The Foggy Days of Durst: When the Jinx Drank Too Much, Drove Dangerously and Landed Himself in the Mendocino County Jail

Sketch of person of interest in Karen Mitchell's disappearance, Karen Mitchell, Robert Durst.

Police sketch of person of interest in Karen Mitchell’s disappearance, Karen Mitchell, Robert Durst.

Robert Durst, son and heir of New York City’s real estate mogul Seymour Durst, is widely considered to be  a serial killer. Police suspect him of killing his first wife Kathleen McCormack Durst in 1982, his Los Angeles friend Susan Berman in 2000, and Durst admitted in a Texas court to killing and dismembering his Galveston neighbor in 2001. Durst was acquitted on claims of self-defense. But, Durst is suspected of involvement in other deaths and disappearances. His arrest in Mendocino in 1995 gave a clue that may tie him to the well-known disappearance of Humboldt County teenager Karen Mitchell.

Durst is currently held in a Los Angeles County jail where he awaits trial for the murder of Susan Berman. The trial is set to begin just over a month from now. The HBO documentary The Jinx: The Life and Death of Robert Durst will be utilized by the prosecution due to the documenters apparently successfully coaxing Durst to admit on a hot mic his involvement with Berman’s killing saying things like “I killed them all.” Durst referred to himself as a “jinx” in the documentary when he reflected on choosing to not have children fearing he would jinx them and their lives. The moniker has been used since.

Karen Mitchell

Karen Mitchell [Picture from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children]

According to Geoffrey Dunn’s North Coast Journal article “Robert Durst’s Ghost”, Durst moved to the Humboldt County town of Trinidad in late 1994 or early 1995. While in Humboldt, Durst loaned money to locals, bought real estate, and sought the “rural” life, as he told The Jinx director Andrew Jarecki. During December 2000 when he lived on the North Coast, investigators surmise Durst drove from Humboldt County to Los Angeles to kill Susan Berman because of knowledge she had regarding the fate of Kathleen McCormack Durst, his wife who had vanished.

Even earlier in May of 1995, Robert Durst’s sojourns across the North Coast of California placed him in the seaside town of Mendocino known for its cliffside trails dropping steeply into the Pacific. In this place, where land meets sea, Durst drank wine, drove recklessly, and crossed paths with a Mendocino County Sheriff’s deputy in a meeting that would provide a fixed point of reference in the foggy days of Durst’s life on the North Coast.

It was 10:00 p.m. on May 10, 1995. Mendocino County Sheriff Deputy Scott Mordin was standing in front of Patterson’s pub on Mendocino’s Lansing Street when he watched a blue Ford Taurus stop in front of Mendosa’s Market. Mordin noted the driver attempted “to light what appeared to be a cigarette.”

Nordin described watching the driver exit the vehicle and stagger to the rear of the vehicle “swaying from side to side.” The driver then saw Nordin watching him and “immediately got back into his vehicle and drove northbound on Lansing Street.”

Robert Durst

Robert Durst [Image from smartfacts.ru, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons]

Nordin described following the vehicle and, upon reaching the 1100 block of Lansing Street, the vehicle “crossed over the double yellow three times.” In response, Nordin initiated his overhead emergency lights attempting to stop the vehicle which, as Nordin wrote, had “negative results.” Nording then turned on the vehicle’s siren and the driver subsequently stopped the car in the middle of the road without pulling to the side of the road. With the vehicle stopped in the middle of Lansing Street, Deputy Nordin told the driver via the P.A. system “to pull forward to the next turn out.” Deputy Nordin noted that “the driver looked confused as to my demands.” Hoping to clarify, Deputy Nordin repeated his demands  and was met, once again, with “negative results.” Deputy Nordin repeated his demands a third time after which the driver proceeded to the entrance of the Sea Rock Inn.

When the pair were parked in front of the inn, Robert Durst exited his vehicle and, as Deputy Nordin described it, walked in a “staggering motion towards my patrol vehicle.” As Robert Durst asked Deputy Nordin why he had stopped him, the deputy noted a “strong odor of alcoholic beverage emitting from his mouth.” Deputy Nordin said he asked Durst for his driver’s license and noticed Durst was having “a hard time trying to find his wallet.” Deputy Nordin wrote that Durst was “swaying from side to side and spontaneously told me in a slurred speech that he drank a bottle of wine at the Cafe Beaujolais.”

A clipping from the Ukiah Daily Journal on May 11, 1995 describing Durst's arrest on the Mendocino County coast A clipping from the Ukiah Daily Journal on May 11, 1995 describing Durst's arrest on the Mendocino County coast]

A clipping from the Ukiah Daily Journal on May 11, 1995 describing Durst’s arrest on the Mendocino County coast.

