This Is What The Jinx Creators Think of Robert Durst

Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling have been lying low since March, when Robert Durst, thesubject of their startling six-part HBO documentary, was arrested in New Orleans on the eve of the show’s finale and accused of being a serial killer — thanks in no small part to the revelations uncovered in The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.

Citing their potential role as witnesses in Durst’s trial in Los Angeles for the 2000 murder of mob heiress Susan Berman — for which no court date has been set and Durst is being held without bond in Louisiana, where he first faces a federal weapons charge for a revolver found at the time of his arrest — the documentarians have remained quiet until now.

“To try the case in the media, or for us to provide some pseudo-expert opinions about how the legal process is going to go, is only going to confuse people and go beyond our sphere of expertise,” explains Jarecki, recently breaking that silence in an interview with THR.

Jarecki, 52, who wrote, directed and produced the series, and Smerling, 52, who wrote, produced and served as cinematographer, talked about the controversy that has swirled around their project, the strange, chilling charisma of The Jinx‘s central character and when they first believed he was guilty of murder.

I’ve imagined you both in witness protection since the finale.

MARC SMERLING It’s sort of been like that. (Laughs.)

The Jinx initially was intended as a documentary feature. How did it become an HBO series?

SMERLING We were suffering trying to make a two-hour movie. Every time we cut it down, we lost some of the delicious pieces — the moments with Bob that raised it above just a murder story. At the same time, we were watching Homeland, House of Cards and these series stretching one crime over entire seasons. That’s what we needed: the ability to live in a structured piece of storytelling of these three murders but with time to focus on other things. We threw a pilot together and did a chalkboard outline of six episodes. The second episode introduced this kind of sympathetic, funny, interesting guy who confounds the audience. It subverts your expectations. Every subsequent episode turns it over again until he reveals himself.

ANDREW JARECKI We built the series before anyone saw it. The emotional through line for us was our connection to the family of [first victim] Kathie Durst. We had become close with them when we were making All Good Things, interviewed them and the police, and put together a sort of documentary about the story to show [the actors]. These people were so destroyed by what happened to their sister and daughter. It was really hard to ignore. Bob became kind of a burlesque figure — the unusual behavior, dressing as a woman, burping, all of the ticks and that background of wealth and privilege. He’s a fascinating character, but the big thing for the audience of The Jinx, I think, is seeing Kathie’s niece who looks so much like her and tells how this family has been torn asunder. Getting closure for that family was one of the things that drove us through getting this done.

At what point did you decide Durst was guilty?

JARECKI People think it’s a joke to give Bob the benefit of the doubt. As soon as you hear that he chopped up his neighbor, nobody wants to hear the nuances of whether or not he killed his wife, accidentally killed his wife and got rid of the body or if some drug dealers broke in during the middle of the night and secreted his wife away — which is what he’d like us to believe. But when he reached out to me [after Jarecki made the 2010 fictionalized Durst story All Good Things], I felt like I had to give Bob the benefit of the doubt. You had to give him a safe place to tell his story. But the moment where that changed was our finding that letter in the same handwriting [as an anonymous letter alerting police to Berman’s body].

SMERLING I always found it so hard to reconcile that Bob had been so close to three tragedies. But as journalists, we try to draw out the truth by neutral­izing your perspective. Once we saw the letter, we couldn’t neutralize our perspective anymore.

Were you ever concerned for your safety?

JARECKI Murder is one possibility to solving a problem — you always had to be attentive to that. But the man, in our view, is not just a random killer. He’s a strategic killer and won’t put himself at risk unless he thinks there’s an upside. I think we were doing what Bob wanted us to do. He came to me know­ing what we didn’t know at the time: that he killed all three of those people. What drove him to reach out to filmmakers and say, “I want my story to be told?” I think this compulsion to confess is a driver for him. It’s a release he was looking for.

There was some criticism about the timetable for production, what you knew when and at what time you delivered evidence to the police. Do you want to clear any of that up?

JARECKI We were really straightforward about it at the time. We had given the evidence to the authorities two years before the show aired. And we thought that it was responsible and appropriate. And there was so much heat around the show, the natural instinct of the press would include trying to figure out if we were making a spectacle of it. That’s not what we did.

Are you going to be called as witnesses?

JARECKI The reason we’re not talking to press now is that there’s a live case being prepared, and we’re going to be witnesses in that case. To try the case in the media, or for us to provide some pseudo-expert opinions about how the legal process is going to go, is only going to confuse people and go beyond our sphere of expertise. We’re just trying to be respectful of the process for everyone. Ultimately, Bob has to get a fair hearing and the victims have to be respected. This will be a real thorough, thoughtful process with lots of people weighing in.

Have there been any new developments on your end since the finale and Durst’s arrest?

