You can read all of Charles V. Bagli’s previous reporting for Crime Story here.
You can find links to all of Crime Story’s coverage of the Robert Durst trial here.
I first met Nick Chavin 21 years ago, when I started chasing Robert Durst, the heir apparent to a vast real estate empire who would ultimately become the subject of criminal investigations in three states over a span of 40 years.
Chavin was a veteran of the New York real estate scene with a dry sense of humor and a keen sense of the absurd. His ribald stories were hilarious. He never seemed to dodge my questions, rather he would puzzle out his answer as we spoke. He had no head for dates and an occasional tendency to undermine his own credibility as he did when he later testified — jokingly — that he lied at times. After all, he was in the real estate advertising business.
I was a reporter for The New York Times in the fall of 2000 when the paper got a tip that the New York State Police had reopened the long dormant investigation into the disappearance of Durst’s beautiful wife, Kathie McCormack Durst. I had covered the intersection of politics and real estate for years and Chavin had worked with many of the city’s most prominent developers.
Over the years we got to know one another. I talked many a time to his wife Terry and saw him play guitar and sing at BB King’s Blues Club on ‘the Deuce’ (that’s 42nd Street). I valued his insights because he knew Durst’s father Seymour; he saw their father-son interactions. So many false or half-baked stories swirled around Durst that I often used him as a sounding board when I learned a new piece of information. Even when we disagreed, I never thought he was being deceptive.
Chavin was close to Durst and to their mutual friend Susan Berman. He was adamant: “Bobby did not kill Kathie.”
“I watched Bobby berserk with anxiety about not knowing what happened,” Chavin told me at the time. “He loved Kathie in a way that was so pure.” Still, Chavin urged me to talk to Berman, who had introduced the two men to one another. “Susan was the one person he confided in the most,” he told me.
But then he said something that floored me. “Susan’s convinced Bobby killed Kathie,” Chavin said.
Nick Chavin (courtroom testimony): Susan said to me, specifically, that Bob killed Kathie and I said, "No he didn’t." She said, "Yes, he did." And we argued about that and she said, "We love both of them. Kathie’s gone. We love Bob. We need to protect him. Bob killed Kathie." I said, "How do you know?" She said, "He told me."
In the next breath, he added, “But I didn’t believe her. . . . Susan Berman will be sensational. But what you want are the facts.”
Nick Chavin (courtroom testimony): My relationship with Bob was very close and I, I couldn’t believe that he would’ve committed a crime like that. I just couldn’t believe it.
I did not know what to make of those conflicting statements, but I knew I had to speak to the keeper of Durst’s most precious secrets, Susan Berman. My calls to her house on Benedict Canyon Drive had gone unanswered. I asked Chavin to persuade her to talk to me.
Neither Chavin nor I knew at the time that our conversation would be the beginning of a long odyssey that would take us from New York to Los Angeles and back again, during which time Durst would become a suspect in not one but three deaths in three different states. I can’t tell you how many times I packed my files away in the attic, thinking that the Durst case, with so many unanswered questions, would never be resolved.
Nick and I spoke dozens and dozens of times as the case would fall from the headlines, only to resurface again years later. Chavin had attended the University of Texas in Austin in the 1960’s, coincidentally at the same time Durst’s main criminal lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, was in law school at the same university.
Chavin was living in San Francisco and fronting a band called Country Porn, when he met Berman. She was a journalist who wrote a couple of articles about Chavin, who was known on stage as ‘Chinga Chavin.’ They hit it off. And shortly after Berman moved to New York to work for New York magazine and other publications, Chavin also relocated to New York, hoping to burnish his music career.
Nick Chavin (courtroom testimony): When I came to New York, my wife and I decided that I would raise, for at least a few years, my daughter by myself and we needed to have her brought to New York. And we asked Susan Berman if she would accompany our five-year-old daughter to New York. And I knew Susan well, but, you know, it's a pretty serious thing to have someone bring your five-year-old daughter. John Lewin (Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney): So did Susan bring your daughter back to New York? Chavin: Yes, she did. Yes, she did. Lewin: Can you explain why it was that this trip Susan took to New York with your daughter, why that deepened your friendship with Susan? Chavin: Because she lived up to the trust we had put into her and she made Brandy happy and secure and, and I would love her forever for that. Lewin: When you said Susan took your daughter, was just Susan and your daughter by themselves? Chavin: Yes. Lewin: How well did Susan know your daughter at that point? Chavin: That was the first time she ever met her. Lewin: And so Susan, was the kind of friend that offered to take your daughter, unaccompanied, on that trip? Chavin: Yes.
