By Steve Pipps
Robert Durst is a name that might ring a few bells.
He’s the son of real estate mogul Seymour Durst. A movie, All Good Things, was made about his life in 2010 and most recently, HBO began featuring a six-part miniseries on is life. Oh yes, he was also acquitted of murder twice, dismembered his Galveston, TX neighbor after shooting him in apparent self-defense and his wife Kathleen Durst has been missing since 1982; the case is still considered a missing persons.
The HBO mini series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst is a fascinating look at exactly that, Robert Durst’s life and the deaths that have followed him.
The fourth episode of the series premiered this past Sunday, March 1st and there are only two episodes left before what is sure to be as thrilling of a conclusion as the one Serial provided us. Which means, for those of you who haven’t listened to the podcast, the conclusion will answer nothing and everything will be left to us to decide for ourselves from the facts presented. We’re all the jury and will be stuck in debate purgatory as we try to decide once and for all if Robert Durst is guilty of murder.
Assume that there will be spoilers ahead for the rest of the article.
Let’s start with the 2010 film All Good Things, which takes its title from the health food store Durst and his wife Kathie opened in Vermont early in their marriage. Director Andrew Jarecki (Capturing the Friedmans) told the story of Durst as clearly as he could. Of course there were cinematic embellishments as there will always be, but the only significant change was the murder of his good friend Susan Berman, named Deborah Lehrman in the film. (I watched this after having seen the first four episodes of the mini series, so some of the more mysterious parts were evident immediately.)
The gist of the story is that Durst marries Kathie, their names are David Marks and Katie McCarthy in the film, and things are good at first. Their marriage begins to deteriorate through arguments and some violence until Katie disappears. It’s 1982, Katie was allegedly driven to the train by David to head to the couples apartment in the city following an argument. She was seen by her doorman that night and the next morning, after which she was never seen again. Nearly 20 years later when the case is reopened David moves to Galveston, TX and pretends to be a mute woman to escape the scrutiny.
While in Texas, David befriends his neighbor Morris Black, named Malvern Bump for the movie. Bump is later found dismembered; his body parts dumped in the Galveston Bay secured in black trash bags. David is arrested and tried for the murder of Bump, but found innocent.
The movie suggests that Deborah Lehrman came to Galveston to out David because he wasn’t answering her calls and pleas for money. While in his apartment, Bump kills her, thinking she is one of David’s problems. It also suggests that Lehrman was dressed as Katie the night and morning she was supposedly in the city, which would suggest that Katie never left their lake house in 1982. The movie doesn’t explicitly suggest that David is guilty in his wife’s disappearance, but it definitely suggests foul play with Lehrman being an accomplice.
Cinematically, it’s an interesting film that shed’s light on the fascinating case of Robert Durst in a very digestible manner. With that base of understanding let’s look at the HBO mini series.
Jarecki is back with All Good Things writer/producers Marc Smerling and Marcus Hinchey to present the first interview Robert Durst has given and to present his life in a more comprehensive way. Using trial transcripts, security video footage, archival interviews, reenactments and the Robert Durst interview, Jarecki, Smerling and Marcus weave a fantastic tale.
The story starts in Galveston, TX where we learn about Morris Black and his disturbing murder. The episode describes Durst living under an alias, dressing as a mute woman to hide from scrutiny. It’s the most recent death that is allegedly at the hands of Durst and it was a catalyst in Durst again appearing in the limelight.
The second episode turns back to Durst’s childhood, entitled “Poor Little Rich Boy” it tells the story of how Durst had everything he could ever ask for but was never happy. At the young age of seven Durst witnessed his mother’s suicide. His father, Seymour, brought Robert to the window to wave to his mother as she stood on the roof, preparing to end it. Robert stood there until she leapt to her death. Durst has this dark, truly disturbing moment in his past, but has it turned him into a killer or was he always predestined to be the way he is?
Durst openly admits to hitting his wife and lying to the police. He says he and his wife argued the night she disappeared and he even hit her that evening. He also lied to police, saying he went on a walk that evening and called her in the city from a payphone as well as lying about having a drink with the neighbor after dropping Kathie off at the train station. Durst tells Jarecki in the interview, “Yeah that’s what I told the police, I was hoping that would make everything go away, I didn’t go to the Mayor’s, I took her to the train station, went home and went to sleep.”
Episode three describes the relationship of Durst and Susan Berman and her ultimate disappearance. She was the daughter of a Vegas mobster and had gained notoriety for a book, Easy Street: The True Story of a Mob Family. Robert and Susan became fast friend with Durst while at UCLA. 20 years after the disappearance of Kathie Durst, Susan Berman is targeted as a person to talk to. As a confidant and close friend to Durst she might have information on the missing Kathie. She winds up murdered, execution style, in her Benedict Canyon home.
Episode four digs into the genius defense that Durst’s lawyer Dick DeGuerin used. Durst was only on trial for the murder of Morris Black, not the dismemberment of his body. DeGuerin argued that Black was murdered in self-defense after he was found sitting in Durst’s Galveston apartment crazed with a gun in his hand. After a struggle the gun goes off killing Morris Black. One of the most important things DeGuerin did was humanize the sterile, emotionless Robert Durst. While the prosecution couldn’t provide evidence that the murder was not self-defense, the jury had no choice but to acquit.
Jarecki and company do a fantastic job of laying out the facts without playing sides. This is not a “self-indulgent work of fiction,” as Jordan Barowitz, a spokesperson for the Durst family, predicted it might be. Everything is put out to the public in a factual manner. Robert’s intentions and feeling are laid out in the Jarecki/Durst interview that peppers each episode. If Jarecki thinks he is innocent, he does a good job of keeping that under wraps and letting you decide for yourself.
It’s easy to binge on the first four episodes before the final two premiere on the coming two Sundays, but here is a list of facts presented thus far to help you figure out a verdict of your own.
- 1973 Kathie McCormack and Robert Durst get married. In 1976 Kathie becomes pregnant and Robert makes her get an abortion. Their marriage continues to deteriorate until she disappears in February of 1982.
- In 2000 a newly arrested man offers up new information on the disappearance of Kathie Durst. Robert Durst moves to Galveston, TX and dresses up as a mute woman to throw anyone off his trail, to hide from the scrutiny he is sure to face with the reopening of his wife’s case.
- On December 24th, 2000 the body of Susan Berman is found in her home. She has been murdered execution style, a style used by the mob. The timing is incredibly coincidental, as she has been noted to possibly know something about the missing Kathie Durst due to her closeness to Robert Durst.
- In 2001 Robert Durst is arrested for the murder of Morris Black. He is put on trial and is acquitted by a jury.
- Durst is familiar with cross-dressing and could have dressed as his wife all those years ago. He is also able to dismember a body as evidenced by the events in Galveston.
The final scene of episode four shows Jarecki asking for a quick break in the interview. While the mics are still hot Durst begins repeating, “I did not knowingly or purposefully lie,” with slight variations of wording and inflection. His lawyer immediately comes over and tells him the mics are still hot and they could hear everything that he just said. Durst stumbles for just a second before he covers by saying, “It’s a question of not what do I say, but how do I say it… I did not tell the whole truth, nobody tells the whole truth”
Maybe Durst really is just a jinx and death just follows him. Then again, maybe he did have a hand in the killings.
Steve Pipps is a Chicago-based freelance writer. He enjoys writing for both the screen and TV. Follow him on Twitter @stevepipps or check out his website stevenpipps.com