‘The Jinx’ Team Sat on Robert Durst Confession for 26 Months

Courtesy of HBO
Courtesy of HBO

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 nonfiction 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,’ TV’s True-Crime Triumph, Returns With More Robert Durst Shockers

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—26 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.”

Robert Durst.
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 15 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.

Twenty-six 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].

Director Andrew Jarecki.

Director Andrew Jarecki.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Part Two features various new “characters” who were close to Bob, including Doug Oliver, Susie Giordano, and Nick “Chinga” Chavin. Did you encounter them during the filming of the original series, and if so, did you consider including them in the first season?

Yes. It’s sort of serendipitous that they didn’t appear in the first season because, thematically, they were so important to the second season, and it really gives this second season a definition. I really see the second season as being about complicity. When we were making the first season, we used to say in the edit room, “How do you kill three people over 30 years and get away with it? It takes a village.” Let’s pull the camera back now and start looking at the people who formed this constellation of helpers, and who see themselves as good, decent people but got drawn into murders.

That’s something I felt was compelling and also very timely. My dad gave me this book the other day, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, about the complicity of the German population around the time of Hitler, and how galvanized everything was, and how much easier it was for Hitler because the population said, we’re willing to let you lead. Bob is this very hypnotic personality—similar to somebody we see in the news all the time. He’s got a very strong, almost hypnotic voice, he repeats himself in a certain way, he knows how to infuse his ideas into the people he’s talking to, he plants seeds about how people can help him. He’s a very dominant person. Sadly, there are a lot of people in the population who are submissive, so you have people around Bob who are vulnerable.

Right in the first episode, Susie Giordano says, “You know, I would have taken care of anything you needed taking care of, right?” These people are basically saying, I’m available!

I’m here for you!

Some of it is money, of course. But not all of it. That’s not the only reason people were loyal to Bob. I think there were a whole series of reasons why people did Bob’s bidding. As you’ll see in a future episode, someone will have to justify [something] and they say, “Well, I never thought he was guilty.” Maybe that’s one of the reasons they put $118,000 in a suitcase and sent it to him via UPS while he was going on the run.

A lot of those people, they were vulnerable because they had needs. Bob knew that Susie Giordano had a whole bunch of kids, and some of them are not doing great. If somebody says to you, I can solve a lot of problems for you, and by the way, I need you to do a few things for me—I’m certainly not going to ask you to kill anyone, you won’t be pulling the trigger, and we can agree I’m probably innocent—then that and the benefits, whether they’re cash or love… Susie Giordano kind of loved Bob. And she also got more than $400,000 from him, so that’s not irrelevant!

I was also stunned by the revelation that Chris Lovell, the juror from Bob’s Galveston trial, became his friend and accomplice.

Chris Lovell, the juror, becomes important again in the later episodes. He was an extremely good extractor of money from Bob. He showed up early and often. I remember talking to the judge about Lovell, and she said to me that from the very beginning, Lovell was eager to get on that jury. There’s no evidence that he knew Bob before, or that they had a plan in place. I always thought that was fascinating, because I never thought about the idea of bribing a juror after the fact.

The judge told me that during the trial, when somebody would say something about Bob being guilty, Lovell would roll his eyes so Bob could see him. It was telegraphing his intention to work to help acquit Bob. He also sort of made himself the jury foreman. There was another jury foreperson in Galveston, but Lovell was such a strong personality.

He was constantly manipulating the jury, constantly giving Bob this wink treatment in the trial. While Dick DeGuerin took a bow for how brilliantly he handled that trial, I think without Chris Lovell, there’s no chance they win that trial. I think Chris Lovell was the best lawyer in the room.

Was the biggest surprise of Part Two the discovery of Susan’s recorded conversation with Albert Goldman, which lays bare that she was not only a victim, but also involved in covering up Kathie’s murder?

It was shocking to me. It’s not like Susan Berman was ever my hero, but I did feel for her, because she shouldn’t have been murdered, and certainly not by her best friend, and it was a terribly lonely way that she died. She’s got her centimillionaire best friend and she’s in a rented house with no rug, with a cement floor in her bedroom, and scrambling to pay for her haircuts. It was a very ignoble way of departing the Earth, so I always felt sad for her.

This was like unearthing a recording of somebody that you’ve studied for a long time, and you hear this person and really get a sense of their personality from their voice. When you hear Susan with Albert Goldman—that discussion happens nine days after Kathie goes missing. Susan was in the thick of it with Bob, and you can really explicate what’s going on. The way she’s floating these test balloons to see if she can get Goldman to bite, and trying to figure out, what’s Bob's story going to be?

