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Video Vault | Murder of a Mafia Daughter, Part 1

Reported by: Tom Hawley
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Updated: 6/11/2014 9:59 am

LAS VEGAS (KSNV — A true life mystery with its roots in the early mob era on the Las Vegas Strip is the subject of Cathy Scott's "Murder in Beverly Hills" — recently updated in a new edition. It's about a woman named Susan Berman. To understand her you need to know her father, who was part of the so-called Jewish Mafia along with Meyer Lansky, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel and others.

"He became partners with Bugsy Siegel, worked side by side with him at the Flamingo Hotel," says Scott, a former reporter with the Las Vegas Sun.

That is until Siegel's role as a Las Vegas casino boss ended in a hail of bullets at his Beverly Hills home on June 20, 1947.

"Davie Berman took over running the Flamingo Hotel," recounts Scott. "Got a phone call. 'It's done', and he started running it. It was within minutes. It was all preordained."

By then Berman was working directly for kingpin Meyer Lansky. But his name has never been as prominent as some others as high in the organization. Perhaps because once he moved to Las Vegas, Berman kept out of the headlines, out of jail, and out of harm's way.

"He did everything he was told, and he didn't steal," says Scott. "He gave them his portion of the skim. And he was — as they call in mob parlance — a standup guy."

And he was a family man, with his wife, Gladys, and daughter, Susan.

"I was raised sort of in the lap of luxury in Las Vegas, where my dad was a hotel owner," Berman told the Today Show's Jane Pauley in 1981. "We were the first family there. We rode in the Helldorado Parade. We went to all the, you know, openings, celebrations. Jimmy Durante, Jack Benny, they were always at our house. There was no hint of this other life that he'd had before I was born."

It wasn't until Susan was in her early 30s when someone pointed out her father's position in a book about organized crime that she started putting the pieces together. 

"For the first time I understood what it must be like to live in this lifestyle where any moment, everything that you love and hold dear can be taken from you," said Susan.

By then, she had written an autobiography "Easy Street," and cut all ties to organized crime figures.

"The only questionable character in her life was her friend, Bobby Durst, who she met in UCLA when she got her bachelor's degree," says Scott.

Robert Durst came from a wealthy family and married a beautiful young woman. He seemed to be set for an easy life, but he lived under a cloud.

"Bobby's wife disappeared around 1981, and he's been a suspect ever since," explains Scott.

Davie Berman died during surgery in 1957. But he had planned ahead for his beloved daughter, allowing her to live a lush lifestyle into her early 30s.

When Susan turned 21, she got a big payout of more than a million. She got another payout when she turned 25, and she got another payout when she turned 30. All told, Susie got about $4.3 million.

In addition, her autobiography continued to pay dividends.

"She sold the movie rights to that for, like, $185,000," says Scott. "It fell through. She could be challenging to work with. She insisted on writing the screen play. They didn't want her to, and the movie died."

Susan ended up struggling for ways to pay her bills.

"She went to L.A. flush with cash because of the movie deal and her inheritance, and she blew through it," Scott said.

Then in 2000 on Christmas Eve, police were called to the Beverly Hills home of the self-proclaimed Las Vegas mafia princess. She was found face up in a pool of blood in the spare room.

"They assumed," says Scott, referring to police. "Gunshot wound to the back of the head, 9 mm, had to be a mob hit."

Susan Berman was dead at 55. But this was no open-and-shut case.  As the years wore on, investigators looked at incidents in New York and Texas, and eventually even a tie back to Las Vegas.

The search for killer, some bizarre twists and the accumulation of evidence make up the second installment of this Video Vault story.



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