Susan Jane Berman (May 18, 1945 – December 23, 2000) was an American journalist and author, the daughter of Davie Berman, a Las Vegas mob figure. She wrote about her late-in-life realization of her father's role in that criminal empire. She was found murdered on Christmas Eve 2000 in her Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles, California home.
Fifteen years later on March 14, 2015, Berman's friend Robert Durst was arrested in New Orleans and charged with first-degree murder in connection to Berman's slaying.
Berman was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1945, the only child of the former Betty Ewald, a traveling dancer who had adopted the stage name Gladys Evans, and Davie Berman. Her father was born into a Jewish family in Odessa, Ukraine, during the Russian Empire, the son of a former rabbinical student. Berman moved with her parents to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1946. She always maintained that her father — a mob figure who replaced Bugsy Siegel at the Flamingo Hotel after Siegel's gangland murder — died under mysterious circumstances on an operating table when Berman was 12, but all indications were that he died of a heart attack during surgery. She also believed uncertainty surrounded her mother's presumed suicide by overdose a year later.
Berman grew up in Las Vegas and, later, in Hollywood, California, where high school classmates included Jann Wenner and Liza Minnelli. She received a bachelor of arts degree in 1967 from the University of California, Los Angeles, where she met Robert Durst. In 1969 she graduated with a master of arts in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley. At age 21, 25 and 30, Berman was paid a total of $4.3 million by the Mafia for her father's interests in casinos and other properties.
Berman was a novelist and author of two memoirs. She was a reporter for The San Francisco Examiner and also wrote for Francis Ford Coppola's City Magazine, the Westinghouse Evening Show on KPIX and the "People" show on CBS. She was a contributing writer for New York Magazine, Cosmopolitan and Family Circle.
According to Online Nevada Encyclopedia, "Despite neuroses and irrational anxieties, Berman was a versatile writer in many literary genres."
Berman wrote Driver, Give a Soldier a Lift! and Lady Las Vegas, accompanying the 1996 release of an A and E documentary, for which she was a co-writer and nominated for a Writers Guild of America award.
Known affectionately as a "Jewish Mafia Princess," Susan Berman published the 1981 memoir Easy Street about life as a mobster's daughter. While representing her in the 1970s, the William Morris Agency talked with several Hollywood producers interested in adapting her book into a screenplay. The movie rights were ultimately sold for $350,000, but no film project ever got off the ground. For a time, Berman attempted to finance a musical based on the Dreyfus Affair, in which her wealthy friend Robert Durst declined to invest.
At the time of her death, she was working on a project for Showtime with attorney Kevin Norte. Entitled Sin City, it was being planned as Showtime's version of the HBO hit The Sopranos.
Berman lived just off the Sunset Strip on Alta Loma Road in West Hollywood for several years prior to her final residence in Benedict Canyon. Nyle Brenner, her manager, told the Los Angeles Times days after her murder that "many details of Ms. Berman's personal life are unclear" and added "she had been married once in the 1980s, and later helped rear the two children of a boyfriend." Her only husband, Mister Margulies, would die of a heroin overdose in 1986; at their June 1984 wedding, held at the Hotel Bel-Air, Durst walked Berman down the aisle. Berman kept close ties to friends on Alta Loma Road where she once lived, the Las Vegas Strip and in New York City, including Robert Durst.
She was found murdered execution style with a nine-millimeter hand gun on Christmas Eve, 2000, in her rented Benedict Canyon, California home, and presumed to have been dead at least a day.
On March 14, 2015, Berman's long time close friend Robert Durst was arrested in New Orleans on a first degree murder warrant issued out of Los Angeles. Although Durst's presumed victim was not immediately named by authorities, the Los Angeles Times first reported that he had been detained in connection to Berman's slaying. Three days after his arrest, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey said that if convicted, Durst could face the death penalty in California for "special circumstances of murder of a witness and lying in wait." On February 3, 2016, Durst pleaded guilty to a federal weapons charge and received an 85-month sentence, stemming from his arrest on the Berman murder charge. The plea agreement calls for Durst to be transferred to a California federal prison before August 18, 2016 to await going on trial for the Berman murder charge. Durst's lead legal representative Dick DeGuerin has repeatedly said "Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman and doesn't know who did."
Various published accounts, including Murder of a Mafia Daughter by author Cathy Scott, have reported possible connections between Berman's murder and the 1982 disappearance of Durst's first wife Kathie Durst. Berman became a confidante of Durst, an heir to a New York real estate fortune, at UCLA in the late 1960s, and came to know Kathie after later moving to New York. In a review of Scott's book, True Crime Zine wrote that "detectives came to suspect one of (Susan's) long-time friends but have never been able to charge him with murder." Durst was also considered a prime suspect in his wife's disappearance but was never charged in the case. Berman initially acted as a media spokesperson for Durst and is believed to have facilitated his public alibi. Berman supplied a deposition in the case in 1982, which Durst faxed to investigators after Berman's murder.
Berman had remained Durst's friend and received two large cash gifts totaling $50,000 from him in the months before her death; Berman had last written to Durst on November 5, 2000, expressing hope that her financial entreaties would not ruin their friendship. Earlier in 2000, New York State Police, at the request of Jeanine Pirro, the district attorney at the time in New York's Westchester County, had re-opened an investigation into Kathie Durst's 1982 disappearance, and friends of Kathie had urged Pirro to contact Berman for an interview. Berman was killed weeks after the re-opened investigation was publicized.
Durst's March 2015 arrest warrant mentioned a previously undisclosed typewritten letter, mailed from New York on January 9, 2001 to the west Los Angeles Police Station, titled "Possible motive for Susan Berman murder." The letter said Berman suspected Durst was involved in his wife's disappearance, and specified that Durst was planning to visit Berman in late December.
Berman was interred at Home of Peace Memorial Park in East Los Angeles, California.
The Underground Guide to the College of Your Choice (Signet, 1971), ISBN 0451078373
Easy Street: The True Story of a Mob Family (The Dial Press, 1981), ISBN 978-0385271851
Lady Las Vegas: The Inside Story Behind America's Neon Oasis (TV Books, 1996), ISBN 978-1575000206
Driver, Give a Soldier a Lift (Putnam, 1976), ISBN 978-0399117046
Fly Away Home (Avon Books, 1996), ISBN 978-0380781799
Spiderweb (Avon Books, 1997), ISBN 978-0380781805
In popular culture
In 2010, Lily Rabe played the character Deborah Lehrman, inspired by Susan Berman, in the film All Good Things.
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