SMERLING We’re as in the dark as anyone. We’ve been able to put it aside and work on some other things. It will come alive again if Los Angeles decides to try him, but right now we’re turning our attention to other projects.

By Michael O’Connell (The Hollywood Reporter)


Robert Durst Biographer Matt Birkbeck on What The Jinx Got Wrong

Fifteen years before Robert Durst became a celebrity of sorts thanks to HBO’s The Jinx, People reporter Matt Birkbeck began following the case, interviewing friends, family, investigators, and others about the strange real-estate tycoon and the disappearance of his wife Kathie. Following the dismemberment of Morris Black and the shooting of Susan Berman, Birkbeck wrote the 2003 book A Deadly Secret: The Bizarre and Chilling Story of Robert Durst, chronicling the case and Durst’s links to other murders. Now, for the second time since its initial release, the book is being reissued with updates to reflect Durst’s latest arrest: for the Berman murder, in New Orleans, where he was found with a latex mask, five ounces of marijuana, thousands in cash — and two copies of A Deadly Secret. We recently caught up with Birkbeck to discuss the cases, the recent events, and his views on how The Jinx presented several parts of Durst’s life falsely, while also omitting plenty of chilling details.

What have the last few months been like for you, with the show and the arrest?
Andrew Jarecki and I, we first met back in 2005. He was working on a Durst project. He wanted to just talk about what I knew. We spent some time together. And then he emailed me in 2011 — this was after his movie came out, All Good Things — and he told me he was working on a documentary and that Bobby had agreed to an interview with him, so I was pretty shocked when I heard that. He told me he already had several interviews in the can, and that he had said some things that were somewhat incriminating. His movie in 2010 wasn’t a favorable portrayal of Durst, but it was trying to understand him, and I had already had my own distinct opinion of [Durst] by then. [Jarecki] asked me to interview for his program, and I declined.

I spoke with Andrew after the series aired, and he explained the whole thing to me and said that [Durst’s hot-mic bathroom confession] was something they found months after they recorded it. Without that, [the documentary] would have advanced it a little bit given that they had that [“Beverley”] letter, but that was just a monumental moment. For people who weren’t familiar with Durst, it was a good primer, but the last five minutes, I was shocked when he said what he said. When he said at the end, “Killed them all,” that was the first time throughout the entire documentary, in my mind, that you saw the real Bobby Durst. You heard him, you saw him. He was obviously stressing out in the questioning with the letter, and then it appears to be multiple personalities having conversations with themselves. It was stunning.

What’s your opinion of Jarecki’s handling of it? There’s been some criticism that they should have presented it more journalistically, but other people say, “Well, he’s just a filmmaker. It’s not his job to report the facts.” Then again, people are dead here, so there’s a bigger responsibility.
I share that opinion. There was a lot in The Jinx that was factually incorrect that he was aware of. For instance, Jeanine Pirro had a huge role in this, and she really played up the story about how she had gotten this tip and got the original investigation going, and how her office was going to interview Susan Berman before she died, and that’s the reason Bobby killed her. None of that ever happened, and [Jarecki] knew that. The New York State Police didn’t reach out to Susan Berman until after she was murdered.

[The book] gets into Pirro fairly in-depth. She did the same thing back in 2001, 2002, 2003, where, for her, it was all about the publicity value of the case as opposed to any kind of pursuit for justice. And clearly, that’s what was happening with the documentary, so I had a problem with that. Andrew and I had talked about this before, about Pirro’s role in all of this, so as a journalist, I had an issue with it. He’s a filmmaker [sighs], perhaps he’s beholden to a different set of standards. Joe Becerra, the detective who actually started this whole thing, I think he was in The Jinx for maybe 10, 15 seconds.

There are some really crucial questions here [for Durst]. One of which is, “How did you learn to dismember a body?” And that was never asked. It was more about, “Tell us about Kathie.” He admitted [to] lying to the police way back when, but I didn’t really see anything else that was outlandish. Basically, you just saw a cold, emotionless guy with little empathy for anything. And they knew what the questions were. I thought we might see some answers to them, and we didn’t.

There was that scene where Jarecki asks Durst about intentionally shaving his eyebrows, and Durst says, “Who would mistakenly do that?” Maybe he knew he was dealing with someone that would let him get his side across.
Right. Which he did. He allowed Bobby to get his side across. His movie, All Good Things — Bobby liked the portrayal of himself, the one of the tormented son of the big real-estate developer, Seymour Durst. He liked that, as opposed to other descriptions of him that he had read over the years, of being a psychopath and whatnot. That’s my understanding of why he agreed to do this. The really big question also was, when Durst was 10 years old, he went to go see a psychiatrist because he was having mental issues after his mother died. The psychologist letter is in the book, and he says he can’t even be treated because he’s got some real severe issues. I think the word is “psychological deconstruction.” [Ed. note: It’s actually “personality decomposition and possibly even schizophrenia.”] It’s a warning to everyone that you’ve got this ticking time bomb here, and that was back in 1953. And that wasn’t addressed either, the doctor’s letter. But like you said, he’s a filmmaker, and he’s got his own agenda. When I met with him back in 2005, he and his producing partner Marc Sperling, they had my book, and they had Post-its on almost every page, and we actually spent three hours talking about the book. Everything about Durst was in the book, so they knew about it. They spent years on him, so there were some obvious things they could’ve asked him but they didn’t.

