- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 26, 2003

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) — Morris Black was described by acquaintances as a volatile loner and drifter who lived in a cramped, $300-a-month apartment in this Gulf Coast community.

Across the hall lived a mute woman called Dorothy Ciner, according to the landlord. In late September 2001, authorities say, the two neighbors’ paths crossed violently.

That month, trash bags began washing ashore along Galveston Bay. Inside were Mr. Black’s arms, legs, a torso — and a receipt with the name Robert Durst, an estranged member of one of New York’s wealthiest real-estate families.

Soon police discovered that Ciner was neither mute nor a woman — but actually Mr. Durst, who also had been investigated but never charged in the disappearance of his wife and the shooting death of a friend.

Mr. Durst, 60, was charged in Mr. Black’s death and has pleaded not guilty by reason of self-defense. He could get five to 99 years in prison if convicted.

Jury selection in the case began yesterday. State District Judge Susan Criss told the nearly 300 potential jurors the selection would take up to three weeks. Those who remain would need to clear their calendars through October, she said.

Mr. Black’s torso and severed limbs were found floating in plastic bags Sept. 30, 2001, in the bay separating Galveston Island from mainland Texas. The 71-year-old man’s head remains missing.

Also inside the trash bags were a receipt with Mr. Durst’s name on it, packaging for a 4-inch paring knife and other items that led police to Mr. Durst’s apartment. There police found blood on the carpet, under the kitchen’s vinyl floor and on the walls.

Mr. Durst was arrested nine days later while driving his silver Honda. He was carrying a pistol and a knife.

Mr. Durst posted $300,000 bond, then fled. Six weeks later, he was captured trying to shoplift a $5.99 sandwich and bandages from a grocery store near Bethlehem, Pa., about 75 miles from Philadelphia. He had $500 in his pocket.

It was not until Mr. Durst failed to show up for an arraignment a week after posting bond that authorities discovered his true identity.

They also learned that he was central to the renewed investigation into the disappearance of his wife of nine years, Kathleen Durst, and that he was the main figure in a Los Angeles police probe into the Christmas Eve 2000 shooting death of a friend, writer Susan Berman. She was found dead just before she was to be questioned about Mrs. Durst’s disappearance.

Mrs. Durst was last seen in 1982. Mr. Durst reported her missing, telling police that she had planned a visit to New York City from suburban Westchester County, N.Y.

Eventually, the investigation into Mrs. Durst’s disappearance waned because of no real leads, and authorities lost track of Mr. Durst, the son of the late Seymour Durst, patriarch of a real-estate company that owns several of New York’s skyscrapers.

The younger Durst apparently left New York after he became estranged from his family in the early 1990s and moved around the country, using different names and disguises, sometimes dressing up as a woman or passing himself off as homeless.

State District Judge Susan Criss, whose gag order prevents any of the trial participants from publicly discussing the case, has ruled the disappearance of Mrs. Durst and death of Miss Berman won’t be part of Mr. Durst’s trial.

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