His band never got traction so, to make ends meet, Chavin took a job as a copywriter for an advertising company. Berman introduced him to her close friend Bob Durst in 1980 over lunch at the famed Four Seasons restaurant on Park Avenue. The two men hit off. Durst sent Chavin’s career into the stratosphere a short time later when he called Chavin, asking if he was interested in handling the advertising for the Dursts’ latest office project, the 44-story tower at 1155 Avenue of the Americas. It wasn’t long before Chavin handled the accounts for other developers, including Donald J. Trump’s Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.
Nick Chavin (courtroom testimony): I was doing advertising at an agency, I was a copywriter. And Bob called me one day and said, we have this new building we're building — 1155 Avenue of the Americas. You want to do the advertising for it? This is an utterly strange question to ask a newbie in advertising, if he would want to take control of a big account coming into an agency, the largest one at the agency. John Lewin (Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney): So Mr. Chavin, you get the, get the — Bob offered you the account. Chavin: The Durst account, yes. Lewin: And — by the way, how big of an account, if you can recall, at that point was this? Chavin: It probably would bill $300,000 or $400,000 during the development of the, of the building. But that was a lot more money then than it is now. Lewin: Is that $300,000 or $400,000, is that per year? Chavin Yeah. Lewin: And — Chavin: — until the building was leased up. Lewin: And in getting this account... If I were to ask you how instrumental was that in accelerating your career, what would be your response? Chavin: It was 100% responsible until I began to get other accounts because I had the Durst account. All I had to do is walk in somewhere and say, "Yes, I have the Durst Organization account," and I would get other accounts, which I wouldn't have gotten if I didn't have the Durst account. Does that make sense? Lewin: Sure. What did you end up — So, you're at this advertising firm, you get this, the Durst account... In the end, what does that end up becoming in terms of your professional career? Chavin: After a few more accounts, my partner Lanny Lambert and I, broke off from the agency and formed our own agency specializing in real estate advertising called Chavin Lambert. Lewin: And who was your biggest client? Chavin: Well, Durst was one but Rockrose Development was another one, and Brodsky was another one. Lewin: And the other two accounts that you mentioned, other than the Durst Organization account, are those accounts that you believe that you and your agency were able to bring in because of your association with the Durst Organization? Chavin: Yes, it became like a snowball where you're rolling downhill it ... Self-accruing. With each new account, it became a longer client list.
Durst and Chavin were running buddies throughout the 1980’s. He knew Kathie and he had double-dated with Durst and Prudence Farrow, the woman (who inspired the Beatles’ song, ‘Dear Prudence’) with whom Durst was having an affair at the time of Kathie’s disappearance in 1982. Chavin figured, he said, that they had an open marriage, like many people he knew in the ‘anything goes’ days of the early 1980’s.
John Lewin (Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney): What kind of stuff would you and Mr. Durst do together? Nick Chavin (courtroom testimony): We went out socially. We, we had what we called 'boys night out,' and we'd, uh, go out and go to nightclubs and bars. Lewin: And was the pursuit of female companionship part of what you and Mr. Durst would do? Chavin: Yes. To an extent, yes. Lewin: And by this point, are you separated, divorced? What's your status? Chavin: We didn't get— My status was married but separated. Lewin: And what was Mr. Durst's status? Chavin: Married, I believe. Yeah. Lewin: Did Mr. Durst ever explain, or your did you ever ask, anything about how his marriage to Kathie affected his pursuit of women in bars? Chavin: There were times when we would double date where Bob would go out with Kathie and I go out with a female friend of mine, just... There were several. And there were times when we would each go out with different women and he wasn't with Kathie. So we double dated sometimes with two women that were new to us or relatively new and sometimes, or I had a girlfriend, sort of temporary girlfriend, and Bob went out with his wife. Lewin: Did you ever have a discussion with him about why he was out dating other women when he was married? Chavin: Yes, but not that directly. Bob described his marriage as open, open meaning dating other women.
