Like Serial? You'll love The Jinx.
March 9, 2015 8:33 PM   Subscribe

As HBO's "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst" airs, the LA district attorney reopens the inquiry into the death of Robert Durst friend Susan Berman

Robert Durst, son of real estate mogul Seymour Durst (and brother of Douglas Durst), has been the suspect in three murders/disappearances. The 1982 disappearance of his wife Kathleen; the 2000 murder of close friend Susan Berman (herself the daughter of Las Vegas mob figure Davie Berman); and the 2001 murder and dismemberment of Galveston, Texas neighbor Morris Black.

Andrew Jarecki (director of Capturing the Friedmans) now has a six-part miniseries running on HBO, which contains hours of interviews with Durst, who, despite being charged with Black's murder, was never convicted and remains free today. Following the fifth episode last night, where damning new evidence is discovered, it is said that the LA DA has reopened the investigation into Berman's death.

The story unfolds through interviews with friends, family members, detectives and lawyers; old newspaper articles; TV newscasts, diary excerpts, phone records, courtroom recordings and high production-value reenactments that are less cheesy than arty. Jarecki doesn't hold back, so the squeamish should be warned that there are close-ups on snapshots of Morris's dismembered body parts on more than one occasion.
As with Serial, it is a guessing game for audiences. We scrutinize inflections in Durst's voice, his facial tics, and his own storytelling. Is he a cunning psychopath? Great at lying? Or just "jinxed"?

The 3 Most Interesting Revelations From The Jinx, Episode 5

Why is "Mr. Bob" Durst So Hard To Despise?


Spoilers for The Jinx should be assumed in this thread.
posted by triggerfinger (37 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Wow. That site is SOOOOOOOO bad. I learned more from your summary here than I did from the site.
posted by Samizdata at 9:05 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

If this is presented in any way like Serial, I'm going to have to pass. It does no good at all to have an audience speculate upon a person's guilt or innocence.
posted by Catblack at 10:04 PM on March 9, 2015

At FanFare.
posted by raysmj at 10:21 PM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

I caught a few minutes of this the other day and had a hell of a time figuring out that the interviews weren't reenactments. I think because there *are* reenactments, which are not always obvious, the fact that both Jarecki and Durst are odd ducks, and that the interviews are filmed in HD in a way that highlights the artifice — you can see their makeup, for instance, and it's generally over-lit.

Anyway, the whole thing was quite surreal also I was stoned.
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:34 AM on March 10, 2015

Thanks for the Fanfare link raysmj. I searched for it and have no idea why it didn't come up. Apart from the series being good, I thought the new information in the crime uncovered by the filmmakers that might lead to a prosecution was interesting enough on its own to warrant an fpp.

And yes, unlike Serial, there seems to be not much doubt (at least how it's presented) that he's guilty. It does seem to be a very clear case of how money can buy you freedom though.
posted by triggerfinger at 4:55 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Via Longform: My Murderer's Futon
posted by nicebookrack at 5:11 AM on March 10, 2015

I have watched this since it started and it is indeed enthralling and very well produced. Durst is nearly hypnotic to watch and listen to, and he says such horrible things so matter-of-factly. ("I did not kill my best friend. I did dismember him." WTF?!)

In the last episode, it's the first time I've ever seen anyone literally wipe the smirk off of their face. ("California's a big state." :: smirk :: :: wipe ::)
posted by The Deej at 6:15 AM on March 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

Regarding the disappearance of his wife, while Robert Durst is rich and slippery, it sure doesnt help when the police find out that they are having marital problems so they assume that she just left him. That is what one of the detectives actually says during one of the interviews.
posted by LizBoBiz at 6:18 AM on March 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm amazed that his defense team during the Morris Black the trial are being as frank as they are in this series. I mean, one of them even says something like "There's an old joke: in Texas, why do they hang horse thieves, but killers go free? Because there's not any horses that need stealing, but there's some people that need killing."
posted by The Deej at 6:27 AM on March 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

The part where Susan's stepson basically admits he was bought off was pretty appalling to me. I was glad to see he kind of redeemed himself but throughout the whole thing we're seeing examples of this.

I don't think it going to happen but I would really love if his brother granted an interview. He's been afraid of him for a long time, between the restraining order and the bodyguards. I'd like to know more about their mother's death. It was called an accident, assumed to be a suicide, but I wonder about it a little. First of all, because Robert said "she died a violent death", which she did... but I might expect that a person would call it an accident or even suicide instead. Also, it's really messed up that father Durst would get a young child out of bed to make him look at his mother on the roof right before she falls to her death.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:49 AM on March 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

This reminds me so much of The Staircase (as it was called when it aired on Sundance). Michael Peterson also cooperated with a filmmaker, indeed seemed eager to do so. Why? That's the the burning question, to me, in both cases. Their personalities are somewhat similar too. Peterson did not come across nearly as weird as Durst, but he did seem like a cold fish and fairly tone deaf to the way he was perceived. On the other hand, the documentary shows places where he was clearly treated unfairly, as when the prosecution went on about how he was bisexual, clearly thinking that would be a strike against him. Durst, on the other hand, seems to have had one lucky break after another, legally.

