Real estate developer Douglas Durst says his troubled brother lied to a filmmaker in a new HBO documentary, distorting the events surrounding their mother’s death so he would sound more sympathetic.
Douglas, chairman of the Durst Organization, says his brother, Robert Durst—an admitted killer—manipulated director Andrew Jarecki, turning the filmmaker into an “enabler.”
“Your docudrama relies on Robert’s self-serving, revisionist, and fictitious account of the past,” Douglas Durst wrote in a letter that was being sent by messenger to Jarecki’s office this afternoon. “This makes you an enabler of a sick and dangerous man and helps him in his attempts to re-write history and blame others for his misdeeds.”
The six-part series, titled “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” chronicles in chilling detail the sordid story of the fallen scion. It premieres Feb. 8.
Robert Durst is a man who’s confessed to killing and dismembering his neighbor in Texas—in self-defense, a jury agreed—and is suspected by many in the disappearance of his first wife and the death of a companion. He has been estranged from his family for many years.
The Sunday primetime show by Jarecki—the creator of a feature-length film about the same subject—is based in large part on hours of interviews with the notoriously-secretive figure.
In one interview, Robert Durst recounts his version of what happened the night in 1950 that his mother, Bernice Durst, fell from the roof of their building and died. Robert claims his father, real estate developer Seymour Durst, brought him to the window and said to look out. Jarecki created a re-enactment of the scene based on the interview.
“And there was mommy,” he says in the show, which HBO screened for reporters on Thursday night. “I waved at mommy. I don’t know if she saw me. It never went through my mind, ‘What is she doing out on the roof in her nighty?”
Then, he says, he headed back to bed before hearing the maid yell, “She’s off the roof.”
“It was a long, long fall,” he says, the re-enactment depicting him watching her tumble. The show later shows a boy standing on the street and watching as she is placed in an ambulance. The sight of her standing on the roof and then falling is featured prominently in the opening credits, too.
“I never forgot,” he says in the interview. “I was there. It happened. I saw it. It never left me.”
But Douglas Durst, who took over the family business after his brother showed little interest, says in the letter that the whole scenario was fabricated.
“On the night my mother died, Robert was not brought to the window by my father, Seymour, and asked to wave to my mother,” he writes. “I, and my three siblings, were awoken and whisked out of our house to our neighbors for the duration of the tragedy. The four of us were together the entire time and none of us witnessed the death of our mother.”
The incident was said by the authorities at the time to be an accident. Newspapers said the 32-year-old woman had overdosed on asthma medication, but The New York Timeshas reported family members privately acknowledged her death was a suicide.
Members of the Durst family—with the exception of one relative, a nephew—have refused to cooperate with the documentary, which has been in the works for a decade. Jarecki told reporters who attended a screening Thursday at HBO’s offices in Midtown that he felt the family was “antagonistic” toward him for years.
“They’ve been so hostile to this, ever since the beginning,” Jarecki said. “And it only made it more interesting. You’ve got to ask yourself why that family is so anxious about this story being out there. It’s not like people have not told a story about Bob Durst in the past. It’s been news many, many times over the years.
“So what they appear to be more concerned about is the research that we tend to so on these subjects—we go much deeper into these subjects, get kind of obsessed, work on a movie for like 5 years or 8 years,” he said. “And I think that’s why they were so aggressive.”
A representative for HBO said Friday that Jarecki wasn’t immediately available for comment on the letter, which he had not yet received.
In his letter, Douglas Durst suggests Jarecki has found a personal connection to his brother’s troubled relationship with their father, noting the filmmaker’s public statements about his own father. Jarecki has called his father, a successful commodities trader and psychiatrist, a “German-overbearing, capitalist ” and “sort of a Teutonic taskmaster.”
Douglas Durst writes in his letter that the depiction of Seymour Durst as being disinterested in his children is simply not accurate, calling him “attentive, doting, and concerned about our well-being.”
“You have spoken publically about the tensions you have with your father and the pressure and control he placed upon you,” he writes. “I am sorry that your relationship is dysfunctional, but do not use your movie to project your problems with your father onto mine.”
The second episode does, in fact, offer up that Robert has lied, giving a revelation about the disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen Durst, who went missing in 1982 and was never found. Robert admits to Jarecki that he lied to the NYPD when he reported her missing, fabricating an alibi so detectives would “leave me alone.”
Robert has long been suspected in her disappearance. He says in the show that she had returned home from a dinner party at a friend’s house and said she wanted to go to their apartment in the city. They argued, he said, which really meant there was pushing and shoving. She eventually agreed to take a train and he drove her to the station.
Days later, Robert walked into the 20th Precinct on the Upper West Side and reported Kathleen missing. Relaying the narrative of that evening, he told a detective that he had driven back his house after dropping her at the station. He said he stopped by for a drink with a neighbor. Then he called Kathleen from a payphone and confirmed she had arrived in the city. Or so he claimed.
“That’s what I told the police,” Robert said. “I was hoping that would make everything go away.”
By that, he meant, that police would not immediately suspect him. He hoped they would accept his story and treat wife’s disappearance as a missing-person case.
“They’re going to leave me alone, now,” he says he was thinking.
Did you actually end up speaking to her that night, Jarecki asks.
“No,” he replies flatly.
She apparently did arrive at the apartment, though, and was noticed by the door man. The next morning, Kathleen, a fourth-year medical student, called the dean of her school to say she was sick and would not make it in. She was never heard from again.
Jarecki suggested on Thursday that much more would be revealed in the four other episodes, saying there were additional surprises. By the end of the series, he said, “You’re going to know what happened.”