Editor’s Note: I have monitored the trials and tribulations of Robert Durst for several years. When I say trials and tribulations I mean actual trials, dissected body parts, missing persons and a cadaver. I have studied him and his ilk with the kind of morbid but necessary curiosity a criminalist must. This was way before he was arrested for lifting a chicken salad sandwich with $500 in his pocket from the Wegmans where I shop. And waaay after he graced the annexes of Lehigh University which I toured again this Fall in consideration for one of my children’s prospective schools.
Durst is pure tradecraft. – C
Image Courtesy Gerald Herbert/ AP
If Robert Durst was a fictional protagonist featured in Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling’s HBO’s docuseries The Jinx, he would be my favorite villain on cable right now. He is not. Durst is a slight man whose wallet is bigger than he is. Because he ignored the advice of the $2million dollar defense team that won him an acquittal on murder charges of his neighbor Morris Black in Galvaston- he is now facing a first degree murder charge in Los Angeles.
Durst is accused of killing his long-time friend turned publicist Susan Berman in 2000 after she informed him police from Westchester County, NY sought an interview with her about Kathie Durst’s disappearance in 1982. This was also immediately after Berman cashed a check from Durst for $50,000. Berman’s killer sent a note to LAPD indicating there was a cadaver at her residence the day Durst boarded a plane from San Francisco to New York. When Durst was confronted with this information his response was, “California is a big state.” It is believed that Durst may have used Berman’s mob boss Father’s contacts to dispose of his wife’s remains in “The Pines” of New Jersey.* During filming, Susan Berman’s son located a letter to Susan from Bobby Durst which he provided to Jarecki. The nearly identical block print style is further complimented by the exact same misspelled word- BEVERLEY.
Neither Jarecki nor Smerling have commented directly on the authenticity of the chronology of the series after editing of The Jinx. In other words, it is unclear when Jarecki formed the opinion he was interviewing the man responsible for the murder of his best friend and confidant- and likely at least two others. It IS clear that the title, The Jinx, reflects Durst’s self-assessment.
Durst was arrested in New Orleans on Saturday evening; the night before the series finale aired on HBO.
Kathleen Durst, Robert Durst’s first wife, disappeared following what Durst described as a “pushing and shoving” kind of argument at their West Salem, NY home. Durst states in The Jinx that he is complicit in her disappearance because his behavior drove her to leave him and her fourth year of medical school- but that’s all. At the time, Ms. Durst had recently proposed a divorce settlement through her lawyer which Mr. Durst declined. Kathie Durst has never been located and was declared legally dead in 2001. The couple was the basis for the loosely fictionalized film, All Good Things, which was Jarecki’s first crack at Durst and the impetus for Durst to contact Jarecki after seeing it. Durst audaciously proposes and agrees to participate in ‘Jinx’.
“… Is he crazy enough to participate?…” - Andrew Jarecki
” The downside to me about giving an interview is that the interviewer will take what I have said to make me look as bad as possible.” – Robert Durst
“… The upside is that there will be something out there from me, I mean this whole time since I have gotten out of prison, I’ve said nothing to nobody about anything… I will be able to tell it my way and if somebody is reasonably open to a different story or a different situation than what has been put in the media, they’ll have an opportunity to believe it…” – Robert Durst
“… Look, I know you want to tell your story it’s important to you, and that’s fine by me but I want you to remember one thing. You run the risk of pissing people off and people that have intentions contrary to your liberty, don’t forget that.” – Chip Lewis, Durst Atty
Bob Durst, the eldest son of Seymour and Bernice Durst was still in his tender years when his Father summoned him to wave to his Mother standing on the roof of the family home in her nightie. Seconds later Mrs. Durst leapt to her death. In his own words for the first time, Durst recounts many of his family foibles in the six part HBO series. Some highlights include the fact that over a dozen members of his family have permanent restraining orders against him and he was acquitted of trespassing at his brother Douglas Durst ‘s home while the series was being edited.
‘Jinx’ masterfully elicits answers from Durst he has never before allowed to be asked of him on camera without a subpoena. Bobby Durst’s one-on-one interview footage is the equivalent of watching a curious zoo exhibit. As the animal on display he is a hybrid between a bijou baby chimp alternating scratching his head and quirky facial tics and the predatory poise of a carnivorous jackal protecting and simultaneously marking his territory. Durst was arrested for urinating on a cash register and a display of candy at a Houston CVS in June 2014.
This time around in the courtroom, Bob’s still largely-intact legal team will be defending a murder charge in the city of Angels where Durst is now likely considered somewhat of a celebrity due to the wildly popular miniseries in his honor. While most legal analysts agree that overcoming the odds of a man appearing to be speaking to his alter ego in the restroom on a hot mic actually admitting he ‘killed them all, of course”, is herculean even by LA’s celebrity acquittal record- there are the very obvious indications that Durst suffers from a spectrum of personality disorders. However, as Durst did consent to the interview and was told that the interview was completed, his commentary could be precluded from admission at trial as his “admission” and subsequent statements made by him were uttered with the expectation of privacy and not part of the interview. In an earlier episode Durst began speaking to himself without realizing the mic was still hot and producers informed him.
The LAPD has been quick to deny there is any link to The Jinx and the timing of Durst’s arrest one day before the season finale. In the handful of interviews Jarecki and Smerling gave just prior to the curtain call of reality that they are likely now witnesses in the murder case, Jarecki says that LAPD has had both the audio recording and the newly discovered letter to Berman for many months. On the surface considering Berman’s case is fifteen years cold, the timing does seem uncanny. Jeanine Pirro, former Westchester County District Attorney and chief bird dog in renewing her agencies vigor in the missing person case of Kathie Durst for six years -does not share the LAPD sentiment.
“…“These two producers did what law enforcement in three states could not do in 30 years, kudos to them. They were meticulous, they were focused, they were clear.” Jeanine Pirro
The prosecution in the Berman murder has its challenges in a high profile case where it cannot be disputed that evidence gleaned during the filming of “The Jinx” implicates Durst- IF -one is to believe in the forensic significance of document examination. One thing is certain- if expert testimony of the comparison of the letter Durst wrote Berman on his letterhead and the envelope and letter Durst himself states “could only come from the killer” revealed during the taping is admitted at trial, Durst will likely have a compelling explanation for it. It’s his thing. He chopped up a man and dumped him in the bay-sans his head, and convinced a jury he did that in self defense. This author is doubtful that had Durst not proposed the series of interviews that he would have been charged in Berman’s murder at all. Jarecki and HBO et al deserves Ms. Pirro’s kudos if indeed Jarecki went into the project objectively and investigatively. (more…)