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Did You Know That: 15 years after ‘King of Las Vegas’ daughter murdered, arrest is made

In April 2005, I wrote an article about two high-profile unsolved murders of Beverly Hills women who had many things in common, including fathers with North Dakota connections. Now, 10 years later, a man has finally been arrested and charged with...

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Author and daughter of a Las Vegas mob figure, Susan Berman, left, stands with her suspected killer, Robert Durst. Durst was arrested in connection to Berman’s death by FBI agents March 14 at a Marriott in New Orleans, where he had registered under the false name “Everette Ward.” Special to The Forum

In April 2005, I wrote an article about two high-profile unsolved murders of Beverly Hills women who had many things in common, including fathers with North Dakota connections. Now, 10 years later, a man has finally been arrested and charged with murdering one of those women. On March 14, FBI agents arrested Robert Durst for the murder of Susan Berman . Berman’s body was discovered Dec. 24, 2000, in her Beverly Hills home with a gunshot to the back of her head. She was the daughter of Donald “Davie” Berman, who was known as the “King of Las Vegas.” Davie grew up in rural McIntosh County, N.D., but when their farm failed, the family moved to Ashley, N.D. The Bermans later relocated to Sioux City, Iowa, where Davie began associating with gangsters. When he was a teenager, Davie became a bootlegger, hauling whiskey from Winnipeg and delivering it to speakeasies in Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas. Davie then turned to robbing banks and other facilities where large quantities of money could be found. He was arrested in 1927 for a post office robbery. Then, largely because he refused to name any of those involved in plotting the heist, he was sentenced to 7½ years in Sing Sing Prison. When he was released, Davie was called to a meeting with gangsters Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello, Moe Sedway and Lucky Luciano. In appreciation for keeping quiet, Davie was offered $1 million. He turned down the offer and said he wanted permission “to run Minneapolis” instead. His request was granted. In 1945, Berman moved to Las Vegas, where he purchased three downtown clubs – the El Cortez, the Las Vegas Club and the El Dorado (later called the Horseshoe). He also worked with Bugsy Siegel to build the Flamingo. After the Flamingo opened, the mob suspected Siegel of skimming. On June 20, 1947, Siegel was assassinated at the Beverly Hills home of his mistress. The next day, Berman and his associates walked into the Flamingo and took over operation of the club. Later, Davie sold the Flamingo and purchased the Riviera. On June 18, 1957, while on the operating table at a Las Vegas hospital for a glandular operation, Davie suffered a heart attack and died. In his obituary, the Las Vegas Sun reported, “Berman watched Las Vegas grow from a fledgling gambling town to one of the world’s most glamorous resort centers. It was partly through his vision and industriousness that it became what it is today.” Susan Berman grew up in Las Vegas, sheltered from the mob activities of her father. To her, it was a happy time with many memories of a loving dad, which was reflected in her books, “Lady Las Vegas” and “Easy Street.” In 1998, she wrote and produced “The Real Las Vegas,” a television special narrated by Richard Crenna. When her body was discovered, police initially believed it was gang-related. Days earlier, she had talked with her good friend, actress Kim Lankford. Susan told Lankford, “I have information that’s going to blow the top off things.” Most people believed at the time that she knew who killed Bugsy Siegel and was going to publicly reveal the information. Later revelations indicated that it was about a different murder. The primary suspect in Susan’s murder became Durst, a New York real estate developer who ran a $650 million operation with his brother. He attended UCLA with Susan, and the two became close friends. In 1973, Durst married Kathleen McCormack. On Jan. 31, 1982, McCormack vanished. According to friends, “Kathie” went missing not long after telling them that if anything happened to her, to point authorities to her husband. Susan was an informal spokeswoman for Durst after his wife disappeared. It has been speculated that Durst killed Susan because he feared she would reveal information about his wife’s death. After Durst told the Los Angeles Police Department that he had recently sent Susan $25,000, “he declined to be further questioned about Berman’s murder.” Because the murder weapon was never found, police had no grounds to arrest Durst. In 2001, Durst was arrested in Galveston, Texas, and accused of murdering an elderly neighbor. The man had been shot, cut into pieces and dumped into Galveston Bay. At his trial, Durst claimed self-defense and the jury acquitted him of murder. On Feb. 8, HBO began a weekly, six-part series titled “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.” The day before the final episode was to appear, Durst was arrested for the murder of Susan. “Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at: cjeriksmoen@cableone.net .

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