Home » ‘The Jinx’ Director Tells All on Robert Durst’s Downfall

‘The Jinx’ Director Tells All on Robert Durst’s Downfall

Nine years after it concluded with the most shocking confession in true-crime history, The Jinx has returned to HBO with additional jaw-dropping details, theories, and surprises about the late, murderous real estate heir Robert Durst.

Director Andrew Jarecki’s legendary docuseries doesn’t miss a beat with The Jinx—Part Two, digging into Durst’s plans to flee the country, his arrest on the eve of the show’s 2015 finale, and his trial in Los Angeles for the 2000 murder of his best friend Susan Berman—a crime that came on the heels of his acquittal for the slaying (and subsequent dismemberment) of his Galveston, Texas neighbor Morris Black, and which was intimately related to the 1982 disappearance of his first wife Kathie. Featuring an expanded cast of unbelievable characters, it’s a riveting follow-up that enhances the legacy of Jarecki’s non-fiction all-timer.

Whether another bombshell is lying in wait in The Jinx—Part Two is, for now, anyone’s guess. Yet the sequel is nothing if not endlessly intriguing, courtesy of its access to Durst’s prison phone calls as well as its interviews with a variety of his closest confidants and prosecutor John Lewin, who was tasked with convicting Durst of first-degree homicide. Jarecki remains the finest director in the docuseries field, laying out his case with a canny patience and attention to detail that amplifies his material’s suspense—an amazing feat considering that the fate of Durst (who died in 2022) is by now quite well-known. With his latest, he reveals even more of Durst’s tangled allegiances and calculating inner life, all while providing an up-close-and-personal view of the litigation that ultimately put the notorious killer behind bars.

For true-crime aficionados, the arrival of The Jinx—Part Two is akin to Christmas, July 4th and the Super Bowl combined. Consequently, on the eve of the series’ Sunday, April 21 debut, it was our pleasure to speak at length with Jarecki about everything Robert Durst and The Jinx.

The Jinx has, to my mind, true-crime’s greatest ending. From a storytelling standpoint, were you worried about having to live up to that legacy with Part Two?

It’s funny, I was talking to my friend the other day, and he’s one of those people who intentionally messes with you. He said to me, “How are you going to top the ending of the first season?”, which is my least favorite question. I said, I think what we’re going to do is pretty ingenious. Rather than trying to live up to that, we’re just going to replay the ending from the first season, because many people will get a lot out of seeing it for the second time! [laughs]

The truth is that this season—and I don’t even want to call it a season, because it’s part two of a thing that I think has a beginning, a middle and an end—is really about something different, thematically. It needed to have an ending that was more in keeping with the theme. The big Bob moment was much less relevant, not only because it had already happened but also because the story of Part Two is so different. It’s really an accumulation of surprises as opposed to everything hinging on one moment.

That original ending took on a life of its own.

Because that last moment in part one was so extraordinary and unusual, it a little bit overshadowed some of the more subtle but remarkable things. The moment that we had been waiting for, after all those months of trying to get Bob to come back and sit in the chair the second time, was not to confess; we had no idea that he confessed. In fact, we didn’t know for—and I just checked this yesterday—twenty-six months!

We had gone into that second interview with a tremendous, ridiculous, OCD level of preparation. If you’re into the podcast, which my partner Zac [Stuart-Pontier] is leading, he really gets into the story and uses a lot of the audio from the rehearsal, the day before, when Zac and I were doing a mock interview, and I was playing me and Zac was playing Bob. It’s extraordinary how on the money it was. We were really channeling Bob at that point. I could do his voice and Zac understood how he thought, so there’s this amazing moment when I show Zac the two letters and I say, can you tell me which one of these you didn’t write? Zac immediately says, well, I could see what conclusion the cops would draw, and block letters are really block letters, so is there really a difference? The next day, Bob is saying, block letters are block letters! It was really amazing. It almost looks like we did the mock thing after the Bob interview.

So for us, we were anticipating him not being able to tell the difference between those two pieces of handwriting. That’s why we’d made this exhibit where it only had the two pieces of handwriting, without any context. He’d say, oh, this is obviously me and this is obviously somebody else, and I’d respond, alright, let’s try it without the letter, let’s try it without you knowing which is which. I said, can you tell me which one of these you didn’t write, and there’s a pause and he says, “No.”

Courtesy of HBO

You assumed this was your home run.

We think we’re done! That’s our ending. Now we’ve got this piece of evidence that we think is going to be determinative if and/or when there’s a murder trial, and now we’ve got him reacting to it. Those two pieces together are going to make for a prosecution and also make for the ending of the series. That’s why we never even knew there was a bathroom confession.

When we’re done, as you remember, I shake hands with him, and I actually continue talking to him for about fifteen minutes, because I didn’t want to act like that was the mic drop and suddenly now I had him and I was going to walk away. Because that would have frightened him, and he would have gone on the run. He had already visited Cuba to scout places that he might need to go, and he went on some very strange trip with the Lubavitch contingency from New York. Bob’s not a religious guy, but here he is going with a bunch of rabbis to Cuba. So we knew there was going to be no problem if Bob wanted to flee.

It was very intentional that I didn’t say, “Oh my god, Bob, you’ve lost me. Now I finally realize that you’re guilty.” If I’d said that to him, it would have disrupted this relationship that we had, such as it was. Also, I knew it would make him very nervous. And in order to finish the series, there was a pretty good chance I’d need more from him, one way or another. I thought, I don’t want to have this be the big moment between us. So I downplay it. I kind of accept his flimsy explanation; when he says block letters are block letters, I say, oh yeah, OK.

Did you hear from him following that second interview?

