The New York real-estate heir Robert Durst became a topic of public fascination after The Jinx documentary series aired on HBO and delved into his strange life story. His relationship with first wife Kathleen "Kathie" McCormack Durst and her subsequent disappearance are fictionalized in the Lifetime movie The Lost Wife of Robert Durst. But how accurate is the new movie to the real life events it portrays?
The film is definitely a fictionalized retelling of the marriage between Kathie McCormack (Katharine McPhee) and the ultra-wealthy Robert Durst (Daniel Gillies), with a focus on Kathie's disappearance from the couple's South Salem, New York, home in the winter of 1982. The adaptation has ample source material to work with, as the film is also based on the book A Deadly Secret: The Bizarre and Chilling Story of Robert Durst by journalist Matt Birkbeck, according to Newsday. Newsday also reported that Birkbeck was a consultant for the film.
This Lifetime movie doesn't mark the first time the marriage of Kathie and Robert Durst has been fictionalized, as the 2010 film All Good Things featured a portrayal of the marriage that so moved the real-life Durst that it caused him to reach out to director Andrew Jarecki, thus spawning the now-infamous HBO documentary series The Jinx, according to Vulture.
Viewers of the Lifetime adaptation should expect jumps back and forth in time, as the movie will portray the early years of the couple's marriage in the '70s, Kathie's initial disappearance in 1982, and the re-opening of the cold case in 1999. This reinvestigation into the case is true to real life, as Kathie's disappearance was indeed reopened in 1999 by Detective Joseph Becerra (played by Jason Schombing in the film) per The New York Times.
Though the film follows these events relatively faithfully, the actual circumstances of Kathie's disappearance are shrouded in mystery, leaving the filmmakers to interpret them as they see fit. As reported by the same New York Times piece, Robert Durst claimed that his wife had gone to New York City, and he hadn't seen her since. The outlet reported:
"Mr. Durst told the police that after arriving in South Salem, his wife decided to travel home to Manhattan because she had classes the next day. He drove her to the Katonah train station, where she boarded the 9:17 p.m. train to New York, according to his account."
It's also reported that Durst said he spoke to Kathie on the phone while she was in their New York apartment later that night. He did not report his wife missing until five days after he says he had heard from her for the last time. Years later, in HBO's The Jinx, Durst told producers that much of the aforementioned statement to the police was false. Yet Kathie has not been found either dead or alive. body has never been found, and despite his first wife being officially declared dead in 2017, according to NBC News, no charges have ever been filed against Robert Durst or anyone else in conjunction with her presumed death.
But even though the film could take some creative license and depict what might have happened to Kathie, rather than strictly abiding to the facts of the case, viewers shouldn't expect a conclusive answer about Kathie's fate. Newsday reported that, "much like the case itself, The Lost Wife offers no closure, scarcely much of a conclusion." There's at least one continuity error in the film, as the ending seems to suggest that Kathie disappeared in the summer, when in fact Durst reported his wife missing in early February of 1982. A source told Bustle that the family pointed out that mistake to Newsday.
Kathie Durst's surviving family is still seeking to hold Robert Durst accountable in court, though criminal charges have not been filed. As reported by The New York Times, Kathie's sisters Carol Bamonte, Mary Hughes and Virginia McKeon filed a lawsuit in May of 2017 against Durst and his second and current wife, Debrah Lee Charatan. The suit claims that Durst killed Kathie, and Charatan knew about the whereabouts of the body and concealed that information from Kathie's family. Perhaps the suit will provide some kind of closure, which has eluded the family for over 30 years.