With Durst clearly intoxicated, according to Nordin’s account, the deputy began to administer a battery of field sobriety tests on the pavement in front of the Sea Rock Inn. When asked to stand on one foot and raise the other foot 8”-10” of the ground, Nordin said Durst could not go 2-3 seconds without stepping down on his raised foot. When asked to demonstrate he could count from his index finger to little finger and back 1-2-3-4-4-3-2-1, the deputy said Durst missed fingers and counts. When asked to stand with feet together, hands relaxed at his sides, and his eyes closed, Nordin said Durst swayed 2”-3” side to side and front to back. According to the deputy, when asked to touch the tip of his nose while his feet were together and his arms were extended outwards, Durst placed the middle of his index finger on the side of his nose and when asked to walk heel to toe for nine steps, Durst began to walk out into Lansing Street and Deputy Nordin wrote, “I had to stop him from walking into traffic.”

Based on Durst’s alleged inability to pass the field sobriety tests, Deputy Nordin proceeded to place him under arrest and transported him to the Fort Bragg Sheriff’s substation. While driving to the substation, Deputy Nordin told Durst he had three options to test his blood-alcohol level: blood, urine, or breath. Durst consented to have his urine tested. 

Mendocino County Sheriff Deputy Dressler met Durst and Nordin at the substation. Deputy Dressler completed the CHP180 form (a standard form used when towing a vehicle) after which Durst’s vehicle was towed

While detained at the substation, Durst submitted to the urine tests which were sent to a Department of Justice laboratory. Deputy Nordin completed the DMV Administrative Per Se form (a document completed by law enforcement to temporarily suspend a driver’s license). Deputy Nordin noted that “Durst is a resident of New York and his driver’s license was released to him.”

Deputy Dressler advised Deputy Nordin that upon searching Durst’s Ford Taurus, an envelope containing $3,700 and a plastic baggie containing “less than an ounce of what appeared to be marijuana” were in the trunk. Deputy Dressler walked into the back office of the substation where Durst was sitting and Durst said, “The Money and the marijuana are mine and I have always smoked it, even as a kid.” He asked the deputies, “So what’s the big deal?”

Deputy Nordin wrote the marijuana was placed into the Fort Bragg evidence locker and the money was placed with Durst’s personal effects that went with him to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office County Jail. 

18 days after his arrest, Deputy Nordin updated the narrative report when he received the results of Durst’s urine alcohol test from the North Coast Criminalist’s Laboratory. Durst’s blood alcohol content was .03%. The last line of the narrative report said the arrest of Durst would be proceeding to the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office for review.

According to Mike Geniella, the Mendocino County District Attorney Public Information Officer, a total of three counts were levied against Durst: driving under the influence, possession of marijuana, and possession of concentrated cannabis. It is unclear what form the concentrated cannabis came in seeing as the concentrated cannabis was not reflected in Deputy Nordin’s narrative of the incident.

Approximately one year after his arrest on the Mendocino County Coast, Geniella said the DUI was dismissed, and both marijuana related misdemeanors were reduced to infractions.

Top: The image of the 1974-1976 Ford Grenada or Mercury Monarch Karen was last seen getting inside of before she disappeared [Picture from a widely-circulated missing person poster] Bottom: A 1995 blue Ford Taurus similar to what Durst was driving when he was arrested in Mendocino County [Picture from WikiCommons.com]

Top: The image of the 1974-1976 Ford Grenada or Mercury Monarch Karen Mitchell was reportedly last seen getting into before she disappeared [Picture from a widely-circulated missing person poster] Bottom: A 1995 blue Ford Taurus similar to what Durst was driving when he was arrested in Mendocino County [Picture from WikiCommons.com]

This arrest report contains a record of the vehicle that Durst drove during this time. And, that small piece of information is one more link that may tie the suspected serial killer to one of the most well-known missing person cases on the North Coast. 

Some suspect Robert Durst could be involved in the November 25, 1997 disappearance of Eureka teen Karen Mitchell due to his living in the area and his resemblance to a composite sketch of a man Mitchell was seen getting into the car with before she disappeared. According to Robert Dunn’s North Coast Journal article, Karen Mitchell’s aunt reported Durst had actually patronized a store she owned and met Karen there while she was working. It is also thought that Mitchell might have crossed paths with Durst at a Eureka Old Town homeless shelter where she volunteered and he would often go to and reportedly “loiter.” 

