The Jinx

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The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, generally referred to as simply The Jinx, is a 2015 HBO documentary miniseries about Robert Durst, written by Andrew Jarecki, Marc Smerling, and Zachary Stuart-Pontier. The series was also directed by Jarecki, who previously directed All Good Things (2010), which was inspired by the life of Durst.

Robert Durst professed admiration for All Good Things and telephoned Jarecki after its release, offering to be interviewed (a conversation recorded and incorporated into the documentary). Durst would ultimately sit with Jarecki for more than 20 hours over a multi-year period, having not previously cooperated with journalistic media.

The Jinx gained widespread exposure when Durst was arrested on first degree murder charges the day before its finale aired.

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Synopsis:

The series investigates the unsolved 1982 disappearance of Durst’s wife Kathie, the 2000 execution-style killing of his friend Susan Berman, and the 2001 death and dismemberment of his neighbor Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas. It uses a wide array of existing footage including news, security footage, police evidence, and archival interviews combined with footage shot by Jarecki, which is composed of contemporary interviews, visual reenactments (some of which were shot at Jarecki’s upstate New York home), and self-reflexive footage of Jarecki’s film-making process and peculiar working relationship with Durst. Its complex editing style and narrative construction emphasize the contradictions within both Durst’s life and the bizarre and grisly murders he allegedly committed. The final episode contains an interview where Jarecki confronts Durst with a letter which he had written to Susan Berman which seems to have writing similarities to an anonymous note sent to the Beverly Hill Police, presumably by Berman’s killer. Durst admits that he cannot tell the difference between the handwriting on the letter he wrote and one written to the police. After the interview, Durst goes to the bathroom and, apparently unaware that his microphone is still recording, makes a rambling statment which ends with “What did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

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Episodes:

No. Title Original Air Date
(United States)
1 Chapter 1: A Body in the Bay February 8, 2015
2 Chapter 2: Poor Little Rich Boy February 15, 2015
3 Chapter 3: The Gangster’s Daughter February 22, 2015
4 Chapter 4: The State of Texas vs. Robert Durst March 1, 2015
5 Chapter 5: Family Values March 8, 2015
6A Chapter 6: The Second Interview March 15, 2015

^Note A The title of “Chapter 6” has been alternatively referred to as “What the Hell Did I Do?” on some platforms.

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Arrest of Robert Durst:

On March 14, 2015, the eve of the final episode’s airing, Durst was arrested in New Orleans by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on a first degree murder warrant obtained by the LAPD in connection to the 2000 death of Susan Berman, as the result of an investigation stemming from new evidence presented in the miniseries. Specifically, the Associated Press reported that a letter written by Durst to Berman a year before her death, unearthed by the filmmakers, provided “key new evidence” leading to the filing of murder charges.

According to The New York Times, the filmmakers sought legal advice on when to share new evidence with law enforcement, weighing journalistic privilege against possible claims of evidentiary inadmissibility in a future trial.

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Douglas Durst litigation:

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Apprehensive about the documentary’s portrayal of the Durst family and, in particular, its use of videotaped depositions which were subject to a confidentiality agreement, Robert Durst’s estranged brother, Douglas Durst, who heads the Durst Organization, petitioned the New York Supreme Court in January 2015 to compel filmmaker Andrew Jarecki to reveal his sources. “Douglas Durst is worried [that] The Jinx will be a violent broadside against the family name and history,” the petition stated. By showing that his brother Robert or wife Debrah Lee Charatan violated a Westchester County judge’s 2006 order sealing the material, Douglas Durst could sue to recover a $65 million family trust settlement. According to The New York Times, Robert Durst gave filmmakers “unrestricted access” to his personal files, which included the videotaped testimony.

A lawyer for Douglas Durst argued that The Jinx is a “sensationalized docudrama” and that its director is exempt from New York’s shield law, designed to protect journalists. Jarecki replied that his use of dramatic reenactments (by actors whose faces were never shown) was not evidence of fictionalization, and despite attempting to “portray Robert Durst as a human being in a fashion that could help explain some of his behavior, rather than as a burlesque figure,” never promised Durst his film would ultimately defend his innocence.

Interviewed 10 days after his brother’s arrest, Douglas Durst told The New York Times that his brother had stalked him as recently as February 22, 2015, in Palm Beach, Florida, and that he felt “a tremendous sense of relief” at the turn of events which brought him into custody. Although sharply disputing some assumptions about the Durst family presented in Jarecki’s documentary (which he had not seen), and continuing to stress the very real threat Robert posed to him and others, Douglas sounded a conciliatory note: “I no longer am looking over my shoulder,” he said. “I’m very grateful to ‘The Jinx’ for having brought this about.

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Reception:

The Jinx received widespread critical acclaim and media buzz, particularly upon airing its revelatoryfinale. John Hendrickson at Esquire called the series’ ending “one of the most jaw-dropping moments in television history.” Mike Hale from The New York Times said it was “gut-wrenching, remarkable television.” Sean T. Collins of The New York Observer called the series “a documentarian’s unicorn: a quest for the truth that, it seems, found it, and found it spectacularly,” adding that in comparison to usual television true-crime documentary fare, The Jinx “pulls an SUV with a vanity plate that reads ‘BEVERLEY’ up on the curb and mows it all down.”

Other critics accused the documentary of charting an uncomfortable line between storytelling and journalism. Two days after Durst’s arrest and one day after the final installment of The Jinx was aired, The New Yorker reported that “[t]he filmmakers, having been quizzed on the time line of events as represented, have cancelled forthcoming interviews.” Specifically, when challenged over whether Durst’s arrest for trespassing on Douglas Durst’s property occurred before the filmmakers’ second interview with Robert Durst, as implied by The Jinx, Andrew Jarecki replied, “Yeah, I think I’ve got to get back to you with a proper response on that.” Several media outlets questioned how long the filmmakers had sat on evidence damaging to Durst before turning it over to law enforcement.

Jarecki subsequently sent an explanation to multiple media outlets: ““Given that we are likely to be called as witnesses in any case law enforcement may decide to bring against Robert Durst, it is not appropriate for us to comment further on these pending matters. We can confirm that evidence (including the envelope and the washroom recording) was turned over to authorities months ago.”

A study of Westchester County case notes by The Guardian indicated that, contrary to then-District Attorney Jeanine Pirro’s assertions in The Jinx that “we were about to speak with” Susan Berman about Kathie Durst’s disappearance, New York investigators had not yet scheduled an interview nor funded an investigator to visit Berman in California at the time of her December 23, 2000 murder. Durst said in a 2005 deposition, excerpted in The Jinx, that Berman called him shortly before her death and said: “The Los Angeles police contacted me. They wanted to talk about Kathie Durst’s disappearance.”

Although the Los Angeles Police Department denied any connection between Durst’s arrest and HBO’s airing of The Jinx finale, Dick DeGuerin, Durst’s defense attorney, lashed out at the timing. “Do I think this is a coincidence? Hell, no,” he said. “There has been rumor, innuendo and speculation for a number of years, and now we’re going to get our day in court on this.