The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst
The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst is a six-part HBO documentary about the life of Robert Durst, a member of a wealthy New York City real estate dynasty. Durst was suspected by many of being responsible for the 1982 disappearance of Kathleen Durst, his first wife. He was later suspected of murdering his close friend Susan Berman in 2000 and was tried and found not guilt in the 2001 murder of his neighbor Morris Black. The documentary revisits these three cases and includes commentary from Durst along with friends and family members of the victims, investigators, and lawyers.
The reenactments and a few other aspects of the documentary were a bit tacky but I thought it was very engrossing overall. I highly recommend The Jinx if you’re interested in true crime, the justice system, or psychology.
– THE FOLLOWING MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS –
The second episode opened with Durst explaining the pros and cons of giving an interview. He felt the major downside was that the interviewer would have the option of manipulating his words to make him look bad. The potential upside was that after everyone else had a chance to give their opinion and paint him as the bad guy, he would finally have an opportunity to tell his story and defend himself.
His observations about giving an interview were actually very astute. Durst isn’t a stupid individual but he certainly overestimated his general and emotional intelligence. The filmmakers presented evidence and credible testimony that raised questions about his innocence that certainly didn’t help his cause. However, his facial tics, social awkwardness, complete lack of emotion, propensity for talking to himself, and admissions of lying certainly did far more damage to his credibility. The filmmakers might have given him the rope but he certainly played the biggest role in hanging himself.
I believe that he gave this interview because he wanted attention. He felt he could outsmart everyone and had a desire to boost his ego by proving himself. There was a point in the documentary where he stated that he felt the person that sent a key piece of evidence to the LAPD was begging to be caught. He seemed to be trying to use this to eliminate suspicion about himself but it actually proved to reveal quite a bit about him.
Watching The Jinx really helped to drive home the reason that lawyers dissuade their clients from speaking or saying more than is absolutely necessary. Things you say whether with good or bad intent can absolutely be used against you. This is especially true when you tell lies as you run the risk of them being proven false and/or having to tell more lies to keep up the original lie.
The documentary raised a few issues for me that had broader implications beyond Durst and his life. One in particular was flaws in the legal / justice system caused by money being a huge determinant of an individual’s ability to mount a vigorous defense.
Failure to Investigate
Kathleen Durst was never found and Durst was able to murder two more people due to law enforcement failing to properly investigate her disappearance. For reasons unknown, Durst was mostly taken at this word and his alibi and timeline of events for the night of Kathleen’s disappearance weren’t thoroughly fact checked. Had they been, a number of discrepancies would have become apparent and Durst would have deservedly been under more intense official scrutiny a lot sooner. They may not have resulted in the recovery of Kathleen’s body but may have shed some light on what happened to her.
Kathleen’s friends and family members performed their own amateur investigation which uncovered that Durst was engaging in highly suspicious behavior. Yet they were largely ignored when they brought their concerns to the police department. Through a lawyer, the Durst family hired a private investigator who uncovered inconsistencies in Durst’s story. His suspicions weren’t shared with the police but they could have found this information had they investigated.
It’s been said that the markings of a good attorney is knowledge of and an ability to operate in the gray areas of the law. Durst’s access to a lot of money gave him the ability to hire two great attorneys who could dedicate a lot of time and resources to developing a strategy to fit the nuances of his case. They were able to spend time coaching and thoroughly prepping him for testifying and being cross examined by the prosecution.
It’s very telling that a millionaire was able to avoid serious investigation and prosecution for 20 years. This individual then went on to kill two more people in a short timeframe. Durst was recently arrested in connection with the 2000 murder of Berman but whether or not it leads to a conviction remains to be seen. It would be a small consolation as Durst had the opportunity to live relatively freely for 71 years.
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