Highlights From Robert Durst’s Houston Years
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Outside of concerts and sporting events, celebrities seldom make their way to Houston, and when they do, we tend to have a mini-tizzy. Such was the case when David Arquette swung through to acknowledge a local band’s tribute, and such has been the case these past few days, with Dog the Bounty Hunter and his wife, Beth, posted up in his tour bus near the Katy Freeway.
B-list actors and disgraced reality show stars . . . this is what passes for glamour in this most blue-collar of Texas metropolises. We are the city that Gawker forgot.
Here, even a New Yorker as notorious as Robert Durst could elude the voracious Gotham media for over a decade. Durst was arrested in New Orleans this weekend just before the finale of the HBO biographical documentary The Jinx. He is believed to be headed to Los Angeles to face a murder charge. And yet he has spent much of the past decade living the good life in River Oaks, Upper Kirby, and Rice Village, in near-total tranquillity and anonymity.
But last July, he took a piss on tranquillity and anonymity when for reasons unknown to all but himself, Durst whipped it out at the cash register of a Rice Village CVS and urinated all over a display of Skittles and assorted other sweet treats.
Was it an adverse reaction to prescription drugs—an “unfortunate medical mishap,” as attorney Chip Lewis put it? Or maybe Durst just wanted to make a big splash to advance his upcoming documentary. If that was the idea, it was probably a bargain: court costs and the fine Durst was assessed were far cheaper than any PR campaign.
He was also made to sign an affidavit promising never to return to that CVS, the nearest to his home in the 2520 Robinhood condos. Durst owns three units in the tony seventeen-story high-rise just off Kirby Drive, a building that was the scene of bizarre controversies even before Durst moved in eight years ago. Durst bought the first of his condos shortly after he was released from prison after dismembering the corpse of Morris Black, his neighbor in a rooming house in Galveston.
Prosecutors in New York claim that he had moved to the elegant, fetchingly frayed island at the end of I-45 (and took up life in drag) in order to escape potential prosecution over the disappearance of his first wife, Kathie McCormack. At any rate, something about the Texas Gulf Coast appears to appeal to Durst, because he’s been here at least part of each year, long after his parole elapsed.
Before his parole was up, Durst provided Houston’s Galleria with one of its more historic, and awk-waaard, moments:
Two days before Robert Durst violated parole with a trip to Galveston County last Friday, the New York millionaire had a close, strange encounter with the judge who presided over his sensational murder trial two years ago.
State officials say Houston’s Galleria wasn’t on parolee Durst’s list of approved stops Dec. 14, when he ran across state District Judge Susan Criss of Galveston.
Criss said she was Christmas shopping when she saw a familiar figure coming toward her, a man talking on a cell phone.
“I saw him and thought ‘Oh, my God,’ ” Criss said.
As the two met in the mall, Durst was trying to place her, Criss said.
“I know you, I know you,” Criss quoted Durst as saying. “And then he realized who I was, and he dropped his phone and it fell apart.”
But between that incident and the CVS affair, Durst has been a model Houstonian, as far as anybody knows.
Robert Martin, one of Durst’s neighbors in the Robinhood building, says it’s a great place to disappear, even by Houston standards. “People pretty much keep to themselves,” he says. “It’s part of the reason I think people move to the building, is they have their privacy right in the middle of the big city.”
Durst, Martin says, never attracted any attention to himself, nor did he give off a creepy vibe. “He was just a normal resident,” Martin says. “When you see him in the hallway you don’t think of him in terms of all these things you are seeing on television.” Martin adds that Durst attends meetings of the homeowners association. Robert Durst: Pillar of the Community.
Other Houstonians have seen him out and about at the River Oaks Barnes and Noble, puttering over to the River Oaks Theater across the street, and nibbling at Croissant Brioche, a Rice Village coffee shop. That was where photographer Marisa Hoffman found him, sipping joe and reading through a stack of fine art magazines.
“He looks so, so frail,” she says. “So much more so than he did even in the documentary. It’s hard to imagine how he could have cut someone up, physically, but that was a long time ago.” She was struck too by the “cleanliness and delicateness of his hands. It’s hard to believe those well-groomed and manicured hands dismembered a body.”
So there you have it. Robert Durst, aging homeowner and solitary, wealthy bon vivant, living out the dotage of a sophisticated aesthete in Houston. Aside from whizzing on those Skittles, he seems perfectly harmless, right?
Well, there’s one more establishment Durst loved to frequent: the River Oaks Central Market.
“One day someone grabbed his cart by mistake,” remembers an employee. “He looked like a shark looking for prey trying to find it.”
Which is a little bit weird, but wait for it . . .
“He also used to try to sign up for our ‘knife skills’ class in our cooking school,” the employee says.
“We told him they were sold out on more than one occasion.”
Well, they should have taken his eagerness as a compliment. After all, he’s demonstrated a pretty dab hand at butchery in the past.
(Photograph by Marisa D. Hoffman / Continental Drift Photography)