Afterwards, I said to Zac, he’s going to call me tomorrow, because you know when you do something and you’re not sure how it played, and then the next day you think, should I call her? He did. He called me right on schedule, and it was like when a kid walks into a convenience store and he’s trying to buy beer and he knows he’s not allowed. “Oh, can I have that magazine and that comic book and those mints and that gun and a pack of that beer…” [laughs] I knew he was going to bury it in a series of other things.

He calls me and says, I had a couple of questions for you. He starts with, “What was that delicious tea they served at the Regency? That was wonderful, I’d like to get some of that for myself.” I was literally looking at my watch thinking, it’s coming! He gets through a few items and then says, “Oh, I wanted to ask you. When you see block letters…” Again, I just said, “Oh, yeah, I was listening, I understood what you said yesterday.”

I think he was really, really measuring my reaction, because he was trying to decide if he was going to have to go on the run. That’s why when [LA Deputy District Attorney John] Lewin says to him in episode one of Part Two, “Why are you still here?”, Bob says, I guess I just didn’t think I was going to be arrested. “Inertia, I guess.”

Can you walk me through the discovery of the confession recording? I imagine it must have been mind-blowing.

The reason we didn’t know Bob was doing anything in the bathroom is because we were so happy he had done what we thought he was going to do, by essentially being unable to explain the similarity in the handwriting, and then all the rubbing and the burping and this physical reaction. Then, we’re whispering, and I have a lavalier mic on, I think there’s another mic in the room, and he has a mic in the bathroom, and the sound guy—we actually have film of this—has headphones hanging around his neck because he thought we were done. But it was still recording. So all the stuff that Bob’s talking about in the bathroom, we didn’t hear.

26 months later, Shelby Siegel, one of our really great editors, was going through it and cleaning up audio tracks, and she looked on the monitor and saw Bob’s track was flat, and then there was a little squiggle. She thought, that’s interesting, why is there a squiggle on Bob’s waveform? She muted the other track and suddenly she heard Bob, and the first thing he says when he goes into the bathroom is, “There it is. You’re caught.” She screamed! She ran into the next room where Zac was and said you have to hear this. Zac was amazed, and then he said, I was there, and Bob was in the bathroom for like more than five minutes. So let’s see what else he said.

There was another drive that we hadn’t loaded onto the system that was the continuation of that whole bathroom audio. They loaded that up and called me, and my office is four blocks from my house so I just walked over there and we played it. We were all in this tiny edit room, on top of each other, pressed close to the speaker, trying to hear what he was saying. He goes through this incredible internal monologue, saying things about, “I don’t know what’s in the house,” which I always interpreted to mean the house in South Salem where Kathie disappeared. He says, “You wanted this,” talking to himself. And then when he says, “Killed them all, of course,” we didn’t know what to do with that. It was just so incredible that that could ever happen.

In Part Two’s premiere, you revisit the confession through the eyes of those who participated in the first series, who gather to watch the finale at your house. How and why did you keep Bob’s confession a secret from all of them for so long?

We knew that, obviously, it would have interfered with the experience of watching The Jinx. But more importantly, Bob would have gone on the run. At that point, we didn’t know what was going to happen with Bob. He was talking to [The New York Times reporter] Charlie Bagli between the episodes and saying, well, that one was pretty good, and ah, there wasn’t anything new there. That’s when he says, what could they possibly put in those last three episodes?

By the time the fifth episode plays, we had already been talking to law enforcement for a couple of years, and they obviously didn’t want that information to leak. Thus, it became a question of, how could I make Jim and his family know that they were going to finally get some measure of satisfaction. The idea of hearing Bob confess, after not just losing Kathie but also having been treated so badly by the Dursts. They thought that they were relatives, but after Kathie disappeared, the Dursts closed ranks and never spoke to the McCormack family or reached out. And it was worse than that. Seymour Durst and other people close to Bob had spoken to the tabloids and started a bit of a campaign about how Kathie was really a drunk and running around with men. They were ahead of the curve on victim shaming. They were pioneers.

That was so hurtful to the McCormacks, so the idea that suddenly, not only is there now The Jinx and millions will watch it and you’re going to feel vindicated, but you’re actually going to hear your sister’s killer finally admit to this thing that everybody’s been telling you, “Nobody really knows what happened, it’s so very hard to find out what happened.” That’s why Jim says in the episode, “You were going to show us something very special.” I think I said that to him, just to give him enough to be excited about, but not so much that he would call somebody [laughs].

Courtesy of HBO

Did you ever imagine that your life would become so intimately tied to Robert Durst? And now that Part Two is over, are you looking forward to moving on to something else?

Luckily, I’ve been able to make other things; we made Catfish and other stuff along the way. But I don’t really see it as one thing. I agree that there’s one central figure; Bob is the coat hanger here. But it was an opportunity to explore deeply human subject matter that really gives us a look into humanity and how people behave around each other and in extreme situations and around terrible events. There are twelve episodes of The Jinx, there’s All Good Things, and now there’s fifteen episodes of the podcast. They’re all different projects in a way. So that’s part of it.

I was talking to my wife about this. I have more random facts about Bob Durst in my mind, and you know how sometimes you go, why do I still have the television theme from some show that I saw when I was nine years old in my head? If I got back all that RAM and memory space, maybe I could do more complicated math problems or something? If you ask me a question like, what was the name of the landlord in Galveston in the rooming house where Bob stayed, I can say, that was Klaus Dillmann. And what did he say about Bob? He said he saw this middle-aged woman with a flat bust—that wouldn’t be my type!

There are so many little moments and odd things that I have buried in my brain, and I do think it’ll be in some way a relief to slide that hard drive out and be able to replace it with the un-Durst of some sort. I’ve been working on an investigative film for the last 5 and a half years, which has lived in the spaces between The Jinx. I’m going to have a chance to focus on those things, and I’m definitely looking forward to that, too.