Psychologist weighs in on Durst's mental state

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Psychologist weighs in on Durst's mental state
Photo courtesy HBO
Photo courtesy HBO
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 30: Fugitive murder suspect Robert Durst, the estranged scion of one of New York's wealthiest real estate families, is shown in a police booking photo Friday, Nov. 30, 2001, in Hanover Township in Bath, Pa. Durst was arrested Friday after shoplifting Band-Aids and a sandwich at a supermarket near Route 22, an east-west highway that leads to New York. Durst, who was suspected in his wife's disappearance 19 years ago, became a fugitive after being charged in October with murdering his 71-year-old neighbor, whose dismembered body parts were found dumped in Galveston Bay in Galveston, Texas. (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Photo courtesy HBO
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By ISABELLE CHAPMAN

Robert Durst may have sealed his fate when he mumbled "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course," to himself in a bathroom, but it is quite possible that his fall from grace came decades earlier when he purportedly urinated in his uncle's wastebasket.

It was 1994, just over a decade after the disappearance of his first wife Kathleen Durst, and Robert was 51. It wasn't the first time he is said to have decided to relieve himself in a family member's garbage can. It was around this time that Robert had also taken to mumbling to himself during business meetings and had started to keep a wrench on his desk at work, according to the New York Times. All behavior that wasn't just bizarre -- but perhaps a sign of mental illness.

Robert was destined to be the head of the multi-billion dollar Durst Organization, which manages Manhattan real estate including a large portion of One World Trade Center. His younger brother Douglas told the New York Times that it was this bizarre act that triggered his father Seymour's decision to remove Robert as his successor and hand the company over to Douglas instead.

Robert, though once a member of Manhattan's elite, soon left the family company altogether, and went into hiding. He is now infamous for his connection to a slew of murders -- his wife Kathleen's, Morris Black's, and friend Susan Berman's -- highlighted in a HBO series "The Jinx."

Dr. Gail Saltz, a psychoanalyst who teaches clinical psychiatry, has followed Robert Durst's story in the media since his high-profile trial in 2003 for the murder and dismemberment of Galveston resident Morris Black, when Robert's lawyers hired a psychiatrist to examine him, according to CBS News. Dr. Altschuler declared that Robert's "whole life's history is so compatible with a diagnosis of Asperger's disorder."

Aspberger's disorder is now considered to be a from of autism. Saltz is skeptical of this diagnosis, however.

"I haven't examined him myself, but I can say that autism is not associated with violent behavior, and it doesn't explain things like his urination [habit]," Saltz said. "Urinating in public could speak to any number of things -- anything from dementia to sociopathy."

Dementia is fairly uncommon in those under 65, according to the Alzheimer's Association, and even less common for those under 40 (if Robert did in fact kill his first wife as many suspect, he would have been 39 when he did it).

Saltz explained that sociopaths tend to be loners, angry and disenfranchised. They struggle to feel empathy, often disregard social norms and rules -- and they often even enjoy doing the wrong thing. Saltz noted that trauma early in life can aggravate sociopathic symptoms.

Robert lost his mother as a 7-year-old in what many believe was a suicide, according to the New York Times. He claims he saw her jump off the roof of their Westchester County home, though brother Douglas has said that this isn't true.

"A mother committing suicide when you're young is quite traumatic. Suicide has a huge impact on children -- but it also speaks to something of the mental wellness of his mother," Saltz said, before she went on to explain that many mental illnesses have a genetic component to them.

Indeed, Robert could suffer from a wide array of mental illnesses: autism, psychopathy, schizophrenia, dementia. Many of these can be treated, according to Saltz: "With someone with autism, you could help them develop some coping skills and social skills, with schizophrenia, people with delusions can be treated."

However, she also stressed that psychopathy and sociopathy are essentially untreatable. For those who suffer from psychopathy or sociopathy and commit violent crimes repetitively Saltz said, "These are not really people who you're going to treat -- they're people who should go to prison."

With his fate now in the hands of the justice system, prison could be where Robert goes.

Exclusive: Judge Claims Robert Durst Left Cat Head on Her Doorstep


More on this story:
Lawyers: Millionaire Robert Durst illegally arrested
Real estate heir Durst is a suicide risk, sheriff says
Robert Durst back in court for 2nd straight day

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