HBO Series Leads to Arrest of Robert Durst

Photo courtesy of HBO

Elusive millionaire and haunting eccentric Robert Durst was arrested last week in no small part to HBO’s documentary miniseries “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst." To understand the significance of this groundbreaking revelation that unfolded in a six episode television series, Durst’s frightening history needs to be unpacked.

As son of real estate mogul Seymour Durst, Durst and his brother Douglas inherited the family business, the Durst Organization, after their father’s death. His emergence into the public eye began when in 1982, when Durst’s wife Kathie McCormack went missing. At the time, Durst and McCormack were essentially separated as he was living with another woman, Prudence Farrow. The investigation, which went cold was later reopened in 2000. That's when Susan Berman, longtime friend of Durst was found murdered in her California home, many reports citing the killing as being done “execution style." Durst meanwhile moved to Galveston, Texas, where he posed as a woman to avoid attention in the disappearance of his wife and murder of his friend.

Only a year after the 2000 slaying of Berman, Durst was arrested after the dismembered limbs of his senior neighbor Morris Black were found floating in the Galveston Bay. He posted the $250,000 bail, but upon missing a court hearing, he had a warrant out for his arrest. 

He was caught a month later in a supermarket attempting to shoplift, even though police found substantial amounts of money on him and in his vehicle discovered guns, marijuana and Black’s license. In the 2003 trial, Durst admitted to using a pairing knife, saws and an axe to dismember Black and later leave his body in the Galveston Bay. The defense argued that Durst was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and the death of Black was a result of a struggle over control of Durst’s pistol which discharged and instantly killed Black. Durst plead guilty to bond jumping and evidence tampering, for which he served three years in prison. Upon parole in 2005, Durst was required to stay close to his home, but violated this stipulation and was spotted by trial judge Susan Criss and was soon returned to prison.

Written and directed by Andrew Jarecki, who directed the 2010 film “All Good Things,” which was inspired by Durst’s life and starred Ryan Gosling, “The Jinx” centers around Durst’s life through multi-hour interviews with Durst over a few years and is supplemented with archival footage, reenactments and Jarecki’s personal reflections. One of the most compelling television moments occurred during the series finale when Durst, unknowingly still wearing a microphone, went into the bathroom and stated, “Killed them all, of course.” In addition to this, a letter from Durst to Berman was given to the filmmakers from his stepson and confirmed that Berman had knowledge of the disappearance of Durst's wife, implying direct motive for her subsequent murder.

Durst was arrested for first-degree murder in New Orleans where he was found wandering the lobby of a hotel. In his room police found a firearm, marijuana, his passport, maps of Cuba and Florida, a latex mask, an unused cellphone and over $40,000 in cash. Since his arrest, Durst has become a suspect in the disappearances of 18-year-old Lynn Schulze and 16-year-old Karen Mitchell in 1971 and 1997 respectively. He was charged with trespassing last year when family members feared for their safety upon his appearance outside of their homes and later arrested in July for urinating in a CVS and was charged with misdemeanor criminal mischief, but simply paid a $500 fine.

The series has garnered some controversy in lieu of claims that Jarecki and his team withheld crucial evidence – claims that have since been denied – and the fact that the show’s timeline seems jumbled and partially inaccurate. Why Durst would voluntarily participate in the show is still unknown. He remains in Louisiana after being deemed a flight risk and awaits extradition to California.

According to The New York Times, Durst’s brother stated “I no longer am looking over my shoulder. I’m very grateful to ‘The Jinx’ for having brought this about.”

The Durst family has sought to be dissociated from Durst and have slapped him with restraining orders in addition to cutting him off from their organization in 2006.