The trial of Robert Durst, the infamous murder suspect who was the focus of HBO’s acclaimed 2015 “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” documentary miniseries, began this week. Also on trial: “The Jinx.”
Durst, a 76-year-old millionaire heir to a New York real estate fortune, is on trial in Los Angeles for the murder of Susan Berman, who was found dead via a gunshot in the back of her head in late 2000. Los Angeles County prosecutors began presenting their case that Durst murdered Berman, his longtime friend, to 12 jurors in a trial that is expected to last up to five months.
It didn’t take long for “The Jinx,” which centered on three murders Durst has been suspected of since 1982 and featured interviews with the millionaire, to come up during the Los Angeles trial. Jurors were played the final clip of “The Jinx,” where Durst, presumably unaware his microphone was still on, muttered to himself, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.” Durst was arrested on first-degree murder charges related to Berman the day before the finale of “The Jinx” was released.
It was a stunning way to conclude the series, and prosecutors have argued that the quotes amount to a confession. Despite this, the New York Times reported in April 2019 that Durst’s remarks in the final scene of “The Jinx” were significantly edited and were presented out of order. The publication suggested that Durst’s lawyers would call on the documentary filmmakers as witnesses and argue that they essentially acted in collusion with law enforcement.
That has yet to happen, but given the contentious nature of the series’ final quotes, it’s likely that much like Durst, “The Jinx” will be subject to considerable legal scrutiny in the coming months.
While “The Jinx” catapulted Durst, who has claimed he was high on meth while participating in the series, back into the media spotlight, the HBO series wasn’t the first time the accused murderer has been subject to significant media attention.
The first crime Durst was investigated for was the disappearance of wife Kathleen McCormack Durst in 1982. The two married in 1973 and initially enjoyed a life of luxury, but Kathleen went missing some time after their relationship soured. Her disappearance made waves in the media – The New York Post ran a headline that read, “VANISHES! Search for beautiful wife of developer” — and Durst told the publication through Berman, his longtime friend, that he wanted to find her. Though Durst’s friends and family quickly suspected him and the case was reopened in 1999, Durst was never charged with Kathleen’s disappearance. Durst divorced her eight years after her apparent disappearance for spousal abandonment.
Berman, the daughter of Las Vegas mobster David Berman, was found murdered in her Beverly Hills home 18 years after Kathleen’s disappearance. The city’s police department received a one-word note that read “cadaver” several days after the murder. Durst, who previously gave Berman $50,000, told “The Jinx” filmmakers that only the killer could’ve written the note and he admitted to writing the note in a court filing made public in December 2019. The series also featured a videotape where Durst noted that Berman called him shortly before her murder saying that police had contacted her to discuss the death of Kathleen.
Durst was arrested less than a year after Berman’s murder for an unrelated killing. In September 2001 a family discovered various body parts while fishing in a Texas bay; a police officer discovered arms and legs in nearby garbage bags shortly after the discovery. The bags included an address to the apartment of Morris Black, Durst’s elderly neighbor. Durst was arrested shortly after but was released on $300,000 bail; an arrest warrant was issued after he failed to appear several days later.
Durst was caught shortly after and went on trial for the murder of Black in 2003. Durst convinced the jury that Black had been holding his gun and argued that he was killed during a struggle when the gun accidentally went off. Though Durst admitted he cut Black’s limbs off afterwards, the jury acquitted him of murder.
Years later, Durst would agree to participate in “The Jinx,” where he’d also admit to attacking his first wife and lying to investigators. Durst is only on trial for the killing of Berman but thanks to the notoriety of the documentary series, prosecutors will likely make ongoing note of Kathleen and Black’s deaths in the coming weeks and months.