Durst was the co-best man at Chavin’s wedding to Terry in Las Vegas in 1988, the same year Chavin introduced Durst to his second wife, Debra Charatan.
Charles Bagli (journalist): So my first question is about Prudence Farrow. You had mentioned that Bob was dating her while he was married to Kathie. Tell us about her and, you know, this was a woman that inspired the Beatles song, "Dear Prudence." Nick Chavin (interview): Prudence Farrow was... I mean, I knew her first before I knew her through Bob, I knew of her. She was, like, your typical kind of bohemian, wearing Levi's with those kind of straps going over your shoulders and rainbow embroidery macrame on both sides. She looked like a completely uninteresting hippie. And what was interesting was that she was a completely uninteresting hippie, and I found her that way when we double dated. She said hardly anything. I mean, "Dear Prudence"... That song wouldn't have been written if it weren't for her sister. It was really 'Dear Prudence — comma — sister of Mia Farrow.' Bagli: Was Mia Farrow with the Maharishi at the same time? Chavin: Yeah. The Beatles were there and Mia Farrow was there and no one asked who that other person was. And interestingly enough, she coattailed in on the fame of The Beatles and her sister really didn't want to. Bagli: Tell me about how she and Bob interacted, because Bob has said that he was really taken with her. Chavin: I'm gonna sound real cynical with this, but I just never saw that. I saw him much more taken with other people that he went out with. He would never have said that before The Jinx. He was taken with the Beatles having written a song and he was taken with Beatles fame. I mean, she really didn't say— I don't think she said 10 words when we went out on a date.
I had frequently interviewed both Durst’s father Seymour and his younger brother Douglas, who had been anointed to take over the family business, instead of Bob. The first story I wrote about Bob Durst, with my colleague Kevin Flynn, was published Nov. 11, 2000. Until then, I didn’t know anything about Robert or his wife.
As the oldest son of Seymour, Durst was initially considered to be the heir apparent of the family’s real estate empire. But by the late 1980’s, his erratic behavior prompted his father and uncle to reconsider. In the early 1990’s, Seymour decided that Bob’s younger brother Douglas would take over. Bob has been estranged from his family ever since.
Flynn and I were fascinated by the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of his wife, Kathie, four months before she would have graduated medical school, the lies Durst told as to his whereabouts when his wife vanished, and the powerful Durst family, which owned a dozen skyscrapers in Manhattan.
At Chavin’s urging, I was eager to speak to Berman. But Flynn and I thought the story would probably die once again because the authorities did not have any more evidence in 2000 than they did in 1982. There was no body. There was not even an official crime scene.
Less than two months later, on Jan. 5, 2001, I was thumbing through the New York Daily News when I found a story at the bottom of page 8 that made my head spin: “Mobster’s Kin Killed; Writer was daughter of Bugsy’s partner.”
Berman — whose father Davey “The Jew” Berman had been a gangster and a partner of Bugsy Siegel’s in the mob-financed Flamingo Hotel Las Vegas — had been found by police dead of a gunshot wound on Dec. 23. Her death had gotten lost in the tumult of the holidays.
I shot up out of my chair and called Chavin. “Nick,” I shouted, “Susan’s dead!” “Did you talk to her?” he asked, at the same time I demanded, “Had he asked her to call me?” The answer was no on both counts.
John Lewin (Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney): I want to now go back to Susan Berman's death. Do you remember how it was that you heard about it? Nick Chavin (courtroom testimony): Oh yes, I do. There was a time when a reporter from the New York Times, just as the case I believe about Kathie's disappearance was being reopened, this reporter was asking me questions about Susan Berman and I said, "I think there's someone more knowledgeable you can talk to than, than me. You should talk to Susan Berman in California." And he said, "Okay." Then a few days later, I got a phone call in the morning getting out of the cab at work and it was the reporter — am I supposed to mention his name? Lewin: Yes. Chavin: Charles Bagli. He, he said, "Did you see the papers this morning?" I said, "No." And he said, "Susan Berman has been murdered." And then he proceeded to say, "If this was a television show, it would seem too predictable and ridiculous." Judge Mark Windham: Mr. Bagli, I believe is present again today, reporting? Lewin: He is. Judge Mark Windham: All right, the record shall so reflect it. Chavin: I believe the conversation was something like, "...in a poorly written TV show. The reporter would ask about someone, he'd be given a number and a name. And then the next day they're murdered."
