Before ‘The Jinx: Part 2,’ here’s what to remember about Robert Durst from Mashable

With The Jinx: Part Two coming to Max, you might be scratching your brain trying to recall all the relevant details unfurled in the groundbreaking true crime series’ first half. So let’s look back. 

On February 8, 2015, HBO released Andrew Jarecki’s six-part documentary series entitled The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, about the New York real estate scion and his suspected role in the disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen “Kathie” McCormack Durst; the death of his neighbor Morris Black; and the murder of his best friend Susan Berman. The series doggedly detailed all three cases, with the help of Durst. Intrigued by Jarecki’s 2010 film All Good Things, which was inspired by the then-unsolved missing persons case of Kathie, he reached out to the filmmaker, giving unprecedented access to the production team. 

In November 2023, less than a year after Durst’s death at age 78, HBO announced that The Jinx: Part Two would premiere on April 21, 2024. With six new episodes, the series continues with Chapter 7 and takes viewers through Durst’s final trial and last days. But if you’ve not got the time — or maybe the wherewithal — to rewatch the first six episodes, here’s everything you need to know about Robert Durst and The Jinx. 

Who was Robert Durst? 

Credit: Courtesy of HBO

Though born the eldest son of New York real estate magnate Seymour Durst, Robert Durst spent much of his adult life known for his alleged criminal activities. 

The Durst Organization, which was formed by Robert’s grandfather Joseph, is a sprawling real estate conglomerate, responsible for both commercial and residential properties across NYC; the family itself is worth $8.1 billion. Under Seymour’s purview, the Durst Organization altered the city skyline, developing the Bank of America Tower, the Conde Nast Building, and Four Times Square. 

As for Robert, he had no interest in working for the Durst Organization, and instead opened a health food store in Middlebury, Vermont, called All Good Things. (Yes, the title of Jarecki’s narrative film came from this store.) Durst returned to New York in 1973, but it was his younger brother Douglas who took over the Durst Organization when Seymour retired in 1992. By this time, Robert was already a suspect in the disappearance of his wife, Kathie. 

Robert severed ties with his family, who settled the lawsuit he brought against them in 2006 for $65 million. But his acrimonious relationship with his family, in particular with his younger brother, Douglas, continued. None of his siblings spoke with Jarecki for The Jinx, despite repeated attempts. In August of 2013, Durst was arrested for violating a restraining order placed against him by Douglas. This arrest is a major element of Chapter 6 of The Jinx, happening ahead of Durst’s final on-camera interview with Jarecki. 

Durst was later acquitted on trespassing charges, successfully arguing that he could not have known where Douglas lived. 

When did Kathie McCormack Durst go missing? 

A photo of Robert Durst and former wife Kathie McCormack on their wedding day in 1973 is shown while Robert Durst takes the stand and testifies in 2021.
Credit: Photo by Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

On January 31, 1982, Kathie disappeared after spending time with friends at a get-together in Newtown, Connecticut. Her friend Gilberte Najamy spoke to The Jinx producers in Part One, recounting how she noticed Kathie was not only upset but underdressed, which was out of character for her. In the doc, Najamy also notes that Kathie said something cryptic before leaving: “Promise me if something happens, you’ll check it out.”

Later in the evening, Kathie got a call from her husband and left Najamy’s house for the couple’s home in South Salem, New York. She was supposed to meet Najamy in Manhattan at a future date. When Kathie never showed up, Najamy called the police. It was later that same week that Robert Durst reported his wife missing. According to Durst, he dropped Kathie off at the train station on the night of January 31, 1982, after an argument, and never heard from his wife again. 

Three weeks later, Kathie’s possessions were found in the trash compactor at their Riverside Drive apartment. In The Jinx, her loved ones recall realizing Durst was throwing away her things and told producers this seemed a sign that Durst knew she wasn’t coming back. 

At the house in South Salem, Kathie’s friends found unopened mail, as well as a list in Durst’s garbage that read “town dump, bridge, dig, boat, other, shovel, car or truck rental.” (This note is shown in The Jinx, and police speculate it was Durst’s murder to-do list.) The housekeeper reported not only a small amount of blood on the dishwasher, but being instructed by Durst to throw out his wife’s personal items. 

At the time of Kathie’s disappearance, the couple had been married for nearly ten years. They first met in 1971, when 19-year-old Kathie McCormack moved into a Durst-owned building Robert (then 28) was overseeing. On their second date, he asked McCormack to move with him to Vermont, and she agreed. In Middlebury, she assumed much of the responsibility for the business, since Durst had a marijuana habit that impacted his ability to stick to a schedule. By the end of 1972, Durst decided to sell the store. In 1973, Durst and McCormack returned to New York and got married. 

According to Kathie’s family members, as well as her diary, she suffered domestic abuse at the hands of Durst, including being “slapped and punched,” as well as one incident in 1976 when he threw water on her head on her way to obtain an abortion — which she’d been ordered to get by Durst himself. In The Jinx, Durst admits to hitting her, noting he can’t remember the first time. 

At the time of her disappearance, 29-year-old Kathie was in her last year of medical school at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Robert Durst has said she went back to Manhattan because she had a Monday morning class. She never appeared, but police believed she’d made it back to her Manhattan apartment as a woman called into the school, claiming to be Kathie. The voice on the phone said she was ill and would be skipping the class. It has been speculated by investigators that the call was actually made by Berman. 

Eight years after Kathie’s disappearance, in 1990, Durst claimed “spousal abandonment” and divorced her. In December 2000, Durst married Debrah Lee Charatan, a New York real estate agent, and a major fixture in the The Jinx; it was she who helped him post the $250,000 bail when he was arrested in the murder of Morris Black. 