Bob had made her his “spokesperson,” and she’s drunk with the power. I just did a podcast with Zac yesterday where we went through the whole 25-minute recording, and all the different angles that she hits, and how she’s listening, and saying, “Well, I think this is how it might have happened,” and he says, “Nah, I don’t think so,” and she says, “No, you’re right, it’s not a kidnap, Albert. It’s something else!” She’s sussing out the story that’s going to work. She has a guy in Goldman who’s a skeptical investigative reporter, and the whole thing is bullshit; she’s telling him a story that’s definitely not true. But she’s experimenting to see what works.

When she hits the diamond earrings, he says, there’s your answer right there! “Really?” she responds. Like, oh, let me make a note about that—the diamond earrings are working. Then you see it showing up in the press.

Hearing her cunning scheme play out in real time was fascinating.

We don’t really get to see that today. We all know that if somebody wants to plant something in the press, or say something mean about Joe Biden or whatever, you hear a little bit and then, “Oh, everyone’s saying that Joe Biden tripped on the stairs” or something like that. But it’s very unusual to be able to do the forensics on something that happened in 1982. It’s incredible.

Finding that recording really, really changed my perception. It made me realize that Susan was fully in the tank with Bob. I believe she was deeply knowledgeable about what happened. She had made a decision that she was going to help him. Then I think it kind of tore her up in a way, for the rest of her life. I don’t know if she felt, oh, I never should have done that. She may have just felt, I thought that if I had this special secret, maybe Bob would finally fall in love with me and he’d realize that I’m his biggest supporter and he needs a person like me and I’d be on easy street and I wouldn’t have to be struggling all the time. But that didn’t happen for her, because Bob was grateful, but not outrageously grateful, Just somewhat grateful.

Part One is an inevitable component of Part Two. Was it tricky balancing the storyteller/subject divide?

We knew that the minute we found that [handwriting] evidence, we were going to be in the story. I didn’t put myself in Capturing the Friedmans, I haven’t put myself in a lot of things that I’ve worked on. It’s uncomfortable, and it’s only useful if it’s useful, and moves the story ahead in a meaningful way. But once we’d found the evidence, it was clear that my relationship with Bob was going to be an important part of the story, and there was no way for me to avoid being a character in it.

People asked, did the police coordinate the arrest with HBO? Which was totally absurd and insane. But they weren’t unrelated. They never collaborated or spoke, but the police knew when episode 106 was coming out. There was a lot of internal strife about it, as I learned later, because John Lewin and the prosecution team knew, as he says in Part Two, that he couldn’t talk to a lot of people, like Bob’s friends, because if he talked to them, it would have gotten back to Bob. He needed a lot of time to do his investigation.

Lewin was not ready to prosecute, going on for a couple of years. I said, that’s ridiculous—you have to arrest this guy! He said, first of all, it’s none of your business when we arrest him and thanks for your input, I’ll take it under advisement. But we’re not going to arrest him until we’re ready because, first, under the law, he can ask for a speedy trial, which means he can go to trial within a few months, and Lewin was like, that’s not enough time for me to finish putting together my case.

Meanwhile, you have the LAPD and that amazing guy George Shamlyan, who’s such an incredible character—he’s Armenian, with his bald head, and he’s so intense, and he’s got a great heart and wanted to solve this case; he’s the one who says, “We work for God.” George was saying, John, you want me to wait until after the episode comes out that’s definitely going to make Bob flee and then I’m going to start thinking about arresting him, after he’s in Cuba? There was a lot of tension there.

How did that get resolved?

The way prosecutions work in L.A., and it’s not this way everywhere, is that the DA doesn’t have to agree to press charges in order for the police department to make an arrest. But in this case, George’s attitude was, John, I understand that you might not be ready for a trial, but we’re not ready to have a story run on the front page of the Los Angeles Times saying, “How the LAPD Knew Bob Durst Was Going to Go on the Run and Didn’t Arrest Him and Now He’s Listening to Cuban Music on a Beautiful Beach.”

It was clear they needed to arrest him, and that Lewin had to step up. As Lewin points out, luckily, Bob is an avid pot smoker, and he carried around a lot of pot—I have footage of Bob buying pot from Sareb [Susan’s stepson], the guy we got the letter from, and he’s buying a big duffel bag of pot! He’d buy like $3,000 worth of pot at a time from Sareb. Also, thank God, he was carrying a gun and he was a felon. That’s why he was held in New Orleans and Lewin could take that time while he was down there to develop his case.

Robert Durst.
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 12 episodes of The Jinx, there’s All Good Things, and now there’s 15 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 five 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.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.