“Something Cool” No. 5: The Mystery of Robert Durst – Part 1


Part One. The Disappearance of Kathleen McCormack.

It’s 1943 in Scarsdale, New York, a small but affluent suburb of Westchester County with a population of just over 10,000. Bernice Herstein, wife of real estate tycoon Seymour Durst, has just given birth to her first son, Robert.

Seven years later, Robert will watch Bernice fall to her death from the roof of the Durst family’s two story mansion. It is unclear whether or not she jumped.

What is clear is that from that moment on, the trajectory of young Robert’s cushy life would be permanently changed…


…Thoroughly spooked yet? Well, we’re just getting warmed up. Welcome back to Something Cool! It’s a new year, so I thought I’d take my time and ease back into the swing of things. And what better way to do that than by writing about eccentric serial killer Robert Durst? Lock your doors and draw your blinds, because this one is about to get real.

Robert’s story is a complicated one, so I’ll be splitting the topic up into a four part mini-series, starting with the disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack. Okay, enough setup. Let’s get into it.

Robert Durst married Kathleen McCormack on April 12, 1973 – his 30th birthday – after dating her for little more than a year. To many people, that might seem soon, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Surely nothing bad can come as a result of rushing into a relationship, right? (That was sarcastic, in case you couldn’t tell.) The newlyweds started things off auspiciously, but by 1982, reports of abuse and an affair had begun to circulate, and Kathleen had had enough. She decided to request a divorce. Then, on the night of January 31, 1982, with McCormack but a few short months from finishing her medical degree, she disappeared. Personally, I’d like to think that it was all just one big magic trick and that Kathleen is going to pop out from behind a curtain somewhere any day now, but that’s beginning to seem increasingly unlikely. Conflicting accounts exist concerning what exactly happened that night, but one thing is certain: Robert’s story is less than consistent. Let’s take a look at the differing versions of Kathleen McCormack’s last few hours.

The train. Initially, Robert told police that Kathleen had been at a party that night. When she came home, he said, the two fought, and Kathleen asked Robert to drive her to the train station. According to Robert, he last spoke to her via phone after the train arrived in New York City. Regardless of the truthfulness of the tale, my question is, really, Robert? A train? In the middle of the night? I mean, sure, you probably killed her in cold blood, but you couldn’t at least have the decency to drive her the whole way?

The friend. One of Kathleen’s friends says that she visited her that night at the same time that she was supposedly on a train. According to the friend, Kathleen had been dressed in a red tracksuit – not exactly the typical style of your average married-to-a-multi-millionaire socialite – and expressed concern that Robert might try to hurt her. Apparently, Kathleen then departed to meet a different friend at a Manhattan pub but never showed.

The apartment. A doorman at one of the Dursts’ apartments in the city claims to have seen someone who looked just like Kathleen on the morning of February 1 – the day after she was officially last seen. But no corroboration exists to suggest the woman in question ever made it to the apartment, and the doorman can’t say for sure whether or not it was her. If you’re a fan of Something Cool, you might have read my piece on Shrödinger’s cat; maybe Kathleen was both at the apartment and not at the apartment at the same time!

The phone call. Now here’s where things really get weird. On February 4, the dean of Kathleen’s school received a phone call from someone claiming to be Kathleen. This person notified the dean that “she” (Kathleen) was sick and would not be attending her classes that week. There are a couple things that don’t add up here. Most notably, how can Kathleen be calling in sick if no one’s heard from her in four days? But also: why call the dean of the school? If it really was Kathleen, she would no doubt have had her teachers’ phone numbers and would instead have contacted them directly, right? This whole exchange is very fishy, but don’t worry; I’ll have more on this in the second part. For now, let’s simply put it on the back burner.

Robert waited for over a week to file a missing person’s report for his wife. To many, it seemed clear that he was hiding something, but the investigation yielded no concrete evidence and the case went cold. When a group of Kathleen’s friends began digging around for information, each of their houses were curiously broken into and all materials regarding the disappearance were stolen. In 1990, Robert officially filed for divorce, citing spousal abandonment.

And that’s the end. Well, at least for Kathleen McCormack. But not for our story. Next installment, we’ll add two more names to the list. And this time, it’s not a question of what happened to them, but rather who pulled the trigger on the gun that killed them.

If you have a topic you’d like me to research, or you have a suggestion for future installments, email me at [email protected]