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Arrest in Beverly Hills murder has ties to Las Vegas Mob history

Flamingo Hotel circa 1950s

Arrest in Beverly Hills murder has ties to Las Vegas Mob history

Fifteen years ago, a writer named Susan Berman was murdered in her Beverly Hills home. Last week, the prime suspect was arrested in the case.

Berman’s murder happened just a few miles away from another, still officially unsolved murder that had a direct impact on her life. Fifty-three years earlier, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was shot and killed in the Beverly Hills home of his girlfriend, Virginia Hill. Within minutes of Siegel’s death, Susan Berman’s father, David “Davie” Berman, was one of three men who walked into the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas and announced that the resort was now under their direction.

Davie Berman was a known Mob associate, specifically of the Genovese crime family of New York. He had extensive experience working in illegal casinos in Minneapolis before relocating to Las Vegas.

“He ran the Flamingo. He ran the skim,” says Cathy Scott, a former Las Vegas newspaper reporter and crime writer who wrote the book Murder of a Mafia Daughter: The Life and Tragic Death of Susan Berman. Scott said David Berman worked the skim on behalf of Mob kingpin Meyer Lansky.

On March 14, Robert Durst, 71, was arrested in New Orleans on a warrant issued by Los Angeles Police. He has been charged with Susan Berman’s murder. Durst is a wealthy inheritor of a New York real estate fortune who has been linked to at least two violent killings and the disappearance of his wife in 1982.

Susan Berman had been friends with Durst’s wife and had agreed to talk to police about the disappearance shortly before she was murdered. Scott, who now lives in Southern California, said Durst has always been the prime suspect in Berman’s murder.

“He’s absolutely the guy that did it,” Scott contends. “He’s been the No. 1 suspect from the beginning. … He’s so smug. He thinks he’s the smartest person in the room, that he can get away with murder.”

Susan Berman was a friend of both Robert Durst and his wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, before Kathleen’s 1982 disappearance. The Dursts were separated and living apart when Kathleen disappeared.

Scott said police are even investigating disappearances and murders in other cities in which Durst has lived or stayed.

Durst was arrested and charged with the murder and dismemberment of an elderly neighbor in Houston in 2001. Although there was no doubt Durst was responsible for the death and dismemberment – parts of his neighbor’s body were found floating in Galveston Bay – his lawyers successfully argued that Durst killed his neighbor in self-defense.

Durst beat the murder charge, but he had skipped bail in Texas and was arrested for shoplifting a chicken sandwich and Band-Aids (despite having $500 in cash in his pocket) while on the run in Pennsylvania. He subsequently was charged with jumping bail and jury tampering and served time in jail after violating terms of his parole.

Durst is estranged from members of his family, who have accused him of stalking and have taken out restraining orders against him to block personal contact. He also was convicted of misdemeanor criminal mischief last year after exposing himself and urinating on candy in a Houston drugstore.

Durst’s story is the subject of a new HBO documentary called The Jinx. One scene recorded by the filmmakers (but not used in the documentary) has Durst, apparently talking to himself and unaware that he is speaking into a live microphone, saying, “What did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

The documentary and the arrest on the Los Angeles charges have reignited interest in Durst’s story and Susan Berman’s murder. Before her death in 2000, Susan Berman lived life as Las Vegas royalty, Scott said. Her father died when she was just 12 and her mother died a year later, in 1958. Among other schools, Berman attended the historic Fifth Street School in downtown Las Vegas, just a few blocks from The Mob Museum, where her father’s contributions to Las Vegas history are noted.

In her memoir Easy Street: The True Story of a Gangster’s Daughter, Susan Berman wrote eloquently of her father’s prominence in the world of organized crime and of his prescient vision for Las Vegas.

“He was just my father to me, but to the world he was Davie Berman, one of the founders of the Syndicate, a trusted partner and confidant of Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello, and Bugsy Siegel. He was the man who one crime reporter said ‘was so tough he could kill a man with one hand tied behind his back.’ . . . He was the Mob visionary who helped convince his Eastern associates that there was money to be made in that honky-tonk town called Las Vegas and went on to forge a gambling silver mine out of a desert full of sagebrush.”