HOUSTON (AP) – Police on Tuesday were searching the Houston home of millionaire Robert Durst after his arrest over the weekend in New Orleans.
Durst, 71, is charged with murder in a Los Angeles killing 15 years ago, and has been suspected – but never charged – in the disappearance of his first wife in New York. In 2003, he was acquitted of murder in a dismemberment death in Texas.
On Tuesday afternoon, a marked police car and three unmarked cars were in front of a 17-story building in Houston’s Rice Village neighborhood where Durst has three condominiums. At least five plainclothes officers were working inside the guarded building. Two officers were seen walking to a nearby unmarked car, retrieving a small bag from the trunk and returning to the building.
FBI spokeswoman Shauna Dunlap confirmed that FBI agents were participating in the operation at the request of the Los Angeles Police Department. Harris County district attorney’s office spokesman Jeff McShan said the Los Angeles Police Department contacted his office last week.
Neither Dunlap nor McShan would elaborate on what was happening inside the building and referred questions to Los Angeles police.
LAPD spokesman Sgt. Barry Montgomery said the department is not commenting until Durst is in its custody. Durst is being held in Louisiana, where he faces drug and weapons charges, and it’s not clear how soon he will be returned to California.
“This is an investigation that’s being handled by multi-jurisdictions,” Montgomery said. “At this juncture the only thing the LAPD is doing is waiting for the extradition. We are just waiting on him to make it into our custody.”
Durst, 71, was charged Monday in Los Angeles with first-degree murder in the shooting of Susan Berman, the daughter of a prominent Las Vegas mobster. He could face the death penalty under special circumstances that allege he ambushed her and murdered a witness to a crime.
Dick DeGuerin, Durst’s longtime Houston defense attorney, said he was baffled by what investigators could be looking for in the building.
“I think it’s a publicity stunt. I’m not surprised by it, but I would really be surprised if they found anything of any evidentiary value,” he said.
In a documentary that just wrapped up about Durst’s troubled life, he mumbled about how he “killed them all,” providing a dramatic kick to the end of the series. But a law enforcement official said his arrest on the murder charge was based on words he wrote.
Analysis linked a letter Durst wrote to Berman a year before her killing with one that pointed police to her body, and that was the key new evidence in the long-dormant investigation into the 2000 killing, the official not authorized to speak publicly told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.
Bob Martin, who has lived with his wife, Carol, in the Houston building for 1½ years, said he would occasionally say hello to Durst and discuss the real estate market with him. He described Durst as no quirkier than anyone else in the building. He added that Durst would occasionally attend the building’s homeowners’ association meetings and that the building staff reported Durst was courteous to them, as well.
Durst waived extradition in New Orleans, but authorities there charged him with being a felon in possession of a gun and with having marijuana. Assistant District Mark Burton said investigators found more than a quarter-pound of pot and a revolver in his hotel room.
Attorney Dick DeGuerin said he wants a hearing in Louisiana as soon as possible to contest the arrest.
“The warrant we believe is based on a television show and not on actual fact,” he said. “We want a hearing as quickly as possible so Mr. Durst can go to California and face trial as quickly as possible.”
The judge in New Orleans scheduled another hearing for next Monday.
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