New York medical student Kathleen McCormack vanished without a trace in 1982 — and while she's presumed to be dead, her body has never been found.
On the night of January 31, 1982, 29-year-old Kathleen McCormack was driven by her husband Robert Durst from their home in South Salem, New York, to a Westchester train station. McCormack, a medical student, then boarded a train to Manhattan. At least, that’s what Durst told investigators five days later when he reported his wife missing.
Durst also added that he had spoken to McCormack on a payphone that same night, confirming that she had arrived at the couple’s apartment in Manhattan. Based on his information, the police investigation into McCormack’s disappearance focused primarily on the city.
But Durst, a multimillionaire real estate heir, had misled the authorities from the very beginning. And tragically, McCormack would never be found.
Inside The Turbulent Marriage Of Kathleen McCormack And Robert Durst
Kathleen “Kathie” McCormack was born on June 15, 1952, and grew up near New York City. She attended New Hyde Park Memorial High School and worked numerous part-time jobs, both on Long Island and in Manhattan. McCormack was just 19 years old when she met her future husband, Robert Durst, the 28-year-old son of a wealthy real estate magnate.
It was 1971 when McCormack and Durst first started dating, according to The New York Times. After just two dates, Durst had convinced McCormack to move to Vermont with him to help him run a health food store. However, the couple didn’t stay in Vermont for long and soon moved back to New York.
They married in 1973 and traveled to various countries around the world before returning to New York. There, they regularly partied at clubs like Studio 54, attended prestigious social events, and mingled in the affluent society of the city. But while McCormack and Durst’s marriage might have seemed like a dream at first, it soon became a nightmare.
In 1976, McCormack found out she was pregnant. Though she wanted to have a baby, Durst did not, and he forced his wife to get an abortion. According to News 12, McCormack’s family would later learn from her diary that Durst threw water on her head on the way to the procedure.
While reading the diary, McCormack’s relatives also learned that she had been “slapped and punched” by Durst multiple times throughout their marriage. And shortly before McCormack disappeared in 1982, her family allegedly witnessed Durst’s abusive behavior in person — when he yanked her by the hair just because she wasn’t ready to leave a party.
McCormack’s loved ones encouraged her to leave Durst and report him. However, she said she was afraid to do so. But even though she remained married to her husband, she gradually began to pursue her own dreams apart from him, enrolling in nursing school followed by medical school.
She was just months away from graduating when she vanished.
The Initial Investigation Into Kathleen McCormack’s Disappearance
Contrary to Durst’s initial statement to the police, Kathleen McCormack never arrived in Manhattan on January 31, 1982. However, some workers at the couple’s apartment in the city mistakenly believed that they had seen McCormack that night, which complicated matters.
And according to CT Insider, a phone call was also supposedly made by McCormack to her medical school after her disappearance. During the call, “McCormack” said that she would not be attending class the following day. (Authorities now believe the call was actually made by a friend of Durst’s.)
But investigators also uncovered evidence that seemed to point to Durst. One neighbor at the couple’s Manhattan apartment claimed that McCormack had once climbed across to the neighbor’s balcony, pounding on the window and begging to come inside because Durst “had beaten her, that he had a gun, and that she was afraid that he would shoot her.”
Additionally, a housekeeper at the couple’s South Salem home showed authorities a small amount of blood that she’d found on the dishwasher and told the investigators that Durst had ordered her to throw out some of McCormack’s personal items after she’d disappeared.
Meanwhile, McCormack’s family and friends conducted their own investigation as they desperately searched for her. Her relatives uncovered her diary, which told of the years of abuse she’d suffered at the hands of Durst, as well as suspected extramarital affairs. And her friends found suspicious notes in Durst’s garbage at his South Salem home, one of which said: “town dump, bridge, dig, boat, other, shovel, car or truck rental.”
Still, the police continued to focus primarily on Manhattan during their search for McCormack and did not charge Durst in connection with her disappearance. Further clouding the investigation were statements made by Durst’s close friend and unofficial spokesperson, Susan Berman (who is believed to have placed the suspicious phone call to McCormack’s school).
At the time, Berman was a well-known author — and thus widely considered a credible voice. She released a number of statements suggesting that McCormack had run off with another man. Considering that both McCormack and Durst were known to have had affairs throughout their marriage, Berman’s story didn’t sound entirely implausible.
Before long, the case went cold because police couldn’t find McCormack’s body, according to the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office.