But if Peterson has ever said why he decided to film his trial, I've never seen it. Durst seems to indicate why, in a way. I think the director's comment-- or perhaps another member of the film team made it-- to the effect that Durst felt invisible, unseen, and wished to remedy that, is probably key.
posted by BibiRose at 7:42 AM on March 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have avoided watching this because it has been heavily advertised on the podcasts that I listen to in the most boring, non-compelling way possible.

Every host reads the same blurb, which is way longer than it should be, and basically says:

"The Jinx is a documentary about *blahblahblah*. It's by this director who won *blahblahblah*. The director obviously has a weird obsession with this dude because he already directed a feature film staring *blah* and *blah* about this exact same story. You totally want to watch this remake by the original director now that dude is actually involved. Don't you?"

There was a time when Hannah Rosen's husband went rogue on the Slate Gabfest and actually spoke about how much he enjoyed watching it but since then, it's just been the overlong blurb. It's as bad as an NPR pledge drive.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:46 AM on March 10, 2015

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has long assumed that the character of Colin Sweeney on The Good Wife was based on Robert Durst. The show went meta last week, the same week that The Jinx premiered, when Colin Sweeney sued a "true crime" show about his crimes for defamation. (The show went extra meta by having Dylan Baker, who plays Sweeney, also play the pseudo-Sweeney on the true crime show).
posted by hydropsyche at 7:48 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't think it going to happen but I would really love if his brother granted an interview.

Not exactly the same as airing it in the show, but the New York Times did interview Douglas in January in anticipation of the series.
posted by pitrified at 7:58 AM on March 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

The Jarecki-directed movie based on Durst All Good Things is actually pretty good. The writers came up with an interesting angle that tied everything together, which I won't spoil, but which is probably 100% fiction. It's streaming on Netflix.

Extra tidbit: If you get the DVD version of the movie, it contains "Commentary with Andrew Jarecki (Director/Producer) and Robert Durst." I haven't heard it, but it's no surprise that people on the IMDB message board describe it as "creepy."
posted by The Deej at 9:12 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

He's not just rich and slippery. That alone would be boring. He's twitchy and naive about how he appears to others and he's even a little endearing in the way a lonely victimized child might be and don't forget that he's admitted chopped someone up and throwing them in the water. And he had to deal with the fact that the pieces of his victim floated when he expected them to sink and it's "fun" to watch him describe having this problem, like it was an ordinary everyday difficulty.

And also, the police are watching The Jinx along with us--HBO is making them see it at the same time as we do, and they expect to find new evidence from it.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:55 AM on March 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

From what I understand, the envelope is new evidence. I don't think anyone apart from the filmmakers knew about that until it aired. I'm not a legal expert, but it looks like something that could be really bad for Durst. It directly ties him to the murder.
posted by triggerfinger at 3:44 PM on March 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

The envelope is super creepy. Especially the misspelled "Beverley Hills," but I have to admit everything else is super circumstantial. He was in the same state. He *might* have turned off his phone for three days that would have allowed him to drive to LA. And she *might* have been shaking him down for money in anticipation of his case being reopened. Money he appears to have been more than willing to pay before and could easily continue to pay.

I mean yeah I think he probably did do it, but that isn't much. Possible opportunity and really just plausible theory of a motive with no evidence (at least none I can remember from the show) to substantiate it plus an envelope that you can't establish chain of custody for? And that you'd have to authenticate with not super reliable handwriting analysis? I don't know. The spelling mistake is a lot clearer link, but still chain of custody. Her stepson could theoretically have a motive for trying to bolster the case against him. Could have easily fabricated the envelope.

I mean I think it's worth the police pursuing further, but I don't expect this to lead to a trial.
posted by whoaali at 7:34 PM on March 10, 2015

The envelope was really dramatic on the show, but on reflection I'm not convinced Durst wrote both. The Ls, especially, don't look the same; I could totally buy it not being the same person. Even the misspelling-- a good percentage of people living in the east would probably make that mistake.
posted by BibiRose at 6:58 AM on March 11, 2015

I was a little confused at the very end of Episode 5. Were they trying to see if LAPD had the original envelope, and said it was a lost cause? Because there have been cases of extracting DNA from envelope seals and stamps.

I'm not convinced Durst wrote both. The Ls, especially, don't look the same; I could totally buy it not being the same person. Even the misspelling-- a good percentage of people living in the east would probably make that mistake.

I'm no expert, but the letters that looked different looked only slightly different, but several letters looked very much the same in subtle ways.

As far as the misspelling, absolutely that could be a common error. But having it be an error in common with someone who is a suspect, who the victim told people was coming to visit, who had a very strong motive, who traveled to that state in time to commit the crime, and who later showed he was capable of horrible things by his own admission... well... It may not make for a slam-dunk case, but it certainly makes it hard to dismiss.
posted by The Deej at 8:02 AM on March 11, 2015

I agree with The Deej; to my amateur eye it looked like:

1) The Ls in "Hills" were different between the two letters, but the Ls in "Hills" also differed from the L in "Beverley" in the Durst letter. (And, because I spent way too long looking at this, the second L in "Hills" in the anonymous letter shows signs of the curliness of the Ls in the Durst letter.)
2) The Ys in "Beverley" were almost identical, and they were unusual.