Days later, Nick and I made plans to attend Berman’s Feb. 1 memorial service at the Writer’s Guild auditorium in Beverly Hills.
The organizers of the memorial were hoping that Durst, who was staying at a nearby hotel in Santa Monica, would attend if reporters were kept out of the service. My plan was to walk in with Chavin like I belonged there. But in the lobby, we ran into Sareb Kaufman, who was like a son to Berman. He embraced Chavin and then turned to me. After I told him I was a reporter, he asked me politely to wait outside.
John Lewin (Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney): Did you go to Susan's memorial? Nick Chavin (courtroom testimony): Yes. Lewin: And did that take place approximately February 1, 2001? Chavin: I believe so, yes. Lewin: And do you recall having a conversation with Julie Smith at that time? Chavin: Yes, I do. Lewin: And do you recall the nature of that conversation with Julie Smith? Chavin: It was approximately the same — Well, I related to her the conversations, plural, that I had with Susan... with, with Susan. Lewin: Does that mean you told Julie Smith what Susan Berman had told you about Kathie? Chavin: Yes.
Chavin, however, was by no means convinced that Durst was a killer.
I flew back to New York without writing an article. I had interviewed Berman’s friends and relatives and LAPD detectives, who offered up several suspects, including the landlady who tried to evict Berman from her house, geriatric mob cronies of Berman’s father and, briefly, Berman’s manager. But not Bob Durst. “Bobby loved Susy; Susy loved Bobby,” they responded like a Greek chorus to my questions. What was there to write about?
Back in New York, the new investigation into Kathie’s disappearance by State Police Investigator Joe Becerra and the Westchester County District Attorney continued, turning up new suspicions about Durst but little by way of evidence.
Our heads nearly exploded nine months later, when we heard that Bob Durst had been arrested in Galveston, TX, for the shooting and dismemberment of a neighbor, Morris Black. Durst had gone into hiding in Galveston, where he posed as a mute woman to escape the investigation back home.
Durst said he befriended Black, who lived across the hall from him in a rooming house. Durst claimed that the two men had wrestled over Durst’s handgun. When they fell to the floor, the gun discharged, killing Black. Fearing that no one would believe him in light of the New York investigation, Durst cut up Black’s body and threw the pieces in Galveston Bay. But not before he got a haircut and spent a night at the San Luis, the most luxurious hotel on the island.
While in jail awaiting trial in Galveston, Durst made call after call to his second wife, Debrah Charatan, and friends, including Chavin.
John Lewin (Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney): When is the next time, approximately, you can remember that you heard from Bob? Nick Chavin (courtroom testimony): Years went by, and [. . .] then the next time I heard from him was a phone call from Galveston, Texas, where he was. Lewin: Mr. Chavin, will you please describe your level of shock when you learned that Robert Durst had dismembered Morris Black's body with his hands and tools? Chavin: Extreme shock. Disbelief. Lewin: If someone would have told you that that had happened, without an admission by Mr. Durst that he had done it, would you ever have believed that the Robert Durst you knew could have done such a thing? Chavin: Of course not. Lewin: Bob Durst called you from the Galveston jail. Do you recall discussing that previously? Chavin: Yes. Lewin: That's the first time you indicated you had spoken to him by your memory in a number of years, is that right? Chavin: Correct. Lewin: And what, if anything, when he called you, what did he say or asked you to do? Chavin: He asked me to take the call from a psychiatrist that had been, I guess, I don't know what the word is — That he'd been examined by and he was coaching me as to what he would like me to talk about and discuss. Lewin: And what did he specifically say to you? Chavin: He, he was... We were both aware of the fact that the call was being listened to by the authorities, so his language was in it — because we knew each other well that he could do this — he said, "Remember how I had that Asperger's difficulty when I was younger?" And I said, "Yes." Now, to the best of my knowledge, I knew of no such thing but I was saying yes because we were being listened to. He then went through a series of psychological disorders, emphasizing that I already knew about these and would I explain them in more detail to the psychiatrist. Now, this was, all of these were news to me and I was more than willing to do that. Lewin: Let me stop you. Had you ever known Mr. Durst previously to mention to you that he had Asperger's? Chavin: No. Lewin: Had you ever noticed any symptoms, based on your experience, that your friend Bob Durst had displayed in the years you'd known him, consistent with Asperger's? Chavin: No.
