Robert Durst is a 71-year-old multimillionaire currently under arrest for murder. He is also the subject of a recent HBO documentary miniseries, “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.” I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I didn’t miss a minute of the six episodes. This included the finale that had a bombshell ending. (How’s that for an opening tease?)
Curiously, the grisly Durst saga also has a local angle. Of sorts. In 1965 Bobby was a graduate student at UCLA and met Susan Berman, a journalism major. (Berman’s father, David, was a notorious mob boss who co-owned Las Vegas’ Flamingo Hotel with gangster Bugsy Siegel.)
Berman, who became a writer and often about the mob, wound up being Durst’s best friend — that is, until he allegedly killed her in 2000. (She was last seen alive at the Third Street Promenade, having met a friend for a movie.)
Durst’s story is so macabre it makes the O.J. murders seem commonplace. On Dec. 20, 2000, Susan Berman’s dead body was found in her modest Benedict Canyon home with a bullet to the back of her head. This was only days before she was to meet with NYPD detectives who had re-opened the 1982 disappearance of Kathie Durst, Robert’s wife.
Then Durst apparently moved from his luxury town-home in Manhattan to Galveston, Texas. He shaved his head, wore a wig and presented as a mute woman to hide his raspy voice. Worth an estimated $100 million (earned it the old fashion way, he inherited it), Durst then rented a $300-a-month apartment.
Durst soon befriended a crotchety neighbor, Morris Black, whom he wound up killing in October 2001. He claimed the two had struggled over a gun that went off accidentally. Fearing no one would believe him, he then got drunk, dismembered Black with an ax and bow saw and threw sections of his body wrapped in plastic garbage bags into Galveston Bay.
When the jury announced its verdict of “not guilty,” Durst was as shocked as Robert Kardashian had been at O.J.’s trial. To his lawyers, whom he had paid $2 million, Durst mouthed the words, “Did they say ‘not?'”
“The Jinx” was directed by Oscar-nominated Andrew Jarecki. The footage is riveting, as Durst is educated, articulate and cold as ice.
Now the bombshell/spoiler alert: As the last interview winds down, in his low-key manner, Jarecki confronts Durst with two handwriting exemplars. One is a letter from Durst to Berman, the other a letter sent to the Beverly Hills Police Department notifying them there was a “cadaver” at Berman’s house.
The addresses on both envelopes are hand-printed, not handwritten, and both include the word “Beverley,” which is misspelled. Durst is adamant that he wrote the letter to Berman but didn’t write the note to the police.
At the end of the documentary, both are placed side by side and look identical. Durst tries to shed some doubt that they were written by the same person until Jarecki asks if he can identify which he wrote. Durst stares intently and finally says matter-of-factly, “No.”
Seemingly having just sealed his fate, Durst asks to use the bathroom in the office where the interview had been taped, apparently unaware that his microphone was still on. From inside we hear an odd, chilling conversation he has with himself.
“You’re caught,” he says ominously, adding, “What did you do?” Moments later he answers soberly, “You killed them all, of course.” And on that note, the documentary ends.
As with so many things in life, fate had a big hand in the documentary and thus in Durst’s possibly being executed. (His alleged crime contains “special circumstances” because he was “lying in wait” and “killed a witness.”)
It turns out the “You’re caught” audio had been on the cutting room floor for over two years. It was only discovered when a new editor came on the project. He brought the audio to Jarecki’s attention and the rest may be that justice is finally served. (In the meantime, it’s been boffo ratings for HBO.)
Not unexpectedly, LAPD is claiming its evidence is independent of “The Jinx” miniseries, while Durst’s lawyer claims his client has been railroaded by a reckless TV show. Durst is currently on suicide watch in a New Orleans psych ward. He’s due to arrive in Los Angeles next week, which will be good news for TMZ.
For the record, the Durst family has said it is glad he is “finally being held accountable for his actions.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement. But seemingly with good reason.
If you add it all up, it appears likely that Durst may have killed his wife, his best friend in Galveston and his best friend since college. If true, it’s safe to say that getting close to Robert Durst has its risks.
Jack Neworth is at facebook.com/jackneworth and twitter.com/jackneworth and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.