just in disguise. >> reporter: and then he'd fly off somewhere else, new york, california, connecticut, always returning, as he carefully noted in his personal account, to that down-market apartment in galveston. where, in september 2001, he shot morris black, accidentally, and in self-defense, he claimed, and then dismembered the man and threw his body parts into galveston bay. here's how durst described it -- "jack daniels. marijuana. bought bow saw; bow saw not deep enough, return for bigger bow saw, could not use saw, went back first looked at electric
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saws, bought axe. did it." but matt birkbeck believes bob's claims about the killing were attempts after the fact to sanitize what the evidence suggests was a brutal murder. >> it makes no sense. and if you look at the autopsy report it shows that morris had been beaten severely in the upper torso, and he even perhaps suffered a heart attack. so obviously something else was going on. >> reporter: after his arrest bob called his friends the altmans and tried to explain what happened. >> he said he went to a fugue state. he was an out of body experience. i -- it's hard to understand. >> reporter: charged with murder, bob durst also called his new wife, debrah charatan, who helped arrange $300,000 in cash for bail which he promptly skipped, got a car, and traveled the country sometimes using morris black's i.d.
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it was weeks later when they finally caught him, shoplifting in bethlehem, pennsylvania. while more than $38,000 in cash was in his car. the altmans visited him in jail. >> you know, i asked him how he was doin'. and he said, "you know, not great." he talked about how he pretty much was going to do maybe suicide by cop. >> reporter: but bob of course didn't pull that particular trigger and was sent back to texas for trial, where his houston attorney dick deguerin devised the defense that beat the murder charge. >> it was a simple case of a struggle over a gun, and the gun went off. if it truly was self-defense, then what happened after the killing doesn't change that. >> reporter: bob wasn't so confididn't he'd get off. in fact he asked his friends the
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altmans to help him learn more about what life behind bars would be like for him. >> he thought that if we got to know the ins and outs that maybe it would be easier for him once he was on the inside. >> reporter: he worried about how he'd hear his favorite music, for example. >> he was trying to find out if maybe there was a radio station he could buy so that if he were in jail he could have music that he liked. >> reporter: bob knew his chances of acquittal depended in large part on winning the jury's sympathy. so for that he went on a crash diet. >> bob was trying to use every way within his power to look frail when he was on trial in galveston. >> reporter: he also went to considerable trouble to practice his testimony as presiding judge susan criss learned later from recordings taped in the jail. >> he had his wife and friend smuggle a little cassette tape recorder into the jail. he would practice his testimony, sneak the tapes back to them, and then discuss with them
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whether or not he sounded believable with the story that he was telling. will the defendant please rise. >> reporter: the altmans said bob was convinced, 99.9% certain that he'd be convicted. >> we the jury find the defendant robert durst not guilty. >> reporter: the jury took five days to save him from 25 years to life in prison. though he later served a little time in federal prison for skipping bail and dismembering morris black. but by 2005 he was a free man again. now the only person who could catch bob durst was -- bob durst. coming up -- what was he thinking? caught off camera and seemingly off guard on "the jinx." did robert durst confess? why did he give that interview? >> thought he'd be able to show he's not a horrible person. >> when "dateline" continues. man: sneezes
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treats moderate-to-severe eczema, or atopic dermatitis, even between flare ups. dupixent is a biologic, and not a cream or steroid. many people taking dupixent saw clear or almost clear skin. and, had significantly less itch. that's a difference you can feel. don't use if you're allergic to dupixent. serious allergic reactions can occur, including anaphylaxis, which is severe. tell your doctor about new or worsening eye problems, such as eye pain or vision changes, or a parasitic infection. if you take asthma medicines, don't change or stop them without talking to your doctor. so help heal your skin from within, and talk to your eczema specialist about dupixent. honey, can you get the snacks? (laughter) (cat meows) (dark barks) ♪ guess who's early?
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with her grandparents all the time. (announcer) when you have the best network, you wanna give the best network. feliz navidad! (announcer) this holiday, you can gift america's most reliable network and the latest iphone. i would probably give it to her grandparents so they can take tons of photos. my mom is amazing. if i got her one of these for christmas, she'd be freaking out. (announcer) and now buy the latest iphone and get iphone 11 on us. plus, get $400 when you switch. with plans starting at just $35. (shrieks) yeah, exciting. (announcer) happy holidays from the network that gives you more. >> reporter: houston, 2010. the story of robert durst took a most unlikely turn. the mess in galveston long behind him, he had settled into this luxury highrise. mark thuesen was the condo board president. >> mr. durst was mostly disheveled. it didn't look like his hair was kept.
