Five years after he was released from prison, Robert Durst has returned to New York. Having fallen out of the public eye after becoming a high-profile fugitive in the killing and butchering of an elderly man at a Texas boarding house, Durst has lately been spotted by locals working out at a Harlem Planet Fitness, getting his coffee fix at a 125th Street Starbucks, and dropping off his dry cleaning at Oxford Cleaners on 116th Street. “He came in here to pick up his dry cleaning and said he was new to the area,” said Arnold Caspillo of Oxford Cleaners. “He’s a nice guy.”
Durst was acquitted in 2003 of murdering Morris Black, who had been his neighbor in a Galveston, Texas, boarding house. In court, he claimed self-defense and admitted to shooting Black in the head with a handgun during a heated struggle, then butchering the corpse and throwing the headless, trash-bagged remains into Galveston Bay.
Durst served three years in prison after pleading guilty to skipping out on a $1 billion bail bond and tampering with evidence. He had been caught after shoplifting a sandwich from a supermarket in Pennsylvania.
At the time of Black’s death, Durst was living as a deaf-mute woman known as “Dorothy Ciner” who communicated with the landlord via handwritten notes. During the trial he startled jurors by growling loudly like a dog and snorting like a pig. Later, in prison, he became known for doing nude calisthenics in his cell.
At the Planet Fitness on 125th Street and Lenox Avenue, Durst was seen updating his membership and spending over an hour working out (clothed). “He’s really into the cardio,” an observer reported. “He doesn’t do weights.”
A source close to the Durst family confirmed that Robert was living or at least staying part-time in Harlem and said that the family has put him under surveillance.
Durst’s father, Seymour Durst, ran the Durst Organization until his death in 1995. The company owns and manages some of the most prestigious real estate in New York and is now run by Durst’s brother, Douglas, and a family cousin, Jonathan.
The film All Good Things — inspired by the troubled relationship between Robert Durst and his then-wife Kathleen McCormack Durst, an attractive blonde who vanished without a trace nearly 30 years ago — had its New York premiere in December and stars Ryan Gossling, Kirsten Dunst, and Frank Langella .
Durst was also a suspect in the 2000 Christmas Eve execution-style killing of his friend (and former New York Magazine writer) Susan Berman, a case that’s still being investigated by the LAPD. Durst has denied involvement in both unsolved cases.
A recent photograph obtained by New York shows Durst wearing a “Less Violence, More Violins” T-shirt. Reached on his cell phone, Durst said he wasn’t talking to the media. When asked if he had put down roots in Harlem, he hung up. Durst and his family are also not on speaking terms, said Durst Organization spokesman Jordan Barowitz, who described the relationship as “totally estranged.”
“I was a little shocked when I found out who he is because he’s a quiet guy,” said one of the people in Harlem who has interacted with Durst. “Nobody really knows about anybody’s business up here. Nobody says much about nothing.”