Closeup of the EPD's Sketch of the person of interest in the disappearance of Karen Mitchell.

Closeup of the EPD’s Sketch of the person of interest in the disappearance of Karen Mitchell.

A widely-circulated missing poster for Karen describes the car she got in as a light-blue 1976-1978 Ford Granda or Mercury Monarch with a California license plate with “Eureka” on the frame. As per the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office report that describes the May 1997 arrest of Durst, he was driving a blue, four-door, Ford Taurus with California plates. Though not the same exact vehicle, the similarities are note-worthy.

In the coming months, Robert Durst will be tried for the murder of Susan Berman and be judged by a jury of his peers in a Los Angeles courtroom. North Coast residents are left to wonder if Durst committed any acts of violence during the time he spent in their midst.

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48 comments

  • Yes! True crime fan and this fucker needs to be exposed and he held accountable. The families deserve closure.

    Great reporting Matt!!

    The sheer volume of missing murdered in Humboldt /mendo is mind boggling. Truth us, because of lax police work, witness hesitancy and dumb luck you have a 40% chance of getting away with murder!

    • There’s also a lot of wildland to hide a body in. Then the critters get to work on it and…

    • Eureka has a near 100% homicide clearance rate over the past few years.

      You have any actual empirical data to back up the sweeping 40% claim?

      Curious minds want to know…

      • In my 1911 I trust

        Most of our beef is with the sheriff’s office and missing persons Chief. I’d say their track record isn’t nearly quite the 100% of the EPDthese last few years.

    • Did they ever find out who killed Robert Alexander, the old guy who sold used bikes, in Westhaven? I heard he was found buried in his backyard, over 30 years ago.

    • Agreed! Matt does a lot of good digging into local cold cases and the reporting is always welcome. Great recap and highlighting of local details, timely, too.

  • I’m not seeing a specific link here other than the fact that they both occupied approximately the same 100 sq miles at the same time…

    Doesn’t sound like Durst killed strangers or extremely casual acquaintances either.

  • John Annabel is a potential suspect as well.

    • Anyone know where Jim Jones was when she went missing?

    • That I have never heard, but yet it does not surprise me. That whole family is/was creepy as f***! I thought that before I read the book. Even moreso after.

      • He had some connection to her other than proximity, I can’t recall exactly what as I heard the story a lifetime ago, and the people who told it aren’t around anymore.

    • Have never heard of a John Annabel as a potential suspect in this case. Who was he?

  • justanotherperson

    dude “loitered” at the homeless shelter, looking for people to take advantage. scumbag. Why do children of New York real estate monsters have to be, well, so monstrous? Trump, Kushner, Durst.

    • Duh! Your just full of anger/hate! Don’t be upset TRUMP was a GREAT president

      • Nice attempt at rewriting history. Keep telling yourself that, in your future padded room!

      • Like most crime it eventually comes out truthfully.

        Putin was the person that made Trump President. Recent intelligence puts Trump in collusion with Putin. Wait until the notes from Putin’s and Trump’s meeting in Helsinki is public. And this is just the beginning.

  • That artist’s sketch doesn’t resemble a FoMoCo product. It looks more like a Mercedes.

  • There is the possibility he was involved in Sandra kay Albiani ‘s murder. It will be 25 years, June 9.

  • I lived next door to him in Trinidad. This sketch doesn’t resemble him, or at least what he looked like then.

    • Hi Jack- please consider emailing me. I would love to interview about your experience being Durst’s neighbor. [email protected]

      • I was attending CR at the approximate time Karen went missing. I was picked up by a man in a baby blue sedan like the top image. I was hitch hiking from blue lake to Titlo hill rd. The man scared me from the moment I got in. I thought he was going to murder me. I started waving at random people on HWY 299 pretending that it was my neighbor or family. Telling him in a cheerful voice “Oh that was my Nieghbor!” I did that hoping it would give him pause that someone had seen him with me. He then started insisting on driving me up Titlo Hill rd, even after I told him repeatedly no. I then started telling him my sister was meeting me at the bottom of Titlo and I had called her before I left and she would be showing up any minute to get me. He still didn’t pull over until 1/4 of a mile up Titlo Hill Rd. I waited for him to leave then started walking as fast as I could up Titlo. Every time I heard a vehicle, I jumped in the bushes because I thought it was him coming back. Lyears later and after having told all my family and friends about this dude, I seen Karen’s article. I read it and wondered if that baby blue car could be the same type of car. I googled the make and model and about threw up! It was exactly what I remember the car looking like. So I started looking up other articles and reading the comments. [edit]

        • OMG. Smart girl! Always good to listen to your instincts!

