When you think of the Durst case, Peter Schwartz isn’t a name that immediately comes to mind. He wasn’t a lifelong friend or business associate like the other witnesses. But he did share an important connection – Gilberte Najamy – and one could argue, had a direct link to the reason Kathie disappeared.
Before we jump into the Peter Schwartz story, let’s first briefly look at a few details from the night of January 31, 1982 – the night Kathie disappeared. The Dursts were 9 years into their marriage but it had been considerably rocky between the two for several years. Kathie was at the tail end of medical school, and many believe she was biding her time to make a break from Bob. What was she waiting for? Schwartz’s testimony gives us some insight.
Bob and Kathie had been at their South Salem cottage together earlier that day. Gilberte, a close friend of Kathie’s, invited her to come to a party at her house in Newtown, CT, a 45-minute drive away. Kathie reluctantly agreed. There’s a whole other side story to Gilberte and that party that I’ll tackle in a different post. But in a nutshell, the party was a Sunday-night rager. Kathie, who arrived disheveled, was there from about 4pm to 7pm, and ended up drinking a few bottles of wine and snorting a good amount of coke, before heading back to her home.
Just this past Monday – July 24, 2017 – Schwartz, 69, balding with longish gray hair on the sides, testified in court that he received a call from Kathie around 6:30pm that night. She was asking about the status of lawsuits – plural – filed against Robert Durst [by Schwartz]. Those lawsuits were a result of a fight that Schwartz and Bob had exactly one year earlier on January 31, 1981.
Durst, wearing a ridiculously oversized blue blazer, was unfazed by Schwartz in court. The only thing I heard Durst say the whole day was “Bagli is here” which he muttered while glaring at us – [Charles] Bagli, from the New York Times, sitting in the seat next to me on my left.
Schwartz was also a resident of Connecticut, living in Danbury. At the time, he owned a retail photography shop in Stamford. He’s since gone on to get a masters degree, ironically, in counseling from WestConn and works as a psychotherapist.
Back to 1981… Gilberte brought Schwartz and his girlfriend at the time, Karen Smith, to a party at the Durst’s apartment in Manhattan.
This was only the 2nd time Schwartz would be in the company of Bob. The first time didn’t go so well either. At a house party at Gilberte’s several months earlier, completely unprovoked, Schwartz had a door kicked into his head courtesy of Bob. While Schwartz didn’t see him kick it, there was nobody else in the room but Bob. Bob didn’t flinch or say a word, just stood there with his trademark who gives a shit look while Schwartz grabbed his head and uttered something like “ouch”. That was that.
Now here we are at encounter #2. After arriving at the Manhattan apartment and spending possibly a few hours there – exactly how long, Schwartz couldn’t say – Bob, the self-admitted pothead, suggested the group go out dancing at one of his favorite spots, Xenon nightclub.
The group of partiers split into two. The first group, which included Bob, took off and went to the clubs. Meanwhile, Schwartz says Kathie suggested the rest of them stay back and hang out at the apartment.
This was 1981, long before people had cells phone and could text their whereabouts every moment of the day. Bob, expecting Kathie to turn up at the club behind him, was clearly not too pleased when she never showed.
Schwartz then describes Bob bursting into the apartment some time later and saying “you’re the only man here”. The implication being – he thought Kathie was messing around with Schwartz. So while Schwartz sat on the ground with his back against the radiator, Bob rushed towards him and kicked him in the face just below his eye. Bob’s pointed boots ended up breaking the bone in Schwartz’s face.
Schwartz pinned Bob to the ground and said he’d let him go if he’d calm down. But when the two stood up, Bob attacked him again. This time throwing him against the radiator on the wall. Bob left the room, and Kathie told Schwartz that Bob owned a gun. He described her as being “fearful”. Kathie called the police, then took Schwartz to City Hospital in Manhattan.
The prosecutor, Habib Balian, showed two pictures to the court – one a close-up of Schwartz’s face that showed a swollen/half-shut eye and a significant purple/red bruise below. The second picture showed a foot-long, red mark running horizontally across Schwartz’s back. According to the police report, Bob Durst was arrested on February 1, 1981, at 5:00am.
Criminal charges were filed against Bob, and Schwartz did attend a hearing with Bob there. Those charges, though, were later dropped.
Schwartz’s memory while testifying was fuzzy at times, and he seemed almost reluctant or slightly confused about how the criminal case was resolved. But I’m not so sure he was actually confused. Schwartz had taken notes back in the day when all of this happened, and some of those notes were shared in court. Here’s one related to the charges that was put up on the screen.
