not in our stars, but in ourselves
Spoilers, I guess:
I’ve been watching The Jinx every Sunday for the past six weeks, and it certainly hasn’t disappointed with its grand finale: not only did it include audio of Robert Durst, apparently unaware (or unbothered) that he was still wearing a live mic, muttering that he’d “killed them all” (his wife, Kathie; friend, Susan Berman; and elderly neighbor, Morris Black); it was also just preceded by news that Durst had been arrested for Berman’s murder when he checked into a hotel in New Orleans on Saturday the 14th.
In case you didn’t watch the series, and also don’t know how to use the internet, here’s the gist: Durst is the oldest son of an extremely powerful and wealthy family of New York developers. In 1982, his wife “disappeared” and was never heard from or seen again. In 2000, around the time Westchester County law enforcement found new evidence in Kathie’s disappearance, Berman was found shot in her home, execution-style, most likely by someone she knew and had let in. An anonymous note to the “Beverley” Hills police alerted them to a “cadaver” at her address. Durst was proven to be in California at the time. In 2001, Durst moved to Galveston, TX; dressed as a woman – a mute woman, at that; and killed (and dismembered) his neighbor, Black. He was acquitted. Other members of the Durst family took out orders of protection against him at various times throughout the 2000s, because they were afraid of what he might do to them. Director Andrew Jarecki released a film called All Good Things in 2010, a fictionalized version of Kathie’s disappearance – proven to be an outright murder in the film – and Durst contacted Jarecki. He suggested making a documentary about the three cases, with Durst telling his side of the story. Jarecki agreed, and began producing The Jinx. During the course of production, Berman’s stepson found a letter from Durst among her personal effects – with the same handwriting and the same misspelled “Beverley” as the “cadaver” note to police. Jarecki decided to call Durst in for one last interview, in which he would show them the two letters and envelopes, and see how he would react. While Durst denied writing the “cadaver” note (despite not being able to tell which “Beverley Hills” was from which envelope), he went to the bathroom after the interview was over – and seems to have confessed to three murders while he was there.
That’s an awful lot of crazy to digest, so I’ll let it sink in before I editorialize.
All set? Okay.
It really does beggar belief that Durst has managed to elude actual conviction for any of these three crimes, until you consider that he has almost unlimited resources and is a white man. (That clause seems almost tautological.) His defense team in Galveston successfully had him diagnosed as autistic – Asperger’s, specifically – and argued that that was the reason he reacted as he did when he defended himself against Black in an argument and then decided to cut up the body, rather than call the cops. The jury bought it. He’ll hire a similarly high-powered legal team (and possibly the exact same one) to fight the charges in the Berman case. They’re already trying to argue that the recording doesn’t mean what everyone thinks it means: it’s just him mumbling to himself, perhaps role-playing, perhaps just gone off his rocker a bit, doot doot doot. And maybe the tape will be admissible as evidence in court, maybe it won’t. Those trying to argue that he didn’t know he was miked are wrong, according to Jarecki: he knew, because he’d been interviewed extensively before, and even encountered the same problem – talking to himself during a break, when his mic was still live, repeating, “I did not knowingly lie” as if rehearsing.
I assume that the additional publicity brought by The Jinx will prove, at best, to be a double-edged sword. On one side, Jarecki et al. managed to do what law enforcement in three states couldn’t, as ex-D.A. Jeanine Pirro put it: trace Durst’s actions, lies, motives, and methods through each case. They uncovered new evidence, and even – in the case of this recorded confession – created some more. On the other side, it’s still largely circumstantial. Durst’s lawyers will probably be able to lawyer their way through it all, unless the L.A.P.D. and/or F.B.I. really have some startling new evidence.
Frankly, I think he’ll probably be acquitted again. And that’s terrible news for the families of the three victims – but maybe the poetic justice of conviction-by-documentary-miniseries will have to suffice. As I’ve ranted and raved before, sometimes a project’s legacy can’t be measured in official awards or accolades or decisions; it’s just measured in cultural memory. Enough people are now convinced of his guilt in all three murders that, whatever a jury finds, he’ll continue to be known as the world’s wealthiest living serial killer. Is it enough? Hardly. But it’s something, anyway.