Robert Durst, 2017

MARK BOSTER/AFP via Getty Images

Twenty years after Susan Berman was shot to death in her Benedict Canyon bungalow, someone is on trial for her murder.

And not just anyone. Robert Durst, the central figure in the 2015 HBO series The Jinx, is the defendant. Opening arguments finally began in a Los Angeles courtroom last week, five years after authorities tracked Durst down in New Orleans and arrested him on suspicion of murder. His alleged motive: Berman may have known too much about the mysterious disappearance of Durst's wife in 1982 and was about to talk to police.

He has pleaded not guilty.

In the meantime the wealthy New York real estate scion was acquitted of murdering a man in Galveston, Texas—though he admitted to chopping up the body—and his defense team has insisted that whatever people think was a big gotcha moment in The Jinx was not the confession it was made out to be.

There's no doubt, however, that the details are stranger than fiction.

Also among the clues that pointed authorities to Durst were a murder scene that indicated Berman knew her killer and two identical misspellings of "Beverley Hills," one of which was purportedly on an envelope Durst sent to Berman unearthed on The Jinx and, the other, a note sent to Beverly Hills police around the time Berman was killed. The entirety of the message was the word "cadaver" and what turned out to be Berman's address on it.

After Durst's legal team initially tried to block handwriting experts from testifying, they dropped the matter and, according to court documents filed in December, Durst admitted to writing what detectives called "the cadaver note."

"When Bob showed up and found her dead, he panicked," lead defense attorney Dick DeGuerin told the jury in his opening argument this week, per the Los Angeles Times. "He wrote the anonymous letter so her body would be found, and he ran."

The trial is expected to last for weeks and the cast of characters is only going to grow, so let us unpack what you need to know to have a working grasp of the case right here:

Kathleen McCormack Durst

Jim McCormack/Splash

Robert Durst, Kathie McCormack Durst, 1982

Getty Images

All Good Things, Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst


Jeanine Pirro

Andrew Kent/Getty Images

Robert Durst, The Jinx, The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst

Marc Smerling/courtesy of HBO

Morris Black, Robert Durst

Andrew Jarecki, The Jinx premiere

Andy Kropa/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Robert Durst, The Jinx, The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst

Marc Smerling/courtesy of HBO

Robert Durst, New Orleans, 2015

Gerald Herbert/AP/Shutterstock

John Lewin


Dick DeGuerin

Alex Gallardo-Pool/Getty Images

DeGuerin told the court that his client planned to testify in his own defense, so Robert Durst will be heard from once again. 

UPDATE: On March 15, the Durst trial was postponed in the wake of the Los Angeles County Superior Court's decision to press pause on new criminal and civil proceedings for at least 30 days. The trial was originally scheduled to resume April 6, but with L.A. County residents still being urged to stay home as of April 3, the date could be pushed further back.

(Originally published March 11, 2020, at 9 a.m. PT)

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