One thing they took dramatic liberties with is the scene in which Durst and his father dispassionately watch his mother’s suicide, but according to your research, there were cops and firefighters there trying to save her.
That bothered me. The whole description in my book about how the mother dies is taken from the records from that day, from news reports, from police reports. So when I saw what they did, that’s the story according to Bobby. It’s one thing to ask him, “Bobby, what happened? Oh, really?” But then to basically film a scene around it, to me, that was over the top. That wasn’t even challenging him. They could have basically said, “Hey, here’s a police report from that day,” or, “Here’s a newspaper article from that day describing what happened. You’re telling me one story, here’s another story.” They knew the real story. They went with his version. Again, that bothered me.

To go back to his arrest, were you surprised that happened?
I wasn’t surprised. I had heard they were going to indict him a few weeks earlier. The FBI has been involved since 2012. They were always interested in Durst in some capacity, but it really picked up steam with the Gilgo Beach murders, those women that they’re finding on Long Island off the ocean. They thought Bobby might be involved in those and became very intrigued. They couldn’t connect him to those. They decided to take a look at the Kathie Durst investigation as well as Susan Berman. They formed a loose task force, and since 2012, they’ve been working with those local police jurisdictions. The FBI has been involved for several years now, and they’ve been working on this and building their case, so I had heard that he was going to be indicted several weeks earlier. The Jinx had started airing. It was the first or second weekend it was airing that I heard he was going to be indicted. Apparently, they had been tracking him for a while, he was getting ready to flee. They figured they had to move on him now, and that’s what they did.

Why did the FBI think he might be linked to the Long Island prostitute murders?
I think they’re convinced that he’s a serial killer, and so they’re trying to connect him to other cases around the country. Being that some of those women had been dismembered, they began looking at him. They couldn’t make a connection, but their interest there led them to the Westchester County District Attorney’s office and the Los Angeles police.

There have been reports linking him to other murders, like Karen Mitchell in California, or Lynne Schulze, who disappeared outside his store in Vermont. Have you heard any more about them?
The one in Vermont came out of left field. That one I did not know about, and I don’t think anyone knew about it other than the police in Vermont and the FBI. The Karen Mitchell and Kristen Modafferi ones out of northern California I had reported on in the book. One of the problems with the Durst case is law enforcement, and the fact is, you’ve got different investigations in different jurisdictions, and it became complicated for them to work with each other. For instance, no one wanted to work with Westchester because of Jeanine Pirro and her penchant for publicity. Then she apparently refused to work with other jurisdictions. In northern California, when they linked Bobby to Karen Mitchell, police there reached out to New York to get Bobby’s credit-card records, and New York refused. They had to go to a judge and get a subpoena to get Durst’s records, which placed him in Eureka the day Karen Mitchell disappeared. That case, it came, and for whatever reason, just like everything else with Durst, it faded. The one good thing about The Jinx is that it brought attention to Durst. The Mitchell one is the strongest one of them all because you know that he lived up there, he had gone to the shoe store that Mitchell’s aunt had owned, and Mitchell worked there, too. He had gone there also dressed in drag. He had visited this homeless shelter, soup kitchen that she worked at, which Bobby had an affinity for. He did the same thing in Galveston. And then you’ve got this dead-on composite [sketch] that is a spitting image. Not only is it the spitting image of Bobby, but the guy that gave the composite, he knew Durst. They can’t get the local cop there to bite on any of this. He had his own suspect in mind, so it’s a comedy of errors with law enforcement. Thankfully, the FBI is looking across the country at every city they can identify where Durst has lived, and they’re going to be looking at missing-persons cases to see if, by any chance, there’s any connection between Bobby and these people.

Do you think he knows what he can get away with? Is he that cunning?
That’s a really good question, because the Durst that we’re seeing now, the one that agreed to be interviewed, the one who apparently just wrote a letter to the L.A. Times, the one who seems to be a little more public, that’s not the Bobby Durst I remember originally reporting on. He went into hiding, he stayed away from everybody. When he was on the run, he shaved his head and his eyebrows and was trying to travel under the radar. Now, apparently, he’s more open about what he’s doing, so I don’t know. When the search warrant was released and they found two copies of my book in his apartment, people asked me what I thought about it. At first I was surprised and somewhat shocked. And I’m thinking about it, and the book provided a roadmap of what he’d been doing before these investigations started up again in 2000. On one hand, it’s reference material for him. He knows what the police know. But on the other hand, maybe there’s something else going [on] with him mentally now, and he likes seeing his name in print.

