McCormack family files wrongful death action against Durst’s second wife

Robert Pelaez
The family of Kathleen McCormack Durst filed a wrongful death action against Robert Durst's second wife, attorney Robert Abrams announced on Monday. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The family of Robert Durst’s first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, filed a wrongful death action against the late real estate scion’s second wife, according to a statement from attorney Robert Abrams.

The Lake Success-based attorney representing the McCormack family said the legal action against Debrah Charatan, Robert Durst’s second wife, was filed because she allegedly anticipated that a Houston court would name her as the executor of Durst’s last will and testament.

The announcement was made on Monday, the 40th anniversary of Kathleen Durst’s disappearance, and claims that Charatan will be left with her husband’s share of the family trusts. 

A graduate of New Hyde Park Memorial High School, Kathleen McCormack married Durst in 1971. She  disappeared on Jan. 31, 1982, and her body was never found. Thirty-six years after her disappearance, she was declared dead by a Manhattan court in 2017.

Last year the Westchester County district attorney’s office reopened the cold case investigating Kathleen Durst’s disappearance, resulting in a Westchester grand jury indicting Durst on second-degree murder charges last fall.

Two weeks ago, Abrams, of Abrams Fensterman LLP, called on Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah to resign after she cited “missed opportunities” as a reason it took nearly 40 years to build a case against Durst.

Abrams said the McCormack family was not aware of Rocah’s news conference until after the fact and called on Rocah to resign after presenting “misrepresentations and omissions” surrounding the case.

Durst had long been suspected of being responsible for Kathleen Durst’s disappearance.  In the 2015 HBO miniseries “The Jinx,” Durst was recorded saying, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course” on a hot microphone. He had denied the allegations.

The California Department of Corrections said Durst, 78, died of natural causes on Jan. 10 while being treated at a hospital. In October, Durst contracted COVID-19, days after being sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for killing his longtime friend Susan Berman in 2000.

Berman, a journalist, was found dead in 2000 on Christmas Eve, lying in a pool of blood after being shot in the back of the head in her Los Angeles home. Prosecutors claimed Durst first murdered McCormack, who was looking to divorce him, then shot Berman to cover his tracks. 

Durst was acquitted in the 2001 slaying of Morris Black, his elderly neighbor in Galveston, Texas, whose body was dismembered with an ax and bone saw. Prosecutors tied the Black slaying to alleged attempts by Durst to cover his tracks.

On Monday, Abrams said of Charatan, “Once she’s appointed, she will apparently seek to collect the balance of her husband’s interest in the Durst family Trusts, which we believe was promised to Ms. Charatan in exchange for helping Robert Durst evade justice in connection with the murders of Kathie, Susan Berman, and Morris Black.”

Abrams also reflected on Kathleen Durst’s life and said the action filed against Charatan is a vital step in achieving justice.

“Kathie was a truly special, inspiring person who was deeply loved by her parents, siblings, and many friends,” Abrams said. “Kathie’s family hopes that her story will, at the very least, shine a light on the extent to which rich and powerful people are able to manipulate and control the criminal justice system.”

Efforts to reach Charatan and the McCormack family for comment were unavailing.

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