At the trial in Galveston, Durst said he did not murder Black. His death, Durst told the jury, was an accident that occurred while Durst defended himself. What happened afterward, grisly as it was, does not change how Black died, Durst’s lawyers repeated again and again.
A jury acquitted Durst on Nov. 5, 2003, after deliberating for four days. On my way to the airport in Houston the next morning, talk radio callers were crazed about the jury’s decision. The New York Post headline took a similar view: “Run For Your Lives.”
Durst did have to spend some more time in jail. First, there were the related charges—bail jumping and tampering with evidence (i.e. Morris Black’s corpse). When he was about to be released in April 2004, he was arrested again on federal weapons charges. Durst eventually pleaded guilty and served another six months in prison. He was later arrested for a parole violation when he showed up at the Galveston house where the shooting took place.
While he finished off that sentence, Durst in 2006 settled a lawsuit he had filed against his brother and the family trusts, for a $65 million payday. Durst was at the center of two other cold cases — the disappearance of his wife Kathie and the murder of Susan Berman — that were gathering dust in New York and Los Angeles. But for his decision to start talking to journalists, it’s likely that Durst would have been a free man quietly flitting between homes in Texas, California, and New York.
In November 2010, I took Chavin to the New York premiere of the movie All Good Things, starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. It was a fictionalized version of Durst’s life and nonetheless implicated him in the deaths of three people. Durst had reached out to me through friends to say that after 10 years of trying, he agreed to meet me for an interview.
A month earlier, Durst had contacted the filmmakers, who arranged for a private screening of All Good Things. He liked it so much that he agreed to a lengthy interview that, at least initially, was planned as an ‘extra’ for the movie’s DVD.
I wrote about Durst’s reaction to the film in a story for The Times entitled: “That’s Me On Screen, But I Still Didn’t Do It.” He said “parts made me cry,” although he did not appreciate that the film also suggested he killed his beloved dog, Igor. All in all, Durst concluded, it was, “as reasonably accurate as anything out there.”
Chavin, on the other hand, told me that the movie did not properly portray the sometimes warm relationship between Bob and his father Seymour, who was played by the actor Frank Langella.
“Seymour had no resemblance to the hulking Langella,” Chavin told me.
Charles Bagli (journalist): You're describing a guy who doesn't seem to resemble the Seymour Durst that we saw in the movie All Good Things. Nick Chavin (interview): It's an understatement. Frank Langella — He looked as much like Seymour Durst as the average linebacker on the Packers does. Seymour is a small, diminutive guy and the character that they cast for Seymour was just not, you know, this hoarding guy with suitcases full of money. I mean, that's a joke. I mean, Seymour was anything but greedy. He wasn't greedy and he cared about things. My best memory of him was there was a Boy Scout assembly and they were honoring a few people in the business community and one of them was Seymour and he was in uniform. Boy Scout uniform with shorts and one of the Smokey the Bear hats, and a whistle— Bagli: Oh, really? Chavin: He looked terrific. He was very proud of being honored by the Boy Scouts, very proud. He had a sense of community that you just don't see because it never gets publicity or notoriety. His sense of community was really awe inspiring.
This was important to Chavin because his life was so intertwined with Durst’s even after Bob stopped returning calls from him in the early 1990’s. Chavin had worked on and off for Seymour and the Durst Organization, while his wife Terry, a real estate agent, did two separate stints with a company owned by Bob’s second wife, Deborah Charatan.
