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Robert Durst told murder victim he killed wife, "secret witness" says

Robert Durst case
Robert Durst case 02:25

LOS ANGELES -- One of the closest friends of real estate heir Robert Durst implicated him Thursday in the killing of his first wife and offered a motive in the slaying of their mutual friend. 

Nathan Chavin testified that he didn’t believe their close friend, Susan Berman, when she told him Durst had killed his wife. The body of Kathleen Durst has never been found and the millionaire has never been charged with her 1982 disappearance, but prosecutors contend he killed Berman to keep her from talking with police.

WATCH: “48 Hours:” Murder in Beverly Hills 

Susan Berman and Robert Durst

“Susan said to me specifically that Bob killed Kathie, and I said, ‘No, he didn’t,’” Chavin said. 

Chavin asked Berman how she knew. She said Durst had told her he killed his wife. Berman told him that they loved both of the Dursts, but now that Kathie was gone, “we need to protect Bob.” 

“I couldn’t believe he would have committed a crime like that,” said Chavin, who is the first witness to testify that Durst had acknowledged killing his wife. 

He is expected to face tough questions from defense attorneys. 

Prosecutor's theory 00:50

Durst has pleaded not guilty to murder in Berman’s 2000 shooting. Authorities have long suspected he killed Kathleen Durst, but he’s never been charged. 

Chavin, 72, was called as a witness in a rare hearing to record testimony in case he is unavailable if Durst is ordered to trial. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has allowed testimony from witnesses who are elderly or fear for their safety. 

Prosecutors have suggested that with Durst’s estimated $100 million fortune, he could have witnesses knocked off. The defense said that suggestion is absurd and have pointed to the 73-year-old Durst’s frail condition and the fact he’s in jail where his phone conversations are recorded. 

Before he took the stand, Chavin’s identity had been kept a secret, and he entered the courtroom through a back door with a personal security detail. 

Chavin, who considered Durst his best friend for many years, said he began to question his doubts about the millionaire’s involvement in Kathleen Durst’s disappearance after Berman was fatally shot in her home. 

“I certainly thought about it a great deal. I began to doubt my own feelings,” Chavin said. “It seemed to me that no one else had any reason to harm Susan Berman.” 

Kathie Durst

Durst, wearing headphones to better hear the witness, stared straight ahead at his friend through a pair of large eyeglasses. 

Chavin said his questions deepened when he learned that Durst, charged with killing an elderly neighbor in Galveston, Texas, in 2001, had conceded that he chopped up the man’s body and tossed it out to sea in bags. Durst was acquitted of murder after testifying that he killed Morris Black in self-defense. 

“Extreme shock. Disbelief,” Chavin said when asked his reaction. 

He said he never would have thought Durst could have done such a thing. 

“One of the primary foundations of my belief that Bob was not responsible for Kathie’s disappearance and what happened to Susan was that I didn’t think he was capable of hands-on violence of that extreme,” Chavin said. “Now it was like taking the gloves off.” 

Chavin testified a day earlier that Kathie Durst confided in him that she feared her husband. He described watching their marriage deteriorate. 

“She said she was afraid of him,” Chavin said. “She never said he hurt her.”

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