Police explain Durst’s possible link to missing Middlebury College student

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury police said an unsolicited phone tip in 2012 about Robert Durst’s past ownership of a now-defunct local health food store led them to consider the New York real estate scion’s link to a Middlebury College student who disappeared in 1971 after having purchased some dried prunes at Durst’s business.
Meanwhile, the Addison Independent has learned that Durst lived in Ripton during his brief residency in Addison County, and the newspaper is reaching out to local people who knew him.
Middlebury police held a press conference Tuesday afternoon updating the media on the Lynne Schulze missing person case and its possible correlation to a food store once owned and operated by Durst at 15 Court St.
Los Angeles prosecutors have formally charged Durst with first-degree murder in the 2000 death of Susan Berman. Berman was a friend of Durst’s. She was found shot to death in her home in Benedict Canyon. Prosecutors have theorized that Durst may have sought to silence Berman in order to prevent her from being questioned about the 1982 disappearance of his wife. Durst was the subject of an HBO documentary series called, “The Jinx.” He was arrested on Saturday soon after the airing of that dramatic conclusion to that series last week.
Local police have not yet questioned Durst, but they would like to have investigators pursue the Middlebury angle in their ongoing probe of murder allegations against Durst.
“This is a person who is very interesting to us,” Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley said.
More than a dozen reporters representing statewide and national media attended the press conference about the Schulze case, which the Independent has been covering since 2005. The Independent has fielded calls from several news organizations — including NBC, CNN, New York Daily News and “Inside Edition” — that have joined in scrutiny of the Schulze case and the possible Durst angle.
It was in July of 2012 that Middlebury police received a call from an unnamed source who pointed out that Durst had owned and operated All Good Things, a natural food store at 15 Court St. in Middlebury, at the same time that Lynne Schulze went missing. Local police declined to share the identity or even gender of the tipster, citing the ongoing criminal investigation and a desire not to discourage people from providing information in the future.
“The tip came from a person who had no first-hand knowledge of a connection between Lynne Schulze and Robert Durst,” said Middlebury police Det. Kris Bowdish, the latest in a long line of local officers who have taken on what has been the town’s longest running cold case.
Durst arrived in Vermont in 1971 and his wife, Kathy, joined him “some time later,” according to Bowdish.
Sources close to the investigation confirmed that Durst and his wife lived in the town of Ripton, a small mountain town up Route 125 from Middlebury. Authorities have investigated his former property and spoken with the folks who have owned it since the Dursts. The source said some of the site buildings are no longer there.
All Good Things was located on the north side of the 15 Court St. Building, with the bus station occupying the south side, Bowdish noted. That building — once known as the Sergeant House — currently hosts affordable housing under the auspices of the Addison County Community Trust.
Robert Durst owned his store from 1971-1972, according to authorities. And is was clear that Schulze stopped in at the store on that fateful day of Dec. 10, 1971, when she was last seen — though authorities aren’t sure if Durst was working the counter on that occasion.
“We know that Lynne shopped at the store on the last day that she was seen,” Bowdish said.
Middlebury police provided photos of the Durst store dating to 1973 and 1976. The Dursts ultimately sold the store in 1972. Subsequent owners relocated it to another downtown location. It is no longer in business.
Addison County Sheriff Don Keeler’s dad ran a Gulf service and filling station across the street from All Good Things. In those days, Keeler was working for his dad and recalled having a particular affinity for the natural peanut butter available at Durst’s store.
“I used to go there every once in a while and buy the peanut butter,” Keeler said. “I knew (Durst); he ran the store and I used to visit with him.”
The sheriff does not recall much about Durst’s personality or comportment four decades later.
“It’s interesting that his name has surfaced again after all of these years,” Keeler said, noting with interest the current link to the Schulze case.
Longtime Middlebury resident Paula Israel, owner of the Main Street business Wild Mountain Thyme, recalled that she and her husband, Alan, had breakfast with the Dursts back in 1976. Durst at this point had sold his store, but was back visiting the area.
“Robert was sort of New York-y; a wry sense of humor,” Israel said of her recollection of the man. “He was kind of quirky. He was a funny, good guy.”
Israel graduated from Middlebury College in 1976.
Local authorities are looking for more people who might have known Durst, and Schulze, while they were in Middlebury.
“The Middlebury Police Department is continuing to investigate the connection between Lynne Schulze and Robert Durst, and will work with outside agencies as needed,” Bowdish said. “We will continue to investigate all leads in this case until Lynne can be found and resolution can be given to her family.”
Bowdish offered a timeline describing Schulze’s suspected activity on Friday, Dec. 10, 1971, the last day she was seen.
Schulze, 18, was 5 feet, 3 inches tall and weighed 115 pounds at the time of her disappearance. She was sporting long, light-brown hair and was wearing blue jeans, a maroon pullover sweater, a brown ski parka and boots. Bowdish noted she also had facial acne scars.
Here is Bowdish’s account of Schulze’s activities, based on information in the Schulze file:
• 7:45 a.m. Lynne’s roommate leaves, and she is still sleeping in her bed.
• 12:30 p.m. Lynne is seen at the bus stop on Court Street, eating dried prunes that she had purchased from All Good Things, the health food store that Durst had operated with his wife, Kathie, from 1971-1972.
“She says she’s going to New York, but the bus for New York has already left,” Bowdish said. “She walks back to campus.”
• 12:45 p.m. Lynne is seen in her dorm room, prior to her final exam. She doesn’t want to discuss the exam and is distracted, looking for her favorite pen.
• 12:50 p.m. Lynne is no longer in her room.
“It is presumed that she went to her exam,” Bowdish said.
• 1 p.m. The exam takes place, but Lynne is not there.
• 2:15 p.m. Lynne is seen standing on Court Street, across from the bus stop and the local health food store.
“This is the last time she is ever seen,” Bowdish said.
Schulze’s roommate left the college on Dec. 11, 1971, with no idea that Lynne is missing, according to Bowdish.
“Fellow students don’t notice she is missing until several days later,” Bowdish said.
It was on Dec. 16 that a missing persons report was made to Middlebury police, Bowdish noted.
“Lynne’s parents decide to keep her missing status quiet and request that police do the same,” Bowdish continued.
Both of Lynne’s parents are deceased, though they left DNA samples to assist in the possible future confirmation of their daughter’s remains.
It was not until Jan. 24, 1972, that Lynne’s disappearance was made public, according to Bowdish.
The Addison Independent and Burlington Free Press both printed articles about Schulze following the public disclosure.
What ensued were many alleged sightings of Lynne Schulze throughout the state and region, Bowdish said.
“(The reports) were investigated by Middlebury police and Lynne’s father, but none are determined to be true sightings,” Bowdish said.
Middlebury police reopened its investigation of the Schulze disappearance in 1992, soon after current chief Tom Hanley joined the force. It has been passed on to several on-staff investigators, most recently Bowdish.
“We’ve gotten a lot of leads, interviewed a lot of people, and are progressing in this case,” Hanley said on Tuesday.
Hanley said the Schulze matter is a missing person case but added it is a “possible homicide case,” given the circumstances of the young woman’s disappearance.
Bowdish has been in contact with members of Schulze family since the Durst connection was made public. She said the family is trying to cope with an onslaught of media attention, now more than 43 years after Lynne’s disappearance.
“Their major concern is their privacy,” Bowdish said. “They are very interested in the lead and the outcome, but most of all they are asking for some privacy.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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