Who is Robert Durst’s wife, Debrah Lee Charatan?
She married a man whose first wife mysteriously disappeared. And she stood by him even after he admitted killing a neighbor and chopping up the body.
But who is Debrah Lee Charatan, the wife of millionaire heir Robert Durst? And what role has she played in his life?
Charatan hasn’t spoken publicly since her husband’s arrest in New Orleans over the weekend, and CNN was unable to reach her for comment.
In “The Jinx,” the HBO documentary about Durst’s life, she appears in a police interview from more than a decade ago. The series also includes excerpts from jailhouse recordings of phone conversations between Durst and Charatan.
Charatan says she met Durst in 1988, six years after his first wife went missing.
The two were married in a rushed ceremony just weeks before Durst’s longtime friend Susan Berman turned up dead in Beverly Hills, California. This week, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office charged Durst with first-degree murder in that case.
It’s an accusation he has long denied. He also has said he had nothing to do with his first wife’s disappearance.
In a 2003 trial, he admitted he’d shot a neighbor in Galveston, Texas, and dismembered the body, but was acquitted of murder after arguing he’d acted in self defense.
Recorded jailhouse calls from Durst’s imprisonment during that case suggest that Charatan was his rock.
“Am I supposed to be smiling or am I supposed to be grim?” Durst asks in one conversation discussing how he should appear during his trial.
Charatan quickly replies, “I would just have as close to no expression, yeah, that’s what I think.”
She was also a driving force behind the decision to fire attorney Michael Kennedy, a lawyer Durst’s wealthy real estate developer family had tapped to handle the case. The insanity defense Kennedy was planning to use, she said at the time, could have meant both Durst and Charatan were cut out of the family fortune.
“What he doesn’t want is me to get any of the trust money later on, since I’m not your wife because you were incompetent at the time, OK, that means they are the only ones who can make your decisions,” she says in another call.
Like Durst himself, Charatan is a powerful player on the New York real estate scene.
“She’s not some opportunistic woman who came into Bob’s life for monetary gain. She was very successful, a millionaire several times over long before she met Bob,” said Amir Korangy, publisher of TheRealDeal.com.
Susan Criss, the retired judge who presided over the 2003 trial, said from listening to hours of tapes and testimony that it’s clear that Charatan is motivated by financial gain.
“It’s very clear that she only cares about the money,” Criss said.
Some former friends and employees described Charatan in less than glowing terms. Former employees have successfully sued her for failing to pay commissions.
According to sources, she only briefly lived with Durst and they are now separated, though still married.
Why doesn’t the HBO documentary feature any more recent interviews with her?
Charatan didn’t want Durst to participate in “The Jinx,” Korangy said, and she hasn’t spoken with him since it started airing.
By Shasta Darlington
CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet and Erin Burnett contributed to this report.