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it was messy. he looked like a street bum. >> reporter: he was 67 by then and seemed to have done away with his cross-dressing. might have lived out his days in quiet, if eccentric, isolation. but then the durst story went hollywood. a movie called "all good things" was released based on robert durst's life, played by ryan gosling. it was directed by filmmaker andrew jarecki. >> bob liked that movie, and that's why he got involved with jarecki, i think. >> reporter: it was to offer his side of the story that bob sat for two long interviews with jarecki, for what would eventually become the hbo series called "the jinx." >> i begged him not to do it. i begged him not to do it. >> why he did it, only bob knows. >> reporter: what did he think he would get out of it? >> he thought he would be able to show that he's not a monster, he's not a horrible person. >> reporter: bob watched "the
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jinx" at the same time as everybody else did. and according to jarecki, the filmmakers had given evidence to the authorities two years before the show aired. which, to bob's attorney dick deguerin, meant the show was far from objective reporting. >> they edited probably 50 or more hours down into a few minutes. and i think the editing job was designed to make him look bad. >> reporter: but it was a simple comparison of handwriting samples that, on its own, seemed to condemn robert durst. it was episode five of "the jinx" series, in which a letter he admitted sending to susan berman was compared to the infamous cadaver note her presumed killer sent the cops. soon after seeing that episode, bob packed up and left houston. but the cops were monitoring his cell phone and eventually tracked him to the jw marriott hotel in new orleans.
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>> so now two fbi agents show up at the hotel and they're talking to the clerk. "well, do you have anyone booked here under the name of dorothy ciner?" "no." they go through ten other aliases. no. no. no. damn. where is he? they turn around and there's bob walking in the lobby, headed for the elevators. >> reporter: later they accompanied him to his room. >> and ultimately they turn up cash, a gun and some pot. >> reporter: so durst was booked for possession of a handgun and marijuana in louisiana and also arrested for the murder of susan berman in los angeles. and the very next day the final episode of "the jinx" aired, featuring the now infamous off-camera bathroom -- what was it? a confession?
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>> killed them all, of course. >> reporter: what did you think of what you saw in that? >> oh, god. i just looked at stewart, and he looked at me and we were speechless for a really long time. and then i burst into tears. because it just, like, it was like a knife. >> reporter: after his arrest a package arrived for him at that new orleans hotel. the police opened it. >> there were a pair of shoes in it and $117,000 in cash. >> reporter: hmm. >> so, he was definitely getting ready -- >> reporter: for something. a pair of shoes and money. that's kind of what you need, isn't it? >> that's right. >> reporter: and attorney deguerin stepped in again. this time he acknowledged because of bob's trip to new orleans, getting him out of jail might not be so easy. >> i acknowledged early on the chance of him making bail right
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now, the chances are slim and none, and slim just left town. >> reporter: in february of 2016 robert durst pleaded guilty to illegal gun possession. he was sentenced to seven years in federal prison. and as for the susan berman case, attorney dick deguerin insists bob had nothing to do with her murder. and when deguerin goes to court he faces a tough deputy d.a. named john lewin. >> you know, in texas we have a saying. "ain't been a horse can't be rode, ain't been a cowboy can't be throwed." >> reporter: but will the upcoming trials solve the mysteries of robert durst? well, maybe not. which is why we're about to return to california. and that place they call the lost coast. coming up -- >> we drove from southern california up here. >> a missing teenager. >> i remember hanging flyers at
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the rest stops with my daughter and just being like this is not happening right now. how could this be? karen, where are you? >> investigators wonder is there a link? >> robert durst is a person of interest in this case. he is in the mix. >> when "dateline" continues.
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>> reporter: of all the places robert durst wandered, this was not just a favorite but now the setting of a lingering mystery, california's lost coast.
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in 1997, a pretty teenager named karen mitchell was helping out at her aunt annie caspar's shoe store. >> i did not ever meet robert durst, but my manager, she said she remembered him because he just dressed as a woman. >> reporter: karen might well have met robert durst, said aunt annie. she often helped eureka's homeless population, people among whom bob was known to mingle. we can't know for sure. but we do know she was in bob's neighborhood. more than once. >> karen used to go to trinidad on the bus. i mean, they could have met. it's definitely a possibility. she liked unusual people. she liked to pick their brain, and talk to 'em. >> reporter: the day she vanished, karen left the shoe store to walk to her job at a
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nearby daycare center where she'd arranged to have annie pick her up after work. >> and as i came down, i had this weird feeling like something was off. >> reporter: it was. karen never made it to work. her mother, mary caspar, lived in los angeles. no forgetting what that phone call was like. >> we drove from southern california up here. and i remember hanging flyers at the rest stops of my daughter, and just being like, "this is not happening right now. how could this be? karen, where are you?" >> reporter: a massive search produced no sign of her. though there was one curious lead, a witness who said he saw a young woman get into a car with an older man on this busy eureka road. the witness worked with a police artist to produce this. but nothing much came of it, at least not back then. years passed. and then matt birkbeck, who authored a book on durst called "a deadly secret," got a tip from some independent
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investigators also working the case, a possible connection. >> there were credit card records that placed durst in the eureka area the day that this girl disappeared. >> reporter: the transaction was just up the coast in trinidad, maybe 20 minutes or so by car from that spot where the witness saw a girl picked up on the road in eureka. and then, before the trial in galveston, birkbeck heard this. >> i have a really good source that was close to the defense team. and i was told that durst, he was extremely concerned about karen mitchell. and was so concerned that he thought he was going to get charged. >> durst brought this up on his own for -- with his defense attorney? >> yes. and dick deguerin apparently said to him, "bobby, let's worry about one case at a time." >> reporter: not true, said dick deguerin. >> i've never had any concern about it. >> reporter: did bob? >> no. >> reporter: but when durst was arrested in new orleans, the case was reborn.