Considering everything he’s gotten away with so far, do you have any inkling what will happen with the charges in Louisiana or L.A.?
Here’s what’s going on. Law enforcement wants him to stay in New Orleans for a while. They want to take a deep breath, they want to be able to look and see what, if anything, is out there involving him. I think they believe there are other cases out there. They’re going to use this time to find them. That includes getting to the bottom of the Karen Mitchell case, and Modaferri. It gives them time to investigate properly, and not just the cases we know about. Moving forward, unless the judge down there throws out the charges, he could potentially spend several years in prison down there and then ultimately face trial in Los Angeles. I think the people who have been most affected by this case, particularly the family of Kathie Durst, would like nothing better than to see him tried in Los Angeles for the murder of Susan Berman, because if he’s found guilty of killing Berman, the charge would be that he killed her to shut her up because she knew about Kathie. That would give authorities in New York a motive. He was convicted on it.

They may keep him in prison for ten years or so, and he’s 71 years old. He’ll never leave prison, I can tell you that. Everyone believes he’s dangerous. The best thing would be, “Hey, go to some psychiatric facility for the rest of your life, but tell us first what you did in all these different cases. Did you kill this one, did you kill that one, what happened to Kathie Durst, what happened to Susan Berman?” It might be wishful thinking, but that would be, in my mind, the best-case scenario.

By Dan Reilly (Vulture)

Judge who presided over Robert Durst acquittal in Texas murder: ‘He’s very dangerous’

Former Galveston County Judge Susan Criss, who presided over Robert Durst’s 2003 trial, is now a criminal and family lawyer — and is free to talk about his acquittal in the murder and dismemberment of neighbor Morris Blake, whose body parts were found in Galveston Bay, Texas, in 2001.

Criss, who appeared in the fourth episode of The Jinx, spoke with Mashable on Monday about Durst’s arrest Saturday at a New Orleans hotel — the night before the final episode of The Jinx aired, in which Durst was heard saying, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

What did you think when you heard Robert Durst was arrested over the weekend in New Orleans?

We’ve all been waiting for him to be arrested for so many years. He’s very dangerous. I was very thrilled and relieved. As a judge I had to be impartial but I’m not a judge anymore so I don’t have to be impartial. I’m relieved he’s not walking in the free world right now.


Did you think he’d be found guilty at the murder trial over which you presided?

I never thought we’d have a trial. I thought they were never going to catch him and that he’d be on the run for the rest of his life, so I was surprised when they caught him to begin with. When they brought him in, I didn’t know what to think — if he’s crazy or not crazy or pretending to be crazy. But he’s not.

It was said at the trial that Durst has Asperger’s. Do you think he does?

I don’t believe he has Asperger’s. I do believe there are people who do have it, but people were just starting to hear about that and there was not as much information then as now. They [the defense team] needed something to put a label on to him to explain his incredibly bizarre behavior, to explain what he does without making him responsible for what he does. They did a good job of it.

You were convinced he did murder Morris Black?

I could see from the beginning, even though the facts were so heinous — pictures of body parts cut up were chilling — you could see that this person knew what they were doing and that it was not a first time. The body was cut perfectly like a surgeon who knew how to use this tool on this bone and a certain kind of tool on that muscle.

It looked like not a first-time job. That was pretty scary.

How was he able to be acquitted if you think it’s obvious that he had committed this murder?

I could see early on that there was a danger that the state was going to lose … The state walked in not prepared and they didn’t think they had to be. They did not think about what to ask each witness including him and questions to ask jurors or to pick the best jurors for their case. They [the defense] had two mock trials they had gone through.

You could tell when they [the state] were asking him [Durst] questions, they were doing it off the cuff. They spent three days cross examining him taking turns because both lawyers had the flu. They forgot to ask him, “Where did you put the head?” The head was never recovered. You had to have the bullet wound. There was no bullet wound on the rest of the body and that was the cause of death, a shot to the back of head.

They also didn’t challenge anything the defense said. There was evidence we had during pretrial hearings that they did not try to introduce tape-recorded phone conversations from jail in which he said things that were incriminating that showed an inclination to lie at trial. Similar to what he did on the TV series. I think at some point the state realized, “Oh my gosh, things aren’t going as we expected” and they gave up and wanted to it be done and they were intimidated by the defense lawyers. It sort of looked to me that they were throwing in the towel.


Why did the jury not convict him if it appears to have been obvious to you that Robert Durst murdered Morris Black?