Who killed Susan Berman? 

Deputy District Attorney John Lewin begins opening statements in the 2021 trial of Robert Durst, who is charged with the murder of Susan Berman in Benedict Canyon in 2000.
Credit: AL SEIB / POOL / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

Writer Susan Berman was counted as one of Durst’s best friends when she was found shot to death in her Los Angeles home on December 24, 2000. Berman supported Durst when allegations that he was involved in McCormack’s disappearance arose, and she ran interference between him and the press. She provided a deposition for him, and maybe even an alibi.

The author of Easy Street, a memoir about growing up as the daughter of organized crime figure David Berman, she was described as having a “mob-infused sense of loyalty to her friends and to Mr. Durst in particular.” According to her friend Miriam Barnes, Berman told her, “I did something today for Bobby. If anything ever happens to me, Bobby did it.” In The Jinx, other friends noted that at the time of her death, Berman was a failed screenwriter desperate for money, and asking to borrow from friends. 

In 2000, Berman agreed to speak with Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, who was reopening the investigation into McCormack’s disappearance. Weeks after news of the refreshed investigation hit the media, Berman was found dead. The Jinx: Part One suggested — through interviews with Berman’s inner circle — that she might have suggested blackmail to Durst, and in response he killed her. 

After Berman’s murder, an anonymous note, which came to be known as the “cadaver letter”  was sent to the Beverly Hills police department. Written in block letters with the misspelling “Beverley” on the envelope, this missive included Berman’s address and the word “cadaver.”  

Did Robert Durst kill Morris Black? 

Following Berman’s murder, Durst moved to Galveston, Texas, in April 2001. There — as depicted by Ryan Gosling in All Good Things —  he lived in disguise as a mute woman named Dorothy Ciner. (The real Ciner was a classmate of Durst’s at Scarsdale High School). When asked why he opted to pose as mute, Durst explained, “My voice is very distinctive. People recognize my voice over the phone after having spoken to me for years. I just couldn’t imagine trying to make my voice sound like a woman’s.” 

During this time, he befriended his next door neighbor, 71-year-old Morris Black. When Black’s body was later found dismembered floating in Galveston Bay, Durst was arrested on October 9, 2001.

Durst was released on $250,000 bail. After missing a hearing on October 16,  a warrant was issued for his arrest. On the run, he was picked up at a Wegmans grocery store in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, after shoplifting a sandwich (in spite of the fact that he had $500 in his pocket). In his rental car, police discovered Morris Black’s driver’s license, as well as directions to the Connecticut home of Gilberte Najamy, Kathie’s friend who contacted police when she first disappeared. 

In September 2003, on trial for the murder of Morris Black, Durst argued that he acted in self-defense, after Black threatened him with a gun that he had stolen from Durst’s oven. Once he realized Black was dead, Durst explained why he chose not to call the police: “I mean, even before I got to the point where the police were immediately going to look into who am I, Robert Durst, who happened to rent this apartment as Dorothy Ciner and find out that I am this wealthy guy who rented the apartment well below his means and there is all this media attention on him back in New York. I just didn’t think I would be believed. I didn’t think they would believe me.”

The Jinx detailed how Durst’s defense demonized NY prosecutor Pirro as a ruthlessly ambitious figure chasing an innocent widower, effectively earning sympathy for their client while explaining his gruesome disposal of Black’s body. (This was reflected in testimonials from the Texan jury.) 

Durst admitted to dismembering Black with the tools he found in the man’s apartment, after realizing his body would be too heavy to carry out of the building. On November 11, 2003, Durst was found not guilty in Black’s murder. After later pleading guilty to jumping bail and tampering with evidence, he was sentenced to five years with credit for time served. Durst was paroled in December 2005. Ordered to stay near home when paroled, he was arrested again for returning to the boarding house where Black was killed; Durst remained in prison until March 2006. 

Robert Durst confessed, “Killed them all.”

A screen displays a comparison of handwriting as Deputy District Attorney John Lewin speaks during the second day of the prosecution’s opening statement in the 2020 Robert Durst trial.
Credit: ROBYN BECK / POOL / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

During the making of The Jinx in late 2010, director Andrew Jarecki was given an envelope found by Berman’s stepson, Sareb Kaufman. It was addressed to Susan from Durst. The handwriting on the envelope, as well as a typo in the spelling of “Beverley Hills,” matched that of the “cadaver letter” sent to Beverly Hills police after Berman’s death. In the show, it’s an emotional moment for both Kaufman — who’d become close to Durst after Susan’s death — and Jarecki, who had new evidence to confront his subject with. 

When the climactic interview finally came — after many delays, including Durst’s aforementioned arrest for violating his brother’s restraining order — the alleged serial killer became flummoxed when confronted by Jarecki about the envelope, alongside a near-identical example of his own handwriting in their final on-camera interview.

With shaking hands, he says, “The writing looks similar and the spelling is the same, so I can see the conclusion the cops would draw.” Durst had admitted in a prior interview with Jarecki “only the killer could have written” the cadaver letter. But he maintained in this last interview, “I did not write the cadaver one.”

After this interview concluded, Durst asked to use the bathroom of the hotel room rented for the recording. Unaware his microphone was still on, he confessed to himself in the bathroom: “There it is, you’re caught. What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

The day before the finale episode of The Jinx aired on HBO, Durst was arrested for the murder of Susan Berman. It’s here where The Jinx: Part Two picks up.

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst is now streaming on Max.

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