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The storied Dursts of New York

By Laurie Bennett

July 9, 2010 at 11:12am

One of America’s quirkiest real estate families landed a major deal this week.

The Durst Organization was chosen by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as developer of the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site.

The 1,176-foot tower will be a major trophy for a company that goes back three generations.

The Dursts have a long, often strange history, characterized by reversals in positions. Seymour Durst opposed the original World Trade Center complex. Family members also criticized the redevelopment of Times Square. They wound up developing properties in both projects.

In a wonderfully titled (”The Dursts Have Odd Properties”)Times magazine story in 2002, James Traub wrote: “There is a widespread view that a rogue gene is on the loose in the Durst family tree; as one long-time friend of the family says, ‘They’re all wired a little funny.’”

The most infamous is Robert Durst, son of Seymour and brother of Douglas. A Texas jury acquitted him in 2003 of murdering his 71-year-old neighbor, Morris Black. The verdict came after Durst’s admission that he had dismembered Black’s body and dumped it in Galveston Bay.

The defense contended that Durst had accidentally shot Black in self-defense, then panicked.

Durst’s wife, Kathleen McCormack, disappeared in 1982. His friend, Susan Berman, was shot and killed in 2000, before a scheduled interview with authorities investigating McCormack’s disappearance.

Time magazine, writing about Durst in 2003 (and surpassing the Times with the headline “A Real Head Case,”) noted that before the killing of his neighbor, Durst had been living in Galveston, masquerading as a mute woman named Dorothy Ciner.

Durst’s troubled life inspired a movie, “All Good Things,” starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. Although production was completed in 2008, the film has not yet been released.

The director, Andrew Jarecki, founder of Moviefone, acquired U.S. distribution rights from the Weinstein Co. after repeated postponements of the release.

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