        • Do you remember what he looked like?

        • Omg! That’s terrifying! I’m glad you were aware and reacted.

        • Okay, I know it’s not good to blame the victim. But you say this dude picked you up, hitch-hiking? A young woman hitch-hiking–or anybody hitch-hiking, really–is playing Russian roulette, period. You value your life, you don’t hitch-hike. I’m sorry if I’m being a little harsh or judgmental here, but that’s it.

  • I don’t think he did it. Everyone he murdered was personal… somebody he had a relationship with or to save his own ass because somebody knew too much. A casual knowledge of a teenager doesn’t seem to fit. Even these coincidences are somewhat a stretch. Sure wish they’d find her and what happened but I don’t think it’s him.

    • I wouldn’t write him off so easily, the hair line, his choice in large lens glasses ( see photo taken of him years later) the pursed lips, blue sedan, (not everyone is a car enthusiast and can easily misidentify one) frequently patronized the store Karen Mitchell worked at, as well as the homeless shelter she volunteered at, and also a confessed killer that can dismember and hide a body. Personally, I doubt that Mitchell would have got into or stayed willingly in someone’s car that she didn’t know or felt uncomfortable with.

      • He’s been a suspect for a long time and much has been written about him which has lead me to this conclusion years ago. Anything’s possible but it doesn’t fit with his other crimes. At any given time in this county we’ve had murders, even some serial killers, Durst was one of many. And those are only the ones we KNOW of. The sketch alone looks like 98% of the older men in this county, especially back then.

        • Personally, this man has too many coincidences to rule him out, having numerous interactions with Karen Mitchell, having the same description, same color of sedan, and a confessed killer with not having any qualms in killing someone and hiding a body by any means.

  • What was the 1997 arrest for? Second from last paragraph. Just curious.

    And again in Mendo?

  • It seems inconceivable that anyone could mistake a Taurus for a Grenada/Monarch. The sketch and mugshot have little in common other than the hair. If Durst is to be somehow connected with the Grenada/Monarch, what’s the explanation for him not wearing glasses when that driver did?

  • Cranky Old Lady

    Didnt Durst frequently wear women’s clothing and make up when he lived in Trinidad? I recall reading that somewhere.

    • Texan jury genius

      He rented the Galveston TX house he shared with the future body found in Galveston Bay. The landlady thought she had rented to a woman. Turns out Durst dressed up to help hide his identity. He told the jury that aquitted him of that murder on self defense grounds, that he dressed as a lady to rent, and then cut up the body and dumped it in the Bay because he was afraid of the media pressure from his wife’s disapearence.

    • After Karen went missing, Durst
      was seen more than once at Annie’s shoes where Karen used to work dressed in drag.

  • Does Randall Gomes know what happened?

    • Hmm…please expand your comment. I know the Fickle Hill bust of Randy Gomes was a result of some angry gun shooting and erratic behavior on multiple peoples’ parts based on bad drug use. But how does any of that relate to Karen Mitchell?

  • Absolutely amazing the excuses and defending of him that people are doing here. He’s a mass murderer. Yet he’s not the mass murderer they’re looking for. A lot of sick fucks that like to make excuses for people, or these posts are part of his defense team.

    • Amazing you think anyone is defending him, it seems like there could possibly be another killer because the obvious differences. He’s already a monster and caught keep looking for the others if he didn’t do it.

  • How was his BAC test return as only 0.03?
    When he was so obviously impaired by the deputies account?
    That makes no sense

  • I feel deep in my soul that he is responsible for the disappearance of Karen. I hope we find her and bring closure to the family. Most of all prosecute this creep.

  • No response as to why he was arrested in Mendo in 1997? Can’t find an arrest record.

    What was he arrested for in 1997?

  • The reason why he was cleared from the suspect list was because he was in Los Angeles the day that Karen went missing.  Its a 10 hour drive from Eureka to LA making easy to be both places within the same day.  He was a fequent flyer at Eureka’s mini airport.  A couple years after karen was ast seen.. One of the ACV pilots stating there was proof in flight logs that Durst flew in or out the day karen disappeared but no one looked into it.

  • Matt,
    The background information in this story about Karen Mitchell and the investigation didn’t come from Geoffrey Dunn and the North Coast Journal, but from author Matt Birkbeck, who wrote the Durst book A Deadly Secret. He reported the Durst/Mitchell connection back in 2003 and discussed it on NBC’s Dateline program in 2015 (he visited Eureka in 2003).

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