Charles Bagli (journalist): Seymour Durst. I know that when you met Bob, he sort of helped launch your career when he offered to let you and your firm do the advertising for their new skyscraper. Nick Chavin (interview): Yes, he did. And it was interesting, but he did with sort of half of his mouth being disdainful of all advertising. He described what I did to my face as, "bullshit stuff." I said, "You're right." And he said that to my face. And he meant in terms of the real things being assemblage of property, architectural drawings, how much the cost of stone was, how much each thing was — Certainly no one gave a flying fuck about advertising, least of all him.
On Nov. 5, 2014, an excited Chavin called me to say that he had “reunited with Bob.” Although Chavin had been shocked by Durst’s bloody dismemberment of Morris Black, he still harbored some affection for his old friend. Bob gave him a key to his five-story townhouse at 218 Lenox Ave. in the Morris Park section of Harlem. Terry Chavin had served as his broker when he bought the property in 2011.
Bob also urged Chavin to sit down with Andrew Jarecki, whose interviews of Durst had morphed into The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, a six-part HBO documentary that was scheduled to air in February 2015. But on Dec. 1, Jarecki sent an email to both Chavin and Durst expressing his frustration that Chavin refused to cooperate. “I have said ad nauseam that having Nick in the film is important,” Jarecki wrote. “We absolutely need people who love Bob and have known him for a long time. So this is a real issue for me and the film.”
In early December, Chavin called again to tell me that he was having dinner on Dec. 10 with Durst at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal. “Bob wants to talk about Susy and Kathie,” he said. The dinner had another purpose, to celebrate what he anticipated would be his acquittal for trespassing at the home of his brother Douglas and other members of the Durst family.
The dinner, however, was postponed because Bob’s bench trial went into a second day, though it did end as Durst predicted, with an acquittal.
The dinner to talk about ‘Susy and Kathie’ took place shortly after the bench trial at Barawine, a bistro at Lenox Avenue and 120th Street, a couple doors south of Durst’s Harlem home. But it would be months before Chavin told me what happened. His silence convinced me that something momentous had occurred.
In the meantime, on Dec. 19, Durst sent Chavin an angry email. “I asked you to do one thing, meet with Jarecki, you asked me to do one thing, use my apartment. I thought you had done what I asked and I did what you asked. Recently, I found out that you never met with Jarecki. As you know, I have put up with that kind of shit most of my life but stopped after the murder trial.”
Durst ended the email with this: “I just had the key to 218 lenox changed, if you meet with jjarecki (sp) I will send it to you, this is what I mucho prefer.”
Chavin did not do the interview. But months later, Durst became a national sensation with the broadcast of The Jinx. Durst had given the filmmakers over 20 hours of interviews and unfettered access to 60 cartons of family photos, legal papers, credit card statements and phone records.
Charles Bagli (journalist): Why do you think Bob was so keen on having you be interviewed by Jarecki? Nick Chavin (interview): So I think Bob wanted me to talk to Jarecki because he wanted someone that saw his point of view and was a friend of his to give that information to Jarecki. Bagli: And your motivation, ultimately for dodging Jarecki was what? Chavin: I knew that for me to be associated in any way with Bob was going to be the kiss of death now because he was poison. It was not very toward to be doing anything with Bob Durst at that point. He was a murderer and he was an embarrassment to the real estate community and no one who had any aspirations in the real estate community could have anything to do with Bob, so I had my whole career and reputation at stake by talking to him so I just did the cowardly thing and didn't. Bagli: Did Bob understand that? Or [did] he never really understand what the problem was? Chavin: I think he had too much, too much wrapped up in his own agenda to even think about it. Oh, no, he's smart enough to have known that it wasn't in my interest and he's self-centered enough not to care.
He acknowledged that he had lied to the police about his whereabouts at the time Kathie vanished and that the final years of his marriage had been filled with escalating emotional and physical violence. He insisted at the time that he had not written the anonymous note alerting police to the presence of a ‘cadaver’ at the home of Susan Berman in Los Angeles, although in 2019 he would finally concede that he was the author.