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andy mills was the eureka police chief at the time. >> robert durst is a person of interest in this case. >> reporter: he's definitely in the mix? >> he is in the mix. someone that we will consider as part of our larger investigation. >> reporter: the chief was not alone. the fbi and the humboldt county d.a. were investigating a possible bob durst connection, too. however, durst was not the only person of interest. there were five others. >> the evidence, the circumstantial evidence, is just not there at this point. >> reporter: that old composite sketch, for example, could this be robert durst? the chief isn't quite sure it's particularly accurate. >> looks very similar. >> reporter: were you impressed by the similarities? >> i'm impressed by the similarities, but my questions are being able to recognize somebody in a very small space and window, and then being able to recount that in a description that's -- that's pretty precise. >> reporter: that sketch? ridiculous, said durst's
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attorney, dick deguerin. >> i know bob pretty well. that doesn't look anything like him. it looks like mr. potato head. >> reporter: so who was that witness of 18 years ago? would he still remember? the cops hadn't spoken to him recently, so we found him riding his tractor in the green hills above eureka. his name is randy gomes, an army vet and a local carpenter. did he remember? >> i looked right at him, because i was yelling at him. >> reporter: yelling at him, because that guy cut him off when he stopped his car to pick up a teenaged girl. >> you know, and i eyeballed him. >> reporter: yeah. >> all the way around as i was coming around the car. >> reporter: gomes insisted the girl got into the car willingly, as if she knew the man. so now 18 years later, we showed gomes his sketch and a picture of robert durst. what is your gut reaction when you see those two photographs together? >> i believe that's the man that
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i saw. >> reporter: so how sure are you you got it right? >> i'm positive. in my heart i know i have it right. >> reporter: and gomes is fairly certain, he said, the girl who got in the car looked like a photo the police showed him of karen mitchell. >> but it was her because she -- we made eye contact. >> reporter: but issues. there is no proof that it was karen mitchell who got into the car. and bob durst's eyes are not blue. and, said chief mills, gomes didn't come forward until months after the incident. >> what we don't want to do is just take something that's, you know, sensational and plug that person into the midst of an investigation that may or may not have anything to do with him. >> reporter: but the investigation continues. and some, like birkbeck, believe there may be more. >> i've never said definitively
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that he was a serial killer. what i said was that there's so much out there about him that clearly there's something going on here. and that law enforcement needs to look into it and thankfully they are doing it now. >> reporter: waste of time, said dick deguerin. >> well, there's no evidence. and to think, you know, the -- they have to have a theory that he's some kind of serial killer. he's not a serial killer. >> but the notion of robert durst as a serial killer has come up. you know, a guy who -- >> well, sells. it sells magazines. it sells books and causes people to turn on their tvs. >> reporter: a long-missing wife. a dismembered neighbor. a murdered friend. this is how robert durst is defined now. where did it all go wrong? all that power, privilege, money. 60 years ago, a doctor warned that bob's hostility issues could lead to personality
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decomposition. is that what happened? to his friends emily and stewart altman, bobby durst was a good person and loyal friend for more than 40 years. stewart, an attorney who has represented bob in the past, has rejoined his legal team. and emily, painful as it is, worries that bobby durst may be the friend she never knew after all. you're prepared? >> no. >> reporter: not prepared to deal with that? >> he's my friend. i can't understand harming a human being, okay? doesn't make sense to me. i don't know if i can forgive that and i wish i could, and i'm struggling with that.
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i don't know. that's it. i don't know. that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm natalie morales. thanks for watching. i'm craig melvin. >> and i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline." >> it was a whirlwind love affair. >> i felt like this was the one that i'd been waiting for. maybe it was too good to be true. did he love me, or was this all a game? >> reporter: a beautiful businesswoman falls for a dashing doctor, but her daughters had doubts. >> i had lots of suspicions. >> she thinks his fingernails are dirty. and this does not look to her like the hands of an actual doctor. >> who was this guy? >> his nickname was "dirty john." >> this woman knew him all too well. >> i started snooping. and i found ev


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