There’s a lot of TV out there, and some of it discusses how messed up the American criminal justice system is and how unfair it may be depending on the economic class of the accused.
No, I’m not talking about Netflix’s Making a Murderer. I mean the HBO documentary mini-series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst about rich guy murder suspect Robert Durst.
What’s the premise?
Robert Durst is a wealthy real estate magnate in New York. He’s been in the center of two murders and one mysterious disappearance. Durst agreed to sit down with filmmaker Andrew Jarecki to explain his side of his life story in a series of interviews. Jarecki also interviews various lawyers, prosecutors, and the friends and family of Durst’s first wife Kathie, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances 30 years earlier.
What’s the appeal?
Whether Durst did the various crimes he has been suspected of or not, a look into the mind of any man who may or may not be a murderer has a certain fascination to it. True crime stories always attract attention, especially well-made ones, and HBO has a good reputation for its documentaries.
Anything stand out?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Durst is creepy. Even the odd blinks he gives during the interviews seem somehow…off. He doesn’t really admit to much of anything, but his own stories on what happened don’t add up. And then, at a certain point, he even admits to how some of the things he said to the police when Kathie disappeared were outright lies, and he doesn’t even offer a good explanation for why he’d tell a lie to begin with.
Here’s what’s known: Durst’s first wife disappeared without a trace. She’s probably dead somewhere. The police detective in charge treated her as a runaway spouse while her friends conducted their own investigations and couldn’t convince the NYPD to look into the possibility that there was a murder. Durst’s close friend Susan Berman acted as his chief spokesperson during that period…but then she died under mysterious circumstances in her home in Los Angeles just before she was supposed to talk to the West Chester County, New York District Attorney about Kathie Durst. Then Durst killed a neighbor and dismembered the body while living in Galveston, Texas, but was found not guilty by the jury when his defense team claimed self-defense and the prosecutors couldn’t prove otherwise, apparently a requirement for Texas state law.
How he didn’t get locked up for admitting to dismembering a corpse I have no idea.
Much of the evidence presented does point to Durst. The various murders are all different degrees of creepy, and the viewer gets the feeling only Durst knows what really happened and he isn’t telling. In point of fact, at the end of one interview, he is seen taking a break from questioning and then rehearsing possible answers for when the interview resumes only for his lawyer to walk out and remind him his microphone is still on. That actually leads to the final words of the mini-series…and I will say no more than that.
And for all that Durst seems to be a man with a high degree of control when he’s rehearsed, this man got caught initially when he shoplifted a hoagie from a supermarket. Even if he never killed anyone, he’s shady as hell.
Any down sides?
There’s a lot to get angry about here, starting with how closely the police looked into Kathie’s disappearance, to how Durst gets away with killing a neighbor because he can afford the best lawyers money can buy. The suggestion is rich people can get away with murder. That should angry up the blood something fierce. Durst admits he killed his Galveston neighbor, dismembered the body, and attempted to hide it. How he was walking around free after that is something else.
BONUS: Durst was arrested and charged with Berman’s murder shortly after the final episode originally aired, though that appears to be coincidental. I’m inclined to believe that because lawyers at the trial won’t want jurors that are already biased for or against a suspect, and a lot of people have HBO access these days…