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May 28, 2024

‘The Jinx Part Two’ revisits the Robert Durst saga of murder and mystery

The case of Robert Durst, the notorious real estate scion accused of eluding justice for decades in the mysterious deaths of three people, exploded nine years ago in what appeared to be a rambling confession during the finale of an HBO documentary series about his life, when he famously muttered: “Killed them all, of course.”

Durst was arrested on the eve of the finale of the HBO docuseries “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst’’ in 2015. He was put on trial and convicted for the death of a confidant and indicted separately in the death and disappearance of his first wife.

Durst died serving a life sentence in 2022, but since the original series, director Andrew Jarecki continued chronicling the story for a second season, “The Jinx Part Two,” which premiered April 21 on HBO. The new season reveals the events leading up to Durst’s arrest, as well as his bombshell trial in Beverly Hills, California, in the killing of his friend and his eventual conviction. 

With renewed attention on the saga of Robert Durst, below is a recap of what led to “The Jinx Part Two.” 

Robert Durst.Courtesy HBO

Who was Robert Durst?

Robert Durst was born April 12, 1943, the oldest son of New York real estate magnate Seymour Durst, whose family Durst Organization is connected to some of New York City’s most iconic buildings. 

Today, the Durst Organization owns and manages “13 million square feet of premiere Manhattan office towers and over three million square feet of residential rental properties with 3,400 rental apartments built, and over 3,500 in the pipeline,” according to its website. Forbes estimates the family fortune at more than $8 billion. 

Robert Durst was raised in Scarsdale, New York, in Westchester County. His mother, Bernice, died after she fell from the roof of the family home in 1950, and while reports at the time said she died by accident, according to The New York Times, family members acknowledge privately that she died by suicide. 

Robert Durst and Susan Berman.Courtesy HBO

In the “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” the man at the center of the docuseries claimed he witnessed his mother’s death, a claim his younger brother Douglas Durst, a real estate developer, has denied.

In the 1990s, Durst became estranged from his family after his father entrusted Douglas Durst with taking charge of the family business. He then sued the family and took a $65 million payout in 2006.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that if he had the opportunity to kill me, he would,” Douglas Durst told the Times in 2015.

Durst’s life was surrounded by the mysterious 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, the execution-style murder of Susan Berman in 2000 and the death in 2001 of an elderly Texas neighbor, Morris Black, whose body he admitted dismembering and dumping in Galveston Bay.

Durst’s fall came when he was arrested in 2015 in Berman’s killing, after he had long been suspected of being responsible in all three cases, with critics believing his money and status shielded him from justice for decades.

Robert Durst is escorted into Orleans Parish Prison after his arraignment in New Orleans, on March 17, 2015.Gerald Herbert / AP file

The disappearance of Kathie Durst

In 1973, Durst married Kathie McCormack on his 30th birthday, two years after he met her in Vermont in 1971.

She was 29 years old and three months away from finishing medical school when she disappeared in 1982. Durst told police that he had dropped her off at a train station because she had classes the next day in Manhattan and that he never saw her again. Her body has never been found.

Kathleen Durst, the first wife of Robert Durst.courtesy of HBO

Friends and family have long believed Durst was responsible for his first wife’s disappearance and death. Jim McCormack, her brother, previously told “Dateline” that Durst was physically and mentally abusive toward Kathie.

Her disappearance once again drew public and police interest after the airing of “The Jinx,” in which inconsistencies in Durst’s stories were coming to light. 

Who was Susan Berman?

Durst met Susan Berman, a friend until her death who was known as the daughter of a mob boss, in the 1960s while he was pursuing a doctoral program at UCLA before he dropped out and returned to New York.

He even walked Berman down the aisle at her wedding in 1984, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Nick Chavin, Susan Berman and Robert Durst.Courtesy HBO

Berman, a writer who had struggled on and off financially, had also previously borrowed money from Durst. 

She was found dead in her home in Benedict Canyon in Los Angeles in December 2000, shot point-blank in the back of the head. 

She was killed just over a month after word got out that New York State Police were reopening their investigation into the disappearance of Kathie Durst. Prosecutors have said that Berman helped Durst cover up Kathie’s disappearance and death and that Durst killed her as she was preparing to potentially confess her role to law enforcement. 

Author Susan Berman and Robert Durst.Courtesy HBO

What happened to Morris Black?

After Berman was murdered, Durst moved to Galveston, Texas, and sought to conceal his name and identity. There, he assumed the name Dorothy Ciner and was disguising himself as a woman.

He was arrested in October 2001 after garbage bags containing the dismembered body parts of Durst’s elderly neighbor, Morris Black, were found in Galveston Bay. 

Durst posted $250,000 bail and went on the run until he was arrested again in Pennsylvania when he was caught trying to shoplift. 

Put on trial in Texas, he claimed that he killed Black in self-defense, and he was acquitted in November 2003.

Robert Durst, left, at a pretrial hearing in Galveston, Texas on Aug. 18, 2003.Kevin Bartram / Galveston County Daily News via AP file

‘The Jinx’ and the aftermath

The first season of “The Jinx” became a true-crime sensation that captivated millions, featuring long interviews with Durst and including new inconsistencies, key friends, family and police, as well as re-enactments of his past and, in the final episodes, bombshell evidence tying him to Berman’s killing.

Durst was arrested in New Orleans in 2015, the night before the finale of “The Jinx” was scheduled to air. 

In the final scene, after an interview in which he was confronted with evidence, Durst, wearing a hot microphone, can be heard in the bathroom in a rambling speech in which he says to himself: “There it is, you’re caught,” as well as “I’m having difficulty with the questions. What the hell did I do?” and the now infamous “Killed them all, of course.”

Robert Durst is sentenced to life without possibility of parole at the Airport Courthouse in Inglewood, Calif., on Oct. 14, 2021, for killing Susan Berman. Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times Pool via AP file

Durst pleaded not guilty to killing Berman, but after a dramatic trial, he was sentenced to life in prison for her murder in 2021.

The same year, he was indicted in the murder of Kathie Durst in 1982

“Those of us in law enforcement who are always seeking to do better by victims can and should look at how this case was handled and what if anything we can learn about the early stages of criminal investigations, especially those where individuals with status, wealth and power are implicated,” Mimi Rocah, the Westchester County district attorney, said a year later, in 2022.

Durst, 78, had already died in January 2022, in a California hospital while he was serving life in prison for Berman’s murder.

Daniella Silva

Daniella Silva is a national reporter for NBC News, focusing on immigration and education.

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