I suspect now in hindsight some of the jurors may have had ulterior motives as some do in extremely high-profile trials where you know you have national media showing up. One of the jurors befriended him after the trial and began visiting him in the jail and going to dinner with him after he got out of jail. The male juror, Chris Lovell, interviewed in the TV series. He has been one of his [Durst’s] best spokesmen ever since trial.

Was Durst charismatic on the stand? Did he influence the jury?

I don’t think he really is charismatic. He can be a little bit likable. He worked hard to make himself seem human. He did not come across as cold or mean. He’s just a small guy in stature and he doesn’t look like somebody you’d imagine cutting up a body.

What was the feeling you got from him at trial?

In the beginning, he acted crazy and he pretended to talk to imaginary people and he grunted like a pig, that sort of thing. Then he dropped that routine and he seemed like a quiet and intelligent man.

One time in the trial, in chambers, I could see him getting angry and I could see the dark side. He became very frustrated. He was sitting on couch and it was a difference I could see in his face and he was looking around the room at my pictures and trying to find things about me that were personal.


You ran into Durst at the Houston Galleria two years after the trial but while he was still supposed to be on house arrest while on parole. What happened and how did you feel?

He was as friendly as he could be. I was walking down the mall and I saw him before he saw me. He was looking down talking on the phone. I was able to get composure before he saw me, which I was glad about. I know my first look was shock. We were about a foot apart and he dropped his phone and it broke. I think he thought he was violating his parole and so he was busted, but I didn’t know that, so then he was putting his phone back together and I didn’t know what to say. I said, “Hi Bob” and he said, “I can’t believe you’re talking to me.” I said, “It’s a job. It’s not personal and it’s just a conversation,” but I was wondering how I could end this and get away from it. It was the first time I had seen him in the free world and he’s not a dangerous looking person, so I said, “happy holidays” and walked off.

Do you think Robert Durst is a sociopath?

No. He’s not, in a traditional sense of a stereotype of anything we’ve seen. He very much loved his wife and Susan. I don’t think he’ll just kill for thrill or look for someone to kill. I don’t know. It might have been anger or losing his temper.

I think he killed Susan because she was going to testify against him and the belief is that he killed Morris for similar reasons. As far as his wife, they were talking about divorce. He loved her. They got to a point in their marriage where she was not happy. She wanted children or a career and he did not want to support things and she was going to leave him. He didn’t want to be left.

If you cross him, he’ll kill you.

What did you think when he admitted in the final The Jinx episode while in the bathroom that he “killed them all”?

That just might be the most shocking moment in the history of television. It was amazing.

HBO’s “The Jinx” Will Unveil Exclusive Video of Robert Durst’s Galveston Trial

“I did not kill my best friend. I did dismember him.”

Robert Durst uttered those words in a state district courtroom during his 2003 trial for the murder of Morris Black, his neighbor at 2213 Avenue K in Galveston. Now, for the first time, people will actually see and hear Durst saying them.

Director Andrew Jarecki and producer Marc Smerling’s HBO documentary miniseries, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, is built around the filmmakers’s unprecedented present-day access to Durst, the notorious and eccentric New York City real estate heir who’s been a suspect in three murders over the past three-plus decades. But they also managed to assemble never-before-seen footage of the trial, even after learning that Judge Susan Criss did not allow TV crews to shoot sound.

“You’d think, well, somebody’s got that. There’s some agency out there that films trials, right?,” Jarecki told the audience at the Sundance Film Festival premiere of the first two episodes of The Jinx on Tuesday. “But that’s not true. There was a little bit of footage from Court TV, but it didn’t have any audio.”

“We go to the judge, and we say, can we get footage of the courtroom events in Galveston that have audio and video: you know, like a movie?” Jarecki continued. “And she said, ‘Oh no, I didn’t allow that. I let them film, but I didn’t allow them to record audio, because I didn’t want to have the case tried in the media, but I wanted to give them a little something so they would satisfy the curiousity of the public.’”

The original transcripts of the trial had also been elusive, but that treasure hunt eventually paid off. Jarecki and Smerling got them from a relative of the court reporter, who had since died. They were “in a big box with a bunch of stuff at the bottom,” Jarecki said. Among that “stuff:” audio cassettes of the entire trial, and even the court reporter’s tape recorder.

“We put that little tape recorder next to the edit, picked a time for some visual match, where Bob puts his glass down or something, and we [synced] the two out,” Jarecki recalled. “And there you were: in 2003, at this trial.”

The Jinx is actually the duo’s second project about Durst; much of their research was originally done for the 2010 fiction film All Good Things, which starred Ryan Gosling as a Durst-like character, and Kirsten Dunst as the character based on Durst’s wife, Kathleen, who disappeared in 1982.