Here's a screenshot of the two letters that someone posted on Reddit if, like me, you want to stare at them for hours.
posted by pitrified at 8:18 AM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not to go all amateur detective (ok.. to go all amateur detective) in addition to pitrified's observations, the subtle similarities I see are:

- The top curve of the S is smaller than the bottom curve in a consistent way
- The first stroke of the V has a similar curve in both samples
- The uprights of several of the letters in both samples have a consistent curve
posted by The Deej at 9:22 AM on March 11, 2015

Oh my god, you guys. That episode was unbelievable. Jarecki had to have turned that over to the police before it aired, which is why Bob was arrested yesterday.
posted by triggerfinger at 5:39 PM on March 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

NYT posts spoiler on Twitter before West Coast airing. (yes, that link is a spoiler, of course, you knuckleheads)
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:56 PM on March 15, 2015

Always treat the mic as live, Durst. Amateur move.
posted by Justinian at 6:03 PM on March 15, 2015

That NYT article says that the filmmakers had that tape for two years before they discovered it.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:12 PM on March 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wow they must have just found that footage because he was arrested for trespassing in August 2013. I initially thought that the filmmakers must have sat on the footage and delayed handing it over to police, but from the sound of it they only must have found it when they were doing the final edits for the film.
posted by whoaali at 7:41 PM on March 15, 2015


I don't remember any episode of a TV show giving me such knots in my stomach. Because I'm generally a non-confrontational person, I was really feeling Jarecki's anxiety over confronting Durst with the handwriting comparison. Durst's reaction, even without the audio at the end, spoke volumes. And Jarecki was as gentle as humanly possible with him.

With Durst's arrest. let's hope there is finally some justice, if not closure for the victims' families.
posted by The Deej at 6:11 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's amazing to me that he was arrested on the day of the finale; I want to read more on how that came about. The New York Times reviewer says they arrested him because they were afraid he would flee. So do they still not really think they have enough for a conviction?

I do hope the families of his victims can find some of the resolution they spoke of in those interviews. I have a nagging feeling his lawyers will try to at least claim he still didn't kill his wife. The way he says, "I killed them all" sounds like he could be putting into words what someone else will say-- speaking ironically, or something. He has such a strange way of talking, it's almost like ventriloquism.
posted by BibiRose at 7:42 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

The way he says, "I killed them all" sounds like he could be putting into words what someone else will say-- speaking ironically, or something.

From a legal standpoint (not a lawyer, but seen people play them on TV) the whole "confession" seems very shaky to me. Great ending for the documentary, and I left the show convinced of his guilt, but I don't know how much water that monologue alone will really hold in court.

Also: the ABC News article mentions that the first nonstop flight to Cuba since 1958 left New Orleans on Saturday, which to me speaks more to the timing of the arrest than the airing of the show the next night. If law enforcement was having trouble locating him, a lead that he might be attempting to flee to Cuba could have led them to New Orleans at that exact time.
posted by doctornecessiter at 8:09 AM on March 16, 2015

Well I got up very early this morning and caught up with this. There isn't a hell hot enough for this guy.

Also, per my comment upthread, it actually isn't like Serial at all. It's pretty clear he's guilty, but has just remained one small step ahead of being charged, sometimes with the help of some very expensive lawyers.

That there was no handwriting analysis until the documentary is a shame. Regardless of the incriminating letter not being found, there seems to be plenty of his handwriting generated from his arrest for murder.

Also, how the hell do you get nabbed for shoplifting, jumping bail and having a fat sack of weed and not go to jail?
posted by Catblack at 9:25 AM on March 16, 2015

I know what I'll be watching after work tonight. This looks interesting.
posted by Fizz at 9:58 AM on March 16, 2015

That there was no handwriting analysis until the documentary is a shame. Regardless of the incriminating letter not being found, there seems to be plenty of his handwriting generated from his arrest for murder.

Per that NYT article (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates mentioned, they did in 2003 but it was inconclusive.

Also, how the hell do you get nabbed for shoplifting, jumping bail and having a fat sack of weed and not go to jail?

According to HuffPo, "Durst still faced some consequences in Texas — in 2004 he pleaded guilty to bond jumping and evidence tampering, but with time served, he was paroled in 2005. Then, violating the terms of his parole, he returned to the boarding house where Black was killed, and had to serve another four months in jail." Also: money.
posted by pitrified at 10:08 AM on March 16, 2015

Also: white
posted by triggerfinger at 11:55 AM on March 16, 2015

Also: sociopath
posted by pwally at 2:10 PM on March 16, 2015

doctornecessiter : That was a direct flight carrying some Louisiana civic and business leaders for a conference, not a direct flight open to anyone. His staying at a hotel under an assumed name meant he was on the run again, though, seemed to me (although he was badly hiding by staying at a hotel in Tourist Area Central, the J.W. Marriott off St. Charles and Canal; he was probably be followed the whole way from Houston and kept up with during his stay, regardless).
posted by raysmj at 7:11 PM on March 16, 2015

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