And about eight years after McCormack’s disappearance, in 1990, Durst divorced his wife, claiming “spousal abandonment” and that he had “received no communication” from her after she left South Salem. It was a different story than the one he’d told the cops since he had initially claimed to have spoken to her on a payphone after she arrived in Manhattan.
But by then, attention had largely shifted away from Durst, and it seemed as though it would stay that way — until the case was reopened.
How Robert Durst Went Into Hiding — And Was Then Linked To Two Separate Murders
In 2000, the Kathleen McCormack case was reopened, about 18 years after the young woman had vanished. Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro firmly believed that McCormack had been a victim of a homicide, and with Pirro’s blessing, investigators reopened the file.
Though Robert Durst was still not charged in connection with his wife’s disappearance, he decided to go into hiding that November. As a multimillionaire real estate heir, he had plenty of money and resources to disappear without warning, so he fled to Galveston, Texas. There, according to CBS News, he rented an inexpensive apartment and bizarrely disguised himself as a mute woman named “Dorothy Ciner.” He also quietly got remarried to a New York real estate broker named Debrah Charatan.
Then, in December of that same year, Durst’s friend Berman was found murdered at her home in California. She had been shot “execution-style” in the back of the head — shortly after investigators had reached out to her about the McCormack case. (It’s now believed that Berman was about to cooperate with the police and tell them everything that she knew.)
After Berman’s body was discovered, the Beverly Hills Police Department received a cryptic note about her death, which included just her address and the word “cadaver.” According to the Los Angeles Times, suspicion first fell on other people, including her landlord, her business manager, and criminal underworld figures — as her father had been a Vegas mob boss. Though Durst’s name also came up, he wasn’t initially charged with anything.
But then, another person close to Durst was found murdered: his elderly neighbor in Galveston, Morris Black. In September 2001, the dismembered torso and limbs of Black were found floating in garbage bags in Galveston Bay. This time, Durst couldn’t escape suspicion, and he was soon arrested for the gruesome murder. However, he left jail the same day after posting a $300,000 bond. He then went on the run for about seven weeks until he was found in Pennsylvania — shoplifting at a grocery store.
Durst later admitted to killing and dismembering Black, but he was found not guilty of murder in November 2003 because he claimed he had killed Black in self-defense. (It’s now believed that Black had grown suspicious of Durst’s disguise and may have even figured out his real identity.)
Still, many had questions about Durst’s connection to Berman’s murder and McCormack’s disappearance. But he wasn’t charged with either — yet.
Robert Durst’s “Confession” And Downfall
If Robert Durst had stayed silent after his 2003 acquittal in the Black murder case, he may have gotten away with nearly everything. But in 2010, he couldn’t resist reaching out to filmmaker Andrew Jarecki after Jarecki released a scripted movie about Durst’s life, All Good Things. As Durst put it, he wanted to tell the story “my way” in a documentary, and Jarecki agreed.
During the filming for the HBO documentary series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which took a few years to produce, striking new evidence emerged in the Berman case. Berman’s stepson, Sareb Kaufman, gave Jarecki and his fellow producers a handwritten letter that Durst had penned to Berman. The handwriting bore a striking resemblance to the infamous “cadaver” letter, including a misspelling of “Beverly Hills.”
Durst denied writing the “cadaver” letter to filmmakers after Berman’s death, but he did make other admissions during the HBO interviews, such as lying to detectives early on in the Kathleen McCormack case to get the police off his back. But perhaps his most damning admission was the one he was caught saying on a hot mic while in the bathroom: “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.” He also muttered, “There it is. You’re caught.”
He was arrested on March 14, 2015, just one day before the final episode of The Jinx aired. By then, authorities felt they had enough to finally charge him in connection with Berman’s death. And in 2021, Durst was found guilty of murdering Berman and sentenced to life in prison for the crime.
Days after the conviction, Durst was finally charged with the murder of McCormack. By that point, his first wife had been missing for almost 40 years and had been declared legally dead. However, he died in prison at age 78 in January 2022 before he could be officially brought to trial.
Ultimately, Durst’s wealth, status, and resources created “tunnel vision” during the initial 1982 investigation, as an official report would later say. This led detectives on the case to Manhattan, when, tragically, it was likely in South Salem where the evidence of McCormack’s murder lay. To this day, authorities still don’t know exactly how McCormack was killed or where her body is. And tragically, it’s unclear whether it’ll ever be found.
After learning about Kathleen McCormack, read about 11 mysterious disappearances that are still keeping investigators up at night. Then, check out six of the most chilling unsolved murder cases.