Jarecki said his goal with that film was “to make a movie that Robert Durst himself could watch and have an emotional reaction to.” Durst ended up having more than that—he reached out to Jarecki, setting the stage for his participation in The Jinx.

A stylized, noirish documentary in the tradition of The Thin Blue Line, The Jinx turns Durst into something like the latest cable anti-hero, a la Tony Soprano or Walter White—except he’s all too real. A zillion comparisons to the podcast Serial are also inevitable, though, having been at work on The Jinx for five years, it’s not even clear Smerling knows what Serial is.

“Well, we saw (sic) Serial, and re-edited the whole thing in about two weeks,” he joked during the Sundance Q&A.

Like Capturing the Friedmans, another documentary directed by Jarecki, The Jinx strikes a certain ambivalent and empathetic tone, leaving the viewer to decide if they are watching a monster, a mentally disturbed victim, someone who’s guilty-but-sympathetic (among other things, Durst claims to have witnessed his mother’s suicide when he was 7), or someone who’s been falsely accused but isn’t at all sympathetic (just last month the 71 year-old, a part-time Houston resident, pled no contest to a criminal mischief charge for alleged public urination at a Rice Village CVS).

For Jarecki, the answer’s probably all of the above. As he told the crowd at Sundance:
I said to [Bob], some people say that you are the unluckiest person in the world, because you lost your wife, who you loved. You lost your best friend, who was murdered. You lost your neighbor in Galveston who you were good friends with.

And other people say you’re the luckiest guy in the world because you killed your wife, you killed your best friend and you killed your neighbor in Galveston.

I asked him what he thought about that and he said, “I think of myself as someone who was born with a burden that he couldn’t carry.” And we sort of go into what that means. We do what we can to try to explain both sides of the equation.

The Jinx begins airing on HBO on Sunday, February 8. The first and fourth episodes are especially heavy on Galveston material, with appearances by numerous local law enforcement officials, as well as Durst’s co-defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin.

For an earlier take on the case, see Gary Cartwright’s story for Texas Monthly in 2002, as well as his follow-up on DeGuerin in 2004.

(Texas Monthly)

Judge, Durst have awkward encounter at Galleria

Two days before Robert Durst violated parole with a trip to Galveston County last Friday, the New York millionaire had a close, strange encounter with the judge who presided over his sensational murder trial two years ago.

State officials say Houston’s Galleria wasn’t on parolee Durst’s list of approved stops Dec. 14, when he ran across state District Judge Susan Criss of Galveston.

Criss said she was Christmas shopping when she saw a familiar figure coming toward her, a man talking on a cell phone.

“I saw him and thought ‘Oh, my God,’ ” Criss said.

As the two met in the mall, Durst was trying to place her, Criss said.

“I know you, I know you,” Criss quoted Durst as saying. “And then he realized who I was, and he dropped his phone and it fell apart.”

In November 2003, a jury in Criss’ court acquitted Durst of murder, even though he admitted cutting up the body of neighbor Morris Black, 71, and tossing the parts into Galveston Bay in garbage bags.

Criss later ordered that Durst be held on a $2 billion bond on bail-jumping and evidence-tam-pering charges. Durst pleaded guilty to those crimes, received a five-year sentence but was credited for time served.

He remains under “superintensive supervision” by a parole officer.

Criss said she didn’t know what to say to Durst, so she said the obvious.

“How ya doing, Bob?” she said. “He said he was doing fine.”

The two then discussed the current activities of attorneys Dick DeGuerin, Mike Ramsey and Chip Lewis, who represented Durst in his murder trial. DeGuerin now represents U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and Ramsey and Lewis are preparing the defense of former Enron Chairman Ken Lay.

“I can’t believe you stopped to talk to me,” Criss quoted Durst as saying.

“What was I going to do?” Criss said. “Run away and scream?”

As the awkward conversation ended, Criss said she started walking away and found herself saying: “Take care of yourself and have a happy holiday.”

Criss said she was not aware of the terms of Durst’s parole.

Word of the encounter filtered through journalists to parole officials who already had arrested Durst on Tuesday on a parole violation for his trip to Galveston. Durst visited the office of a lawyer, a physician’s home and the house in which a struggle between Durst and Black over a pistol resulted in Black’s death in 2001.

Mike Viesca, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said Thursday that Durst was supposed to go only to places to which he had permission from his parole officer to visit. The Galleria was not on Durst’s Dec. 14 list, he said.

Durst remained in the Harris County Jail on Thursday pending a parole revocation hearing expected to be held in January.

Criss said she expects to be subpoenaed to testify at the hearing in Houston.

By Kevin Moran (Houston Chronicle)

Millionaire in jail on parole violation

Texas millionaire Robert Durst, acquitted of a murder in the death of his neighbor four years ago, is in a Houston jail on parole violation.

