Murder of a Mafia Daughter: The Life and Tragic Death of Susan Bermanby Cathy Scott
Susan Berman grew up in Las Vegas luxury as the daughter of Davie Berman, casino mogul and notorious mafia leader.After her father died she learned about his mob connections. Susan then dedicated her life to learning about Vegas and its underworld chiefs.Her life took a bizarre turn in l982 when Kathie Durstthe wife of her good friend, Robert Durst,… See more details below
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Susan Berman grew up in Las Vegas luxury as the daughter of Davie Berman, casino mogul and notorious mafia leader.After her father died she learned about his mob connections. Susan then dedicated her life to learning about Vegas and its underworld chiefs.Her life took a bizarre turn in l982 when Kathie Durstthe wife of her good friend, Robert Durst, mysteriously disappeared. Durst was a prime suspect but the case was never solved. After the Kathie Durst case was reopened, the DA was about to question Susan Berman about what she knew regarding a phone call Kathie supposedly made to her medical school dean saying she was sick and wouldn’t be at school. The call was placed the day after she had vanished. Soon after the Kathie Durst case was reopened, Susan Berman was found dead, shot in the back of head. No forced entry, no robbery, nothing missing from her home.
The book covers what led to Durst’s capture. Police records placed him in California at the time of his good friend Susan Berman’s murder. HBO filmmakers discovered a letter unknown before, written by Durst to Susan, a dead-on match to the cadaver letter police say the killer sent before Susan’s body was discovered.
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Read an Excerpt
Murder of a Mafia Daughter is a story about a path to murder that begins in old Las Vegas with gangsters and the boys from the Jewish mob. It moves to San Francisco with the movers and shakers, to New York City with its literati, and ends in Beverly Hills with the glitterati.
The slaying of Susan Berman in the winter of 2000 had all the earmarks of a professional hit aimed at a person born into the Mafia. Or was that just what the killer intended everyone to think, to lead investigators to the assumption that it was a Mob hit when it was not? Or was it her best friend Robert Durst who wanted her dead? If it was not a Mafia hit, then who else could have done it? And why? These are the questions I’ve pursued in the many years I’ve covered Susan Berman’s murder, looking for evidence, clues, and the who, what, and whys of the case. The book also looks into who had motive, means, and opportunity. It invariably comes back to one person: Susan’s old friend Robert Durst.
In my research, I got to know Susan, an author and screenwriter. I drove the route from her Las Vegas childhood home to her final house in Benedict Canyon. I visited the restaurants and bistros she frequented in the Beverly Hills town she loved and called home during the final seventeen years of her life. I walked through the Las Vegas house on South Sixth Street where she lived with her parents during her first twelve years. It was a bright, cheerful house. I imagined her as a child, running down the long hallway into the welcoming arms of the father she adored.
I went to the University of California, Berkeley campus where Susan got her master’s degree in journalism and where protests against the war in Vietnam were rampant. Susan made lifelong friends while attending Berkeleymany in the writing world who later tossed work her way.
I went to her home in Benedict Canyon where she was murdered. I stood in front of her house on the same path her killer walked before ending her life.
And, finally, I visited the Home of Peace cemetery in East Los Angeles where Susan’s body is entombed in a marble wall alongside her mother, father, and uncle. A recent visitor had left flowers in budvases, one on either side of Susan’s shiny-brass headstone. It is where family and friends waited patiently for Robert Durst to arrive, but he didn’t show for the funeral of his old friend.
Susan’s murder was one of three Durst was accused of committing since 1982. At the LAPD’s Robbery- Homicide Division, her murder was a cold case. But it was hardly over. Police began closing in on Robert Durst. It came to a head on an early spring evening when a visitor to New Orleans casually enjoyed a meal at Chef Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA restaurant on St. Louis Street.
But this was no ordinary tourist. It was multi-millionaire Robert Durst, heir to a New York City real estate fortune, seemingly on the run in anticipation of being arrested for the murder of his one-time confidant and best friend, Susan Berman. Susan was no ordinary person either. She was a mob princess and the daughter of notorious Jewish mobster Davie Berman, a bootlegger running rackets in the Midwest before he was tapped to run the skim at Las Vegas casinos. When they met in college, Susan and Durst were instant soul mates.
Outside the New Orleans restaurant, throngs of pedestrians celebrated St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day. As Durst left, he was anonymous amidst the crowd and no doubt felt confident that he was just one step away from leaving the country and being out of reach of U.S. authorities.
Thin, gray, and a much older-looking man than the public had previously seen, Durst, wearing a button- down shirt and jacket, entered the lobby at the Canal Street Marriott mumbling to himself, a habit he’d taken up in recent years. To his surprise, there to greet him were two FBI agents with a first-degree murder warrant signed by a Los Angeles County judge for Susan’s death. The G-men approached him and asked for an ID…
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Meet the Author
Cathy Scott, an investigative journalist whose works have appeared in the New York Times and the Las Vegas Sun, blogs about forensics for Psychology Today. She is the author of six crime biographies, including The Millionaire’s Wife and The Killing of Tupac Shakur. She lives in San Diego, California.
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Having lived in Las Vegas for most of my life, Ms. Scott's book brings back vivid memories of the spoiled kids of our town's originating citizens. Susan Berman, may she rest in peace, was one of those kids who was raised in the lap of luxury only experienced by the sons and daughters of the Vegas Mafia. Often times the hoods would use their kids as status symbols, providing the best schools, clothes, cars, etc. to impress their hoodlum friends. Susan is described in Murder of a Mafia Daughter as a perfect example of the heretofore ruling class of Vegas, a group who was cash rich and lacked the class to go with their cash. The book captivates all readers whether they grew up in Sin City, or not. What an inside look into the dark side of our town, and Susan Berman, an unfortunate victim of an unsolved murder. A victim because she wanted to maintain the life style she grew up enjoying, but could no longer afford after the untimely death of her Mob father. What a story! What a book! A great read.