From a prison cell in Galveston, Texas, accused murderer Bobby Durst has been reaching out to explain himself to those dearest to his slain best friend, the author and onetime New York Magazine writer Susan Berman, who was found shot to death in her Los Angeles home on Christmas Eve, 2000.
In early March, Sareb Kaufman -- who was raised by Berman and considered her to be his mother -- flew from L.A. to Galveston at Durst's invitation and expense to meet with the real-estate heir as he awaits trial for the murder and dismemberment of a neighbor, Morris Black.
"How could I not go?" asks Sareb. "This was a person my mother trusted more than anyone." Kaufman, 28, spoke with Durst across a Plexiglas screen in the sparse Galveston jail. Durst wore powder-blue drawstring pants and a smock and had abandoned his much-written-about shaved-head persona.
"That was the first thing I noticed -- that he had hair on his head," Sareb says. During the two-hour-long visit, Durst talked about what happened with Black. (He has pleaded not guilty in the case and plans to argue that he shot Black in self-defense.)
But Sareb says Bobby Durst specifically wanted to assure him that he had nothing to do with Susan Berman's death. She was killed shortly before she was to be interviewed by New York police investigating the disappearance nearly twenty years ago of Durst's young medical-student wife, Kathie.
"I went not knowing what to think," Kaufman says of the visit, "but I came out feeling that this was one of Susan's dearest friends, and I want to give him the benefit of the doubt."
One could surmise that's also the attitude of the Los Angeles police, who have yet to contact either Durst or his Houston lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, since the killing of Morris Black last summer. As New York reported last week, the LAPD has been in possession for over a year of a creepy note that could tie Durst to the slaying of Berman. A handwritten envelope the police received shortly after Berman's murder contained a sheet of paper that had her address and a single word -- CADAVER -- written on it. The writing on the envelope and letter, which New York has seen, seems strikingly similar to Durst's to the amateur's eye.
"Of course, he had nothing to do with this note," DeGuerin insists, comparing handwriting analysis to "reading tea leaves."
"Bob Durst wants to cooperate in every way that he can with the LAPD, because he doesn't have anything whatsoever to hide," DeGuerin says. But, the lawyer adds, still somewhat incredulous, "I asked to have the L.A. police contact me directly. They've never contacted me! I've been sitting here waiting for them to contact me."
Moreover, these fifteen months after Susan Berman's death, Joseph Scott, a spokesman for L.A. district attorney Steve Cooley, says that "no case has been referred to us," despite the existence of the CADAVER letter.
Sareb Kaufman tells New York that Durst called after news of the letter broke, denying that he'd written it and saying he would cooperate with the LAPD: "He said, 'It's absolutely ridiculous, I didn't write that note,' " Kaufman says, adding that he has never been contacted by the LAPD. "I have yet to receive a single call from them." Sareb's sadness over the death of Susan Berman remains palpable, and he wants the police to find her killer. "Just show me," he says. "Just tell us who it is."
During Sareb's prison visit, Durst asked how he thought Susan might have handled Bobby's involvement in the death of Morris Black. "She'd be standing by you," Sareb replied. "Like she always did."