Hours before the final episode of The Jinx aired, Durst was arrested in New Orleans on a murder warrant for shooting his confidante, Berman, in the back of the head. Ultimately, Chavin, Durst’s longtime defender, who was torn between his loyalty to his “two best friends” would become the single most important witness for the prosecution in the trial that unfolded in Los Angeles.
Durst called Chavin from jail, quickly asking about the dinner the two men had at Barawine and trying to get a feel for what Chavin would do with it. Chavin was noncommittal. But he had already begun talking with Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney John Lewin. Still, it would take Lewin seven months to persuade Chavin to, “rip off the Band-aid” and reveal what Durst had told him.
John Lewin (Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney): Okay, so tell me so what is your memory about what Susan said about Bob having killed Kathie? Nick Chavin (phone interview with prosecutors): This is hard for me to say. Could I think about if I want to talk about that? Lewin: Hey, Nick? Can, can you tell me, is it because of your loyalty to Bob? Habib Balian (Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney): I mean, it's understandable, you can be honest about it. We're just trying to figure out — Lewin: — I mean, is, is — Chavin: Yeah... Balian: Is it because you guys are still friends or...? Chavin: I loved Susan... was a dear, dear friend and the same with Bob. So, this thing with your best friend killing your other best friend.
The prosecution ultimately flew Chavin and his wife Terry to Los Angeles, where they were protected by a SWAT team. Before he took the stand the defense asked the Judge Mark E. Windham to exclude me from the courtroom; the idea being that they would call me as a witness to impeach Chavin’s testimony. The judge quickly denied their request, but what the defense didn’t know was that I had watched Chavin’s thinking about his old friend Durst evolve since he first told me that Bob was incapable of violence.
In his testimony, Chavin recalled his fateful dinner with Durst at Barawine and the secret Durst told him.
Nick Chavin (courtroom testimony): The dinner concluded and it was then that I, as we got up to leave I realized that we hadn't discussed the two things that he had mentioned: Kathie and Susan. I felt kind of weird that I didn't bring it up. We walked out the door... This is hard. We walked out the door and on the sidewalk I said, 'You wanted to talk about Susan.' And Bob said, 'I had to. It was her or me. I had no choice.' And then he turned to walk away and I said, 'You wanted to talk about Kathie.' And he just kept walking away. And nothing more was said. One of the primary foundations of my belief that Bob was not responsible for Kathie's disappearance or what happened to Susan was that I couldn't believe that he was capable of hands-on violence against someone at that extreme. But here after admitting that he was, it's like taking the gloves off. All, all things are possible now. John Lewin (Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney): Mr. Chavin, can you describe in your own words how it makes you feel to be up there testifying against somebody that you considered to be your best friend? Chavin: I can try. I feel... I feel like there's two scales. One is a betrayal of Bob Durst and the other is a betrayal of Susan Berman. And they... I feel two senses. I feel, I feel that the betrayal I had felt of Susan Berman has lightened considerably and I have the weight of feeling grief and sadness about Bob. Not betrayal, but grief and sadness.
After a four-month-long trial and only 7.5 hours of deliberation, the jury in the murder trial of Robert Durst delivered its verdict on Sept. 17: guilty on all counts. Durst was guilty of stealthily going to the home of Susan Berman and when she turned her back on her most trusted friend, Durst put a gun to the back of her head and pulled the trigger.
The jury found Chavin, the man Durst described as one of his two best ‘boy friends,’ credible, despite, or maybe, because of Chavin’s inner turmoil over his loyalty to Durst before reaching a decision to seek justice for Susan’s murder. His decision, which he shared with me, deprived the defense of a potential character witness for their client, whose circle of friends was always very small. In contrast, Durst’s other ‘boy friend,’ Doug Oliver, was so intent on protecting his friend that no one in the courtroom believed what he had to say.
Even when Chavin was wrong — as he was when he told me that Bob didn’t know which end of the gun the bullet came out of — he provided a glimpse into Durst’s ability to compartmentalize his friends. We both came to understand that Bob was well acquainted with handguns, a fact Durst kept well hidden. Ultimately, it was Chavin who recounted Bob’s confession, a dramatic moment that his well-paid defense attorneys barely challenged.