Chapter Four of HBO’s compelling docu-series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst begins with a look into Durst’s prison living conditions. His standard cell included a television and a shower, arguably more than most prison cells are stereotypically believed to contain. Following that reveal, director Andrew Jarecki tosses in a brief monologue by Durst about the relatively poor and uneducated people who populate the prison.
“They called me Mr. Bob,” Durst relays. This “Mr. Bob” was probably also the only occupant with multiple defenders costing several hundred thousand dollars. Let’s see (staying ignorant of spoilers) what money buys him…
Durst’s trial and the ensuing media circus for the Galveston crime depicted in Chapter One finally kick into gear. Director Andrew Jarecki gives us highlights of the trial over the episode, starting with the prosecution’s deliberately graphic opening arguments and countering that with the defense’s “Robert Durst is really a very nice guy” defense. Their initial evidence to this point? Durst had on him a photograph of his first girlfriend when he was arrested. Evidence be damned! He’s a really nice guy…
Durst took the stand as the first witness for the defense. He begins to discuss anxiety over New York tabloid’s re-opening of the Kathie Durst disappearance. This, according to the Durst defense team, is why he was living in Galveston as a woman. He no longer wanted to be Robert Durst. Plus, he was depicted as the “unfair” object of the political ambition of Jeanine Pirro, drawn as an overly ambitious woman using prosecution of Durst as a political springboard. Apparently, thanks to interviews with Durst’s jury, this argument had some weight with the jury.
Durst’s examination continues as he recounts his bizarre interaction (in the persona of a mute woman) with murder victim Morris Black. They had brief exchanges, and Black is drawn as a cantankerous old man. According to Durst, he (again, dressed as a mute woman) became “good friends” with Morris Black over a TV show – Wall Street Week. Then, Durst decided to abandon his disguise, which apparently Black fully accepted. How this friendship hasn’t spawned the greatest David Lynch film ever made, I’ll never know…
We finally get to the details of Morris Black’s death. According to Durst, Black received an eviction notice and, naturally upset, shot at the eviction notice. Black’s mental state allegedly continued to deteriorate, and Durst claimed Black entered his rented apartment gaining possession of Durst’s gun. There was a struggle, and, again allegedly, Durst’s gun went off, killing Black instantly. Questions remained, though, about the true nature of their relationship. Were they really as close as Durst claimed? Did Black research Durst’s true identity? If Black was to be evicted, then did he blackmail Durst?
Subsequent evidence from Black’s body and from the scene of the crime immediately throws doubt on Durst’s story. The eviction note never had a bullet hole in it as Durst claimed. Neighbors claimed to hear two shots instead of one. Black’s dismembered torso had unexplained bruises, potentially indicating a fight or a violent struggle. And then there’s the question of the dismemberment. If Black accidentally died, then why cut the body up into twenty pieces and dump it in Galveston Bay? Durst failed to provide any solid answers except that it seemed like a great idea under the influence of dope and booze. That must have been some really powerful dope.
Durst eerily describes the dumping of the body (he stashed the torso in a Wal-Mart suitcase), and Jarecki cuts to his defense team describing the hours of preparation they undertook to make him look less like a cold-blooded killer. See, according to the defense attorneys, Durst had a problem of describing the dissection of the body in such clinical, cold detail as to appear callous about the situation. This segment leads us to the gem of the episode (these are Durst’s words): “I did not kill my best friend. I did dismember him.”
You really can’t script anything better than this.
As I suspected when I reviewed the beginning of the series, The Jinx can only rise and fall based on the persona of its subject, and Andrew Jarecki’s ability to pull detail and cooperation from Robert Durst is incredible. Hearing Durst as he describes the events surrounding Morris Black’s murder – not only in the recording court proceedings but also in the live interview recorded years later – is completely chilling. In my opinion, he is as terrifying as any horror icon. This guy is real. This guy, this wealthy New York real estate heir, allegedly took the head from the bag dumped in Galveston Bay because he wanted to hide the true nature of the crime. If Black had been shot in the back of the head, then Durst’s story completely falls apart. The head was never found. This saga is as bone chilling as Durst’s black eyes.
Both sides rest their case after six weeks, and the trial goes to jury. They eventually returned a verdict of “not guilty.” Amazingly. The relief Durst expressed at his acquittal was the only emotion he showed during the entire proceedings. Well, the only emotion displayed in what Jarecki chooses to show us, I should say. The jurors apparently completely believed Durst’s words with no more than three people ever agreeing to a “guilty” verdict. Durst was tried based on Black’s murder, after all, not the dismemberment. In the eyes of the jury, Morris Black was accidentally killed by Robert Durst’s gun during a struggle.
This chapter was a compelling, emotional hour. For better or for worse, this is our jury system, but you can’t help, based on Jarecki’s construction of the proceedings, feel that Durst’s massive fortune and two attorneys bought him a “not guilty” verdict. As Jarecki pauses the interview segment, Durst begins mumbling something to himself while the mic is still hot: “I did not knowingly, purposefully lie.” He repeats this over and over with slight variations before being shushed by his attorney.
The statement could be taken wildly out of context, but – after an hour of dismemberment, missing heads, and Durst in drag – it is another eerie and puzzling piece in the puzzle that is Robert Durst.