What you need to know about 'The Jinx,' Robert Durst and his latest arrest
It doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the first five episodes. It doesn’t matter if you’re not really into doc-style true crime. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t have HBO. You need to be watching The Jinx right now. And I’ll tell you why: The six-part documentary series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst isn’t going to end tonight when the last episode airs. It will continue in real-time now that Durst has been arrested and, according to his attorney, faces murder charges.
On Saturday night, Durst was taken into police custody, while in New Orleans, on a warrant out from Los Angeles involving a homicide investigation, claims The New York Times. Durst’s attorney confirmed to ABCNews that he faces murder charges, and that they are prepared to start the extradition process to Los Angeles and fight the charges.
Last week, sources told the New York Times that Los Angeles authorities were re-investigating a 2000 cold case linking Durst — a scion of one of New York’s most prominent real estate families — to the death of his close friend Susan Berman. According to the Times, the Los Angeles investigation was “bolstered” by an episode of The Jinx, which aired last Sunday night, offering new information linking Durst to Berman’s tragic execution-style shooting in her Benedict Canyon, California home.
On Sunday, an anonymous source close to the investigation told the Los Angeles Times, Durst’s arrest is for “first degree murder” in connection with Berman’s death.
But let’s back up a little, because there is so much involved in this complicated story, unfolding both on TV and in real life.
Who is Robert Durst?
Durst’s family basically runs the real estate business in New York City — one of their most high-profile projects is the Freedom Tower, if that gives you a sense of their place in New York’s power circles. Robert, the eldest brother of the Durst family was passed over by his father to take over the company due, according to reports, to his erratic behavior, and his younger brother, Douglas, now runs it. (Based on interviews with both men, Douglas and Robert have a strained relationship..)
Robert Durst been linked to three murders — the 1982 disappearance of his wife Kathleen, the 2000 shooting death of his close friend Susan Berman, and the 2001 death of his neighbor Morris Black, whose body he admitted to disposing of after claiming self-defense during a struggle between the two men that involved a loaded gun.
To understand his story, and the story of those whose lives were lost, you must follow the bizarre trail of Durst from his famed family’s history to his marriage in the 1970s and the haunting fictionalized film of his life made a few years back by director Andrew Jarecki.
Who is Andrew Jarkecki?
Jarecki directed the Academy-award nominated doc Capturing the Friedmans, an extraordinary exploration of a family’s disturbing secret life. He went on to direct 2010’s All Good Things, a thinly-veiled narrative of Robert Durst’s life, starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. Durst was so taken with the film, he felt it truly captured him (all the murder speculation stuff aside) that he contacted Jarecki and agreed to an on-camera interview, despite being notoriously camera-shy.
Now, Jarecki is responsible for the six-part HBO series, The Jinx, and he’s on camera quite a bit, appearing both visibly captivated and disturbed by his subject. In episode five, it almost seems he’s starting to see Durst as a victim of his own family’s dysfunction, but then surprises us when he uncovers some remarkable information linking Durst to the scene of a crime — specifically Susan Berman’s death.
He reveals that Durst was in California when Berman was shot on Christmas Eve in 2000. He also claims the anonymous note sent to police alerting them of Berman’s “cadaver” in “Beverly Hills” bares similar handwriting (and misspelling of “Beverly”) as an envelope Durst sent Berman, now in possession of Berman’s stepson. It is a chilling revelation and one that police, according the Times, could be looking into.
What happened to Kathleen Durst?
What happened to Kathleen Durst is a great tragedy. Durst’s first wife (he’s currently remarried) who was attending medical school at the time of her disappearance in 1982, had an increasingly strained relationship with her then husband.
There is confusion over the last time she was seen and the night of her disappearance. According to Durst, he put her on a train heading back to New York City from their country home in Westchester. While some reports claim she was spotted entering their New York City apartment the following day, Jarecki’s source disputes that claim. Also Durst’s accounts of the last time he spoke with his then wife had reportedly changed over the course of the initial investigation, according to Jarecki’s investigation.
The case was never solved, but it was reopened by then-Westchester D.A. Jeanine Pirro in 2000. That’s where Susan Berman comes in.
Who is Susan Berman?
Berman, who met Durst in college, and was a prominent writer, and the author of multiple books inspired by her childhood as a mafia don’s daughter, kept close ties with Durst, and provided solace when his wife disappeared.
She was apparently going to be questioned about Kathleen’s disappearance by investigators in 2000, when the case was reopened. But a month prior to the planned questioning, on Christmas Eve, she was tragically murdered in her home.
“Berman’s body, with a single gunshot wound to the head, was found by police in her small home,” notes the Los Angeles Times. “She lived alone, and police were alerted only after neighbors spotted one of her dogs running loose and her door open. At the time, police said they believed she may have been killed a few days earlier, that nothing appeared to be missing from her home and that the assailant entered without signs of a struggle.”
Durst was in California at the time, according to multiple sources. A anonymous handwritten note with Berman’s address and the word “cadaver” was postmarked on the same day she was believed to have died.
Durst did not show up for Berman’s funeral, though he reached out to her friends and remained close with her stepson—the one who provided Jarecki with the handwritten envelope. That would be the same envelope allegedly raising new questions about the “cadaver” note sent to police.
What about Morris Black?
By 2000, Durst claims he wanted to escape from the scrutiny of investigators who were reexamining the case of his missing wife. So he disguised himself as a mute woman and signed a lease for a small apartment in Galveston, Texas. That’s where he met his neighbor, Morris Black.
According to Durst, Black. a 71-Year-old former seaman, befriended Durst—who had, at some point, shed his costume. They would watch TV together and hang out in Durst’s apartment.
Then in 2001, Black’s body parts were found wrapped in bags floating in a nearby bay. Durst was arrested, though he jumped bail and was caught on the other side of the country while stealing a sandwich from a local grocery store.
At his trial, he claimed he found Black in his apartment reaching for his handgun and worried he was going to become a target. The men wrestled with the gun and it went off. Durst got off on self-defense, stating “I did not kill my best friend. I did dismember him.” By now, however, he was implicated by a jury of his peers — or rather tabloid newspapers — who traced his trail of suspicious incidents all the way back to his wife’s disappearance.
What does Robert Durst have to say?
For the record, Durst denies he had anything to do with Susan Berman’s death or his wife’s disappearance, though he did mysteriously tell Jarecki in an interview, “I am complicit in Kathie’s not being here.”
Durst, now a frail 71-year-old man, blinks often with an unnatural tightness, and speaks without legalese in his Jinx interviews, allowing statements referring to his “complicity” in Kathie’s “not being here” to suggest more psychological remorse over their unique relationship. “If she met some normal guy, like, from Long Island, she would have had a bunch of kids and would have lived an average life,” he says. He is sometimes grandiose in his responses, sometimes shockingly frank, and sometimes arguably unstable.
As viewers, we only become aware of his lawyer’s presence during his taped interviews with Jarecki in episode four, when he is muttering to himself while still miked up. “I did not knowingly, purposefully lie,” he says to himself. “I did make mistakes.” When his lawyer tells him he’s still being taped, he continues. “I did not tell the whole truth. Nobody tells the whole truth.”
Tonight, the final episode of The Jinx airs on HBO.