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Susan Berman: Mafia Child, Murder Victim

susan_berman.jpg

HBO

Robert Durst (right) is pictured with his friend Susan Berman, who was found dead in 2000, in a photo from "The Jinx."

Susan Berman was the beloved only child of a mobster and a dancer.

She grew up lavishly in Las Vegas, entertained on her birthdays by icons like Elvis and Liberace.

But her charmed life turned tragic when she lost both parents at a young age. And then, 16 years ago, she was killed in her California home.

Her longtime friend Robert Durst awaits trial for her murder in Los Angeles. And while he’s gotten a lot of attention, she remains largely unknown. 

The story of Durst and Berman is a twisty one that was outlined in the hit HBO series "The Jinx" last year. 

Berman's story started when she was born in Minneapolis in 1945. When she was just 2 months old, her mother brought her to Las Vegas to be with her father, David Berman, who was running the Flamingo hotel-casino following the death of Bugsy Siegel. 

“She grew up mob royalty. She was a spoiled little girl,” writer Cathy Scott told KNPR's State of Nevada.

Scott's book "Murder of a Mafia Daughter: The Life and Tragic Death of Susan Berman" details Berman's life in Las Vegas, her time as a journalist in San Francisco, her ties to Durst and her murder on Christmas Eve in 2000. 

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“Susan grew up counting money with her dad’s workers in the counting room,” Scott said.

Berman, along with other mob bosses, became pillars of the community in Las Vegas and kept a very low profile, Scott said.

Susan Berman's charmed life began to unravel at an early age. Her father died during surgery when Berman was just 12 years old, and her mother died a year later from a drug overdose.

Berman and Robert Durst met while studying at University of California, Los Angeles. Durst is part of a wealthy family from New York City, and he had also lost a parent at a young age. Scott said their shared background brought the two together. 

“They were both from wealthy families and they instantly hit it off,” she said.

Berman went to University of California, Berkeley for graduate school and worked as a writer for the San Francisco's "women's page" in the late '60s. She eventually moved to New York City and worked as a journalist there.

In 1982, Durst's first wife, Kathie Durst, disappeared. Robert Durst became a suspect and Berman became his spokesperson during that investigation and related media frenzy. 

Durst was never charged in that case. 

Scott believes Berman knew what happened to Kathie Durst.

“I don’t think she played a role [in Kathie's murder.] I do believe she helped cover it up that she knew,” Scott said. “She knew too much and he quieted her down by killing her.”

Berman was shot in the back of the head in her home in Los Angeles. Scott said at first police thought it might have been the mob because nothing in the house was disturbed and nothing had been taken. 

That theory was quickly dismissed. 

Scott said the case against Durst has more circumstantial evidence than the case against O.J. Simpson. For instance, Berman was paranoid and would never have let someone into the house late at night that she did not know, but when police arrived, the front door was unlocked.

She also said that Berman had told people Durst was coming to see her during the holidays and she was going to San Francisco with him.

Despite questions about Durst's possible involvement, it took 15 more years before he was interviewed about her death. Scott said the Durst family told the district attorney's office to leave him alone and it did. 

Now that he is going to trial, Scott believes he will be found guilty. 

"I think he’s going to end up in prison because of it," she said. "I think he’ll be convicted."

During a taping of an interview with Durst for "The Jinx," he was wearing a microphone that he didn't know was still on and was caught on tape saying, "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."

Durst has since said he was high on methamphetamine when he said it. He was sentenced to seven years in prison last year for a weapons charge.

(Editor's Note: This story originally aired January 2017)

Guests

Cathy Scott, author, “Murder of a Mafia Daughter: The Life and Tragic Death of Susan Berman"

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