Authorities said Durst had violated parole by visiting the house in nearby Galveston where he was accused of cutting up the body of Morris Black. Durst was acquitted of murder but was on parole for jumping bail and tampering with evidence in Black’s death, reports the Houston Chronicle.

A woman, who lives next to the Galveston house, told police she saw Durst Friday standing outside his former residence.

“She said he was just standing there, staring at the house,” a police sergeant said. The woman, who had testified at Durst’s trial, was upset and concerned for her safety, he said.

A jury acquitted Durst in 2003 in the death of 71-year-old Black, after Durst claimed Black died from a bullet in the head as the two struggled over a pistol. Durst testified he panicked after the death, cut up Black’s body and tossed the parts into Galveston Bay.

Millionaire Robert Durst jailed again

Millionaire Robert Durst, who was acquitted of murder despite admitting he had cut off a man’s head, was arrested today on a parole violation, said Mike Viesca, a spokesman with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

“A warrant was issued for Robert Durst today after witnesses saw the offender in Galveston on Dec. 16,” Viesca said. “By being there, Durst violated the terms of his supervision that restrict his schedule and travel.”

Attorney Bill Habern, who has represented Durst in dealings with Texas parole officials, said he was on his way to the Harris County Jail at 2:10 p.m. to find out why Durst was arrested and what charge he faces.

Durst pleaded guilty to state charges of evidence-tampering and bail-jumping related to the killing. He was eligible for parole on those charges because he had spent three years in Galveston County Jail before and after his murder acquittal.

Viesca said Durst will remain in Harris County custody until a (parole) revocation hearing is scheduled, most likely within the next two weeks. Durst is on mandatory supervision until Nov. 29, 2006.

Following the revocation hearing, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles can choose to revoke his parole and send him to prison, send him to an intermediate sanction facility, or keep him on parole under supervision with or without changes to his current restrictions.

In November 2003, a Galveston County jury acquitted Durst of murder in the 2001 shooting death of Morris Black, Durst’s neighbor in a Galveston apartment building.

Durst said the shooting was accidental. He admitted that he cut up Black’s body, placed it in trash bags and tossed them into Galveston Bay.

Galveston police said Durst was spotted Friday outside the apartment building where he and Black had lived and where the slaying occurred. Sgt. Cody Cazalas said he received a call from one of Durst’s former neighbors, who also testified at Durst’s murder trial.

”The witness was upset and very concerned for her safety,” Cazalas said. ”She said she’d seen him standing outside the house just staring at the house.”

Cazalas said he searched the neighborhood to see if Durst was still around. He also checked with the Galveston County District Attorney’s office and was told that ”if he was in Galveston he was in violation of his parole.”

Cazalas said that he contacted Durst’s parole officer and he said he believes that parole officials interviewed the neighbor who first reported Durst’s presence in Galveston and another person who saw Durst the same day.



Robert Durst will be spending another nine months behind bars.

Just 11 days after he was paroled and rearrested, Durst pleaded guilty to two federal gun charges stemming from his seven weeks on the lam in a bizarre Galveston, Texas, murder case.

The charges carried a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment and a $500,000 fine.

But in a deal worked out between his lawyers and Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Reed, Durst will spend nine months in prison, followed by two years of supervised release.

During the hearing, Judge Timothy Savage repeatedly asked Durst if he understood the deal.

“I have no problem with the sentence,” Durst replied.

Savage is expected to approve the deal after getting reports on Durst’s psychological and criminal background. He set another hearing for Nov. 29.

Durst was charged with interstate transportation of a firearm while a fugitive and while a felon.

When Durst was nabbed for shoplifting in Bath, Pa., after the seven weeks on the run, he had two .38-caliber handguns in his rental car.

Durst jumped bail shortly after his arrest in the slaying of Morris Black, 71, his neighbor in Galveston. Durst was acquitted of murdering the elderly man even though he admitted carving up Black’s body and dumping the parts in Galveston Bay. He was paroled on that sentence less than two weeks ago.


Durst planned suicide if police caught him

New York real estate heir Robert Durst planned to commit suicide by shooting himself and intentionally broke the law in view of police officers while on the lam in 2001 in Pennsylvania, according to published reports.

“I must have shoplifted in 12 places, without getting caught,” Durst told a juror from his 2003 murder trial, according to Sunday editions.

The juror, Chris Lovell, visited Durst in jail after the panel acquitted him of killing his elderly neighbor last November.

“I was taking the gun with me, because as soon as some security guard came over, I’d take the gun and shoot myself,” Durst said during one of two jail conversations he had with Lovell in January.

The conversations were recorded by Galveston County Sheriff’s deputies.

