Robert Durst in 'The Jinx'

‘The Jinx,’ Revisited: Everything You Need To Remember Before Part Two

HBO surprised everyone when it announced The Jinx – Part Two, a follow-up to the acclaimed 2015 documentary series about real estate heir and possible serial killer Robert Durst. Ahead of the series premiere, here’s everything you need to remember about The Jinx.

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The Jinx – Part Two premieres April 21 on HBO and explores what happened after the explosive final episode of The Jinx, in which Durst was caught on a hot mic confessing to the murders featured in the documentary. That’s the part most people remember, but you may have forgotten some of the finer details about Durst and his victims.

Who was Robert Durst?

Born in 1943 to New York real estate mogul Seymour Durst, Robert was the eldest of four children. Unlike his brother Douglas, who is also featured in The Jinx, Robert did not want to join their father in the real estate business. Robert’s mother, Bernice, took her own life when he was seven years old. In the documentary, Robert claims that his father brought him over to a window in the family home so he could watch his mother end her life. Robert and Douglas had a particularly contentious relationship that began in childhood, when they attended therapy for sibling rivalry. According to Durst biographer Matt Birkbeck, The Jinx left out a few important facts, including a note written by Durst’s psychiatrist in 1953. The psychiatrist observed that 10-year-old Durst had severe issues, among them “personality decomposition and possibly even schizophrenia.”

After graduating high school in Scarsdale, New York, Durst got his bachelor’s degree in economics and enrolled at UCLA, where he befriended classmate Susan Berman. Durst dropped out and moved back to New York for a short time. Uninterested in joining the family business, Durst relocated to Vermont, where he opened a health-food store in the early ’70s. It was around this time that he met and married Kathleen McCormack. At the behest of Durst’s father, the couple moved to New York and Durst began working for his father at the Durst Organization. In 1992, Seymour Durst appointed Douglas to run the company instead of Robert, who subsequently distanced himself from the family.

Robert Durst’s victims

In January 1982, Kathleen McCormack was a few months away from graduating from medical school, where she was studying to become a pediatrician, when she disappeared. McCormack was last seen at a dinner party, where a friend observed that she was dressed in an unusually casual manner. After receiving a phone call from Durst, McCormack left for her home in South Salem, New York. Durst copped to arguing with McCormack that night, but claimed that he sent her home to Manhattan on a train before checking in with her over the phone later in the evening. Three weeks later, McCormack’s personal belongings were found in the trash compactor of the couple’s apartment building. During the investigation, it was discovered that McCormack had been treated for facial injuries at a local hospital a few weeks before her disappearance, and that she confided in a friend about Durst’s abuse. McCormack had also asked her husband for $250,000 in a divorce settlement; in retaliation, Durst cut McCormack off financially and withheld payment for her school tuition.

McCormack’s body was never found and Durst was never formally charged with involvement in her disappearance. Years before making The Jinx, filmmaker Andrew Jarecki directed All Good Things, a narrative film based on Durst and McCormack’s marriage, starring Ryan Gosling as Durst (the nerve) and Kirsten Dunst as McCormack.

On December 24, 2000, Susan Berman was found dead in her Los Angeles home, the victim of an apparent execution-style shooting. The police investigation revealed that Berman had recently received $50,000 from Durst, who was in California at the time of her murder and flew back to New York the night before her body was found. The police had also received an anonymous letter, dated December 23, tipping them off to a “cadaver” at Berman’s home. In the final episode of The Jinx, Durst was confronted with the letter alongside one he sent to Berman; the handwriting was extremely similar, and in both letters, the word Beverly was misspelled as “Beverley.” In 2005, Durst claimed that Berman called him up and said she was being asked to give a deposition in the McCormack case.

It’s unclear if Berman was ever actually contacted by investigators about the case, but Durst was already spooked: In October 2000, Durst’s sister told him that the McCormack investigation had been reopened, prompting Durst to flee to Galveston, Texas. Wearing a wig and women’s clothes, Durst pretend to be a mute woman to avoid answering questions. On October 9, 2001, Durst was arrested after the dismembered body parts of his neighbor, Morris Black, were discovered in Galveston Bay. Durst was released on bail, but a warrant was issued for his arrest when he skipped a court hearing. On November 30, Durst was arrested again, this time in Pennsylvania, where he was caught shoplifting. While searching his car, police found $37,000 in cash along with Morris Black’s driver’s license, two guns, and directions to the home of Gilberte Najamy—McCormack’s friend and the last person who saw her alive.

On trial for Black’s murder in 2003, Durst claimed self-defense and used a psychiatrist’s diagnosis of Asperger syndrome to justify his behavior. Black’s head was never recovered, making it difficult to verify or discredit Durst’s account of the incident. The jury acquitted Durst of the murder, and about a year later, he pled guilty to bail jumping and evidence tampering, the latter with regards to Black’s dismemberment.

Durst went to prison in December 2004. Upon his release in 2005, he violated parole and was sent back to prison until March 2006.

The Jinx

After All Good Things hit theaters in 2010, Durst contacted filmmaker Andrew Jarecki to share his positive review of the film. Jarecki recorded several conversations with Durst, which were included as a bonus feature on the physical media release. Jarecki teamed with Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier to write and develop The Jinx, an HBO docuseries about Durst’s life and the murder allegations.

While filming the series, Susan Berman’s son discovered the letter from Durst and the similarities between it and the “cadaver” letter sent to police the day before Berman’s body was discovered. The filmmakers sent the letter to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which indicted Durst for Berman’s murder.

As the final episode of The Jinx aired on HBO—and as viewers heard Durst confessing to the murders, unaware he was still being recorded—the FBI arrested Durst in New Orleans. As for what happened next, you’ll have to watch The Jinx – Part Two to find out.

(featured image: HBO)


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Author
Britt Hayes
Britt Hayes (she/her) is an editor, writer, and recovering film critic with over a decade of experience. She has written for The A.V. Club, Birth.Movies.Death, and The Austin Chronicle, and is the former associate editor for ScreenCrush. Britt's work has also been published in Fangoria, TV Guide, and SXSWorld Magazine. She loves film, horror, exhaustively analyzing a theme, and casually dissociating. Her brain is a cursed tomb of pop culture knowledge.