Written by Schwartz:
Plead guilty – charge was harassment
Conditional discharge 6 month – still open
Deputy Bureau Chief Bob Warren 553 9192
Attorney to get record
On cross-examination, Dick DeGuerin reminded Schwartz that on February 10, 1982, he told Detective Lewis, who was investigating Kathie’s disappearance, that Durst took a plea on the criminal case. So why is Schwartz being vague now?
Although the criminal case didn’t amount to much, on January 22, 1982, Schwartz decided to file a civil case against Bob. He was asking for $200,000 in exemplary and punitive damages, and $50,000 in compensatory damages. The civil case was eventually settled, but as Schwartz told the court in visible disgust, not exactly to his satisfaction.
Now that you know the backstory about the tension between Schwartz and Bob, let’s revisit January 31, 1982. Kathie arrives at Gilberte’s house in Newtown around 4pm. She’s guzzling wine, doing coke, and complaining quite a bit about the situation with Bob. A picture’s been painted of a woman in deep distress. She picks up the phone and decides to call Schwartz. Although Schwartz testifies this happened around 6:30pm, DeGuerin says Detective Lewis noted on his report that Schwartz told him the call was at 17:00 (5pm). Why does that matter? Well, mostly it makes Schwartz look unreliable. But also, after Kathie disappeared, Bob told police he put her on the 9:17pm train. The time she left Gilberte’s in Newtown matters, especially if Bob is pinpointing a specific time later that night.
What’s important to discuss though is the content of the call.
BALIAN: “Did she [Kathie] tell you she had information about [Bob’s] fraudulent tax filing and that she was using that to get a better divorce settlement?”
Schwartz said he didn’t recall if they discussed that; he’d have to review his statements given to investigator [Joseph] Bacerra. Balian went on to say that Bob was trying to avoid paying taxes and Kathie was forced to sign fraudulent documents.
Although Bob gives the appearance that he cares about money, I think with him, it’s not about the money per se. Obviously, when the guy is renting ghetto apartments and walking around in t-shirts and flip flops, it’s not the money. It’s the fact that it’s his, and he’s entitled to it.
What Kathie wanted to know from Schwartz that night was the status of the legal cases pending against Bob. Not because she was concerned about Bob. No, she wanted Bob to pay. She was livid with Schwartz that the criminal case was dropped. Schwartz said on the stand that he told Kathie he couldn’t discuss it because there was a civil case pending. He said she was “aggravated” that she didn’t get the answers she wanted. He also said when the phone hung up, it sounded like there was somebody else on the phone because he heard a second click. Who was listening in?
Around 7pm, Kathie got a call from Bob telling her to come home. Incredibly, her good buddy Gilberte allowed her to drive. What exactly happened after that, nobody knows. According to Bob, Kathie came home to South Salem, they drank a bottle of wine, had a fight, then he put her on the 9:17pm train from Ketonah station back to the city.
DeGuerin didn’t make much progress in trying to discredit Schwartz. His client settled with him over these injuries years ago, so Bob, admittedly beat Schwartz. DeGuerin raised the point that Schwartz admitted to investigators Gilberte brought a substance that looked like coke to the party in Manhattan the night he was beaten up. His point being, how decent and reliable of a guy is Schwartz if he’s hanging out with cokeheads. A pretty weak point to make when his client’s a druggie too.
Then he used the oh-so boring defense tactic about money – was he flown to Los Angeles on a first class flight and what hotel was he staying at? Also, had he received money for selling pictures or doing interviews? Schwartz says yes, he received somewhere between $3-5,000 for selling pics, but turned down the Jinx, although he would have done it had they offered him $500K. How’s that for honesty. DeGuerin asks – did you watch the Jinx? Schwartz answers no. The gallery laughs when DeGuerin counters: don’t bother watching, the Jinx isn’t very good. DeGuerin loves to take jabs at Jarecki.
I’ll leave you with one final thought that I believe goes to the topic of motive [for Bob making Kathie disappear]. DeGuerin wanted to know if Kathie had his [Schwartz’s] phone number, and if she did, then why. He’s planting the seed that the two were canoodling and maybe even in cahoots against Bob. He pulls out a sheet of Durst residence phone calls revealing three calls, presumably made by Kathie, on December 15, 1981, to Peter Schwartz:
- 15:35 – Call from Durst house to 203-377-6392 in Bridgeport (Schwartz’s shop) – 19 minutes
- 15:57 – Call from Durst house to 203-744-4656 in Danbury (Schwartz’s home) – 1 minute
- 16:51 – Call from Durst house to 203-744-4656 in Danbury (Schwartz’s home) – 2 minutes
What were they discussing? Schwartz didn’t seem to recall these conversations, which I find not very believable. Not because I think the two were having an affair, but because I got the impression he was intentionally distancing himself from these calls. And why wouldn’t he… 6 weeks later, Kathie vanished off the face of the earth after speaking to Schwartz only hours earlier about going after Bob.