On Saturday, real estate heir Robert Durst was arrested in New Orleans in connection with the murder of his friend Susan Berman. That arrest might never have happened if director Andrew Jarecki and producer Marc Smerling hadn't examined further into Durst's life for their documentary, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. According to both the filmmakers and law enforcement, new evidence discovered through the documentary process led to the renewed investigation into Berman's death. Which raises the question: how much did the Jinx filmmakers know about Durst's cases?
Durst's arrest came the night before the six-part documentary aired its final episode on Sunday, when rapt viewers watched in shock as Durst appeared to confess in an audio recording that he "killed them all." The timing is not only noteworthy for lending the series unparalleled publicity, but also for raising some serious questions.
For example, when was Durst's unwitting confession, which, according to the New York Times, was filmed sometime in 2012 — almost three years ago — submitted to law enforcement as evidence? Was it when the filmmakers initially found the recording, or at some point afterwards?
Another piece of key evidence in the Berman case is an envelope with Durst's writing, which bears a striking resemblance to the writing in an anonymous note tipping police off to Berman's murder. This envelope evidence is the focus of finale of The Jinx, which shows Durst being confronted with it. According to The Guardian, this interview was filmed no later than the fall of 2013, and the NYT reports it could have even been in 2012.
But in an interview with the NYT after Durst's arrest, Jarecki and Smerling set the record straight.
When asked when they had turned over important evidence, like the confession recording, Jarecki explained:
Obviously, we’d spoken to them about the details of the case. We need to be careful about how much we describe about the details of the case, so what we’ll say about that is we provided the relevant evidence to law enforcement some months ago, and it’s been in their court. And obviously they’ve got their own timetable for how to address it.
Jarecki also explained the tine lag between filming the confession and handing it over to authorities.
That didn’t get loaded for quite a while. We hired some new assistants and they were going through some old material. That was quite a bit later. Let me look at my list. It was June 12, 2014.
Jarecki and Smerling also made sure to emphasize that, as journalists, they could not directly collaborate with the police. Not only would that compromise the integrity of their work, but had Durst caught wind of the collaboration, they would have wound up with no material at all.
Obviously, we’re not law enforcement officers, and it’s important that we maintain our position as journalists and filmmakers.
As for the timing of the arrest on the eve of The Jinx's finale, Jarecki maintains that he and Smerling had nothing to do with it.
We were concerned that Bob was floating around, and we knew that Bob had been upset about Episode 5. ... The truth is, we had reached out to law enforcement to try and get color about when they planned to arrest him. Because as civilians, one always assumes that law enforcement is going to move more quickly than they naturally do. We understand why they have to be cautious.
Another explanation for the timing? Law enforcement speculated that, after watching the series, Durst might want to flee, and therefore had to act fast. According to the LAist, Durst might have been trying to escape to Cuba, but feds intercepted him before he could leave New Orleans.
Jarecki and Smerling have since issued a statement on their knowledge of Durst, seemingly to quell the many questions:
Given that we are likely to be called as witnesses in any case law enforcement may decide to bring against Robert Durst, it is not appropriate for us to comment further on these pending matters.
HBO also issued a statement after Durst's arrest; it seems the filmmakers have at least one staunch supporter in their corner.
We simply cannot say enough about the brilliant job that Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling did in producing The Jinx. Years in the making, their thorough research and dogged reporting reignited interest in Robert Durst's story with the public and law enforcement.Images: Getty Images (4)