The tapes were disclosed during a recent court hearing in which Durst’s defense attorneys sought to remove state District Judge Susan Criss from Durst’s case. The defense wanted the Galveston judge removed, in part, because she instigated the jury-tampering probe, according to the Houston Chronicle, which first reported the contents of the tapes last week.

On the tapes, Durst is heard saying he intentionally committed traffic violations while carrying a loaded gun on his car seat during two months as a fugitive in 2001. He also said he carried a pistol while shoplifting numerous times during the period.

“No way I was going to get arrested,” Durst said. “I would be able to shoot myself. It just seemed so obvious and so easy.”

Durst, 61, was set to be paroled last week after pleading guilty to state bond-jumping and evidence tampering charges related to the death of his 71-year-old neighbor, Morris Black.

But on Thursday, U.S. marshals took Durst into custody and brought him to the federal detention center in Houston to await transfer to Pennsylvania on federal gun charges.

Last month, Durst pleaded guilty to three state charges in exchange for a five-year sentence. He was given credit for the nearly three years he had served and thus was eligible for parole.

In the Pennsylvania indictment, issued Thursday and unsealed on Friday, Durst faces two charges for having a firearm while he was a fugitive from justice and while he was under indictment for a felony.

Durst left Galveston, about 50 miles southeast of Houston, but returned and was arrested in October 2001. He posted bond and ran again, then was caught six weeks later shoplifting in a Pennsylvania grocery store. In his rental car, police found two .38-caliber revolvers and 86 rounds of ammunition.

“That day, I was in a hurry, and I forgot to take the gun,” Durst said.

At his murder trial, Durst testified he accidentally shot Black in September 2001 as they struggled for a gun in Durst’s apartment. He said he panicked, cut up the body and dumped the pieces in Galveston Bay.

On the tapes, Durst tells Lovell he had attempted suicide twice, once by smoking marijuana, taking a bottle of sleeping pills and getting into a bathtub. He said his attorneys advised him not to discuss his suicidal feelings because “… it goes over badly, it goes overboard,” he said.

Durst said he wasn’t sure whether he would seek a change of venue for a trial related to the bond-jumping and evidence-tampering charges he faced at the time.

Durst’s attorney, Michael Ramsey, has asked that a federal judge allow Durst to have an initial appearance in Houston before he is transferred to Pennsylvania, where he is expected to appear on Nov. 4.

If convicted on the gun charges, Durst faces a maximum of 15 years in prison, three years of supervised released and a $500,000 fine.


Millionaire Robert Durst pleads guilty to bail jumping, evidence tampering

Real estate heir and acquitted murder defendant Robert Durst pleaded guilty Wednesday to bond jumping and evidence tampering related to the shooting death of his 71-year-old neighbor, whose body he chopped up and dumped in Galveston Bay.

Durst, 61, pleaded guilty to two counts of bond-jumping and one count of evidence-tampering at the Galveston County, Texas, court house, his attorney Dick DeGuerin said.

As part of the plea deal, Durst was sentenced to five years — he would have faced up to 10 years in prison — and he will receive credit for time already served.

In effect, the cross-dressing millionaire will serve about another three years, DeGuerin told

“Durst pleaded guilty to dispose of the case,” DeGuerin said. “He said he was going to face responsibility for the stuff he’s done.”

Had Durst not pleaded guilty, he would have gone to trial October 12.

The plea deal was made hours after the judge who was scheduled to preside over Durst’s trial was taken off the case earlier today, amid reports that she was biased against Durst.

“The first clue of the judge’s partiality was when she set the bail at $3 billion for a third-degree felony,” DeGuerin said, referring to Durst’s bail-jumping and evidence-tampering charges.

The bond was the highest in Texas history, and an appeals court lowered the bond to $450,000 in June.

District Judge Susan Criss also “chewed out the jurors” when they acquitted Durst of first-degree murder in November 2003, DeGuerin said.

When Judge Jackson Smith agreed to replace Criss Wednesday, it was an opportune moment for Durst to renew his effort for a plea deal.

Criss tried to block Durst’s plea deal, saying it was “too light,” according to DeGuerin.

“I wouldn’t change a thing I did,” Criss said.

Criss would not comment on why she was removed from the case, but denied having a vendetta against Durst or the jurors.

“I don’t agree with what the defense attorneys had in their motion,” Criss told “I keep telling the news I will not criticize the jurors.”

Durst had an evidence-tampering charge because he told jurors that he tossed the remains of his dead neighbor, Morris Black, in Galveston Bay. In that earlier trial, Durst said he only shot the 71-year-old in self-defense and was acquitted.

The bond-jumping charge stemmed from October 2001, when Durst fled Galveston after the murder charge. Police apprehended Durst a couple weeks later in a Pennsylvania restaurant, after he stole a Band-Aid and a chicken sandwich.

District attorney Kurt Sistrunk was not immediately available for comment.

(Court TV)