|Born||Susan Jane Berman|
May 18, 1945
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
|Died||December 23, 2000 (aged 55)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Home of Peace Cemetery|
|Alma mater||University of California, Los Angeles|
University of California, Berkeley
|Subject||Mob, Las Vegas|
|Notable works||Easy Street|
|Spouse||Christopher ("Mister") Margulies (divorced)|
|Relatives||Davie Berman (father)|
Susan Jane Berman (May 18, 1945 – December 23, 2000) was an American journalist, author, and the daughter of Davie Berman, a Jewish-American organized crime figure who operated on behalf of Meyer Lansky and the Genovese crime family in both Minneapolis and Las Vegas. She wrote about her late-in-life realization of her father's role in that criminal empire.
Berman became a longtime friend and confidant of billionaire Robert Durst, who was suspected of foul play in the 1982 disappearance of his wife, Kathleen McCormack. Berman was found dead on Christmas Eve 2000 in her home in Benedict Canyon, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Fifteen years later, on March 14, 2015, Durst was arrested in New Orleans and charged with first-degree murder in connection with Berman's death.
Susan Berman was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1945, the only child of the former Betty Ewald, a traveling dancer who had adopted the stage name Gladys Evans, and Davie Berman. Berman always maintained that her father — a mob figure who replaced Bugsy Siegel at Las Vegas' Flamingo Hotel after Siegel's gangland murder — died under mysterious circumstances on an operating table when Berman was twelve, but all indications were that he died of a heart attack during surgery. She also believed uncertainty surrounded her mother's presumed suicide by overdose a year later.
Berman grew up in Las Vegas and, later, in Hollywood, California, where high school classmates and friends at the Chadwick School on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles included Jann Wenner and Liza Minnelli. Berman received a bachelor of arts degree in 1967 from UCLA, where she met Robert Durst. In 1969, she graduated with a master of arts in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley. Berman was gradually paid a total of $4.3 million by the Mafia for her father's interests in casinos and other properties.
Berman was a novelist and author of two memoirs, along with a 1971 college guidebook, The Underground Guide to the College of Your Choice. Her first memoir, Easy Street, detailed her life as a mobster's daughter. While representing her in the 1970s, the William Morris Agency talked with several Hollywood producers interested in adapting the book into a screenplay. The movie rights were ultimately sold for $350,000, but no film project ever got off the ground. For a time, Berman attempted to finance a musical based on the Dreyfus affair, in which Durst declined to invest.
In San Francisco, Berman wrote for various media outlets, including the San Francisco Examiner, Francis Ford Coppola's City Magazine, the Westinghouse Evening Show on KPIX-TV, and the People show on CBS. Berman was a contributing writer for magazines such as New York, Cosmopolitan and Family Circle. She also wrote Driver, Give a Soldier a Lift! and Lady Las Vegas, accompanying the 1996 release of an A&E documentary, for which she was a co-writer and nominated for a Writers Guild of America award.
At the time of her death, she was working on a project for Showtime with attorney Kevin Norte. Entitled Sin City, it was being planned as Showtime's version of the HBO hit The Sopranos.
Berman lived just off the Sunset Strip on Alta Loma Road in West Hollywood for several years prior to her final residence in Benedict Canyon, a suburb of Los Angeles. Her manager Nyle Brenner later told the Los Angeles Times that "many details of Ms. Berman's personal life are unclear" and added "she had been married once in the 1980s, and later helped rear the two children of a boyfriend." She was married only once, to Christopher ("Mister") Margulies, in June 1984 at the Hotel Bel-Air; Durst walked Berman down the aisle. Margulies died of a heroin overdose in 1986. She kept close ties to friends on Alta Loma Road, at the Las Vegas Strip and in New York City, including Durst.
Berman was found murdered execution style with a 9mm handgun on Christmas Eve 2000 in her rented Benedict Canyon home, and was presumed to have been dead at least a day.
On March 14, 2015, Durst was arrested in New Orleans on a first-degree murder warrant issued out of Los Angeles. Although Durst's presumed victim was not immediately named by authorities, the Times first reported that he had been detained in connection to Berman's slaying. Three days after his arrest, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey said that if convicted, Durst could face the death penalty in California for "special circumstances of murder of a witness and lying in wait." Durst was transferred to and arraigned in California in early November 2016.
Various published accounts, including Murder of a Mafia Daughter by author Cathy Scott, have reported possible connections between Berman's murder and the 1982 disappearance of Durst's first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst. Berman became a confidante of Durst, an heir to a New York real estate fortune, at UCLA in the late 1960s, and came to know Kathleen after later moving to New York. In a review of Scott's book, True Crime Zine wrote that "detectives came to suspect one of [Berman's] long-time friends but have never been able to charge him with murder." Durst was also considered a prime suspect in his wife's disappearance, but was never charged in the case.
Berman initially acted as a media spokesperson for Durst, and is believed to have facilitated his public alibi. She supplied a deposition in the case in 1982, which Durst faxed to investigators after her murder. Berman had remained Durst's friend and received two large cash gifts totaling $50,000 from him in the months before her death; Berman had last written to Durst on November 5, 2000, expressing hope that her financial entreaties would not ruin their friendship. Earlier in 2000, New York State Police, at the request of then-District Attorney Jeanine Pirro of Westchester County, had re-opened an investigation into Kathleen's disappearance, and was urged by her friends to contact Berman for an interview. Berman was killed weeks after the re-opened investigation was publicized.
Durst's March 2015 arrest warrant mentioned a previously undisclosed typewritten letter, mailed from New York on January 9, 2001 to a West Los Angeles police station, titled, "Possible motive for Susan Berman murder." The letter said Berman suspected Durst was involved in his wife's disappearance, and specified that Durst was planning to visit her in late December. Berman biographer Scott told the New York Post in February 2017, before witnesses were to testify against Durst in a pre-trial hearing, that the evidence points to his guilt in Berman's murder.
Berman was interred at Home of Peace Memorial Park in East Los Angeles, California.
In the 2010 film All Good Things, the character Deborah Lehrman, portrayed by Lily Rabe, is inspired by Susan Berman. The film depicts Lehrman being murdered by the character Malvern Bump, who is inspired by Morris Black. It is implied that Bump murders Lehrman on the orders of David Marks, inspired by Durst, in order to prevent her from revealing incriminating information about Marks.
The story of Susan Berman's suspicious death and suspected murder was covered by a CBS News Productions documentary series 48 Hours, Season 29, Episode 19, "Murder 90210", release date 30 January 2016 (USA).
The case was the basis for the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Maledictus."