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Why Did Robert Durst Want to be Interviewed?

HBO’s popular true crime docu-series The Jinx came to an end last night, and it was at that end, specifically, that its protagonist Robert Durst, an eccentric heir to the Durst real estate fortune, got himself in a heap of trouble.

You’ve probably heard the news by now — confronted with a letter he’d allegedly written containing a uniquely-identifiable misspelled word, “Beverley,” Durst’s guilt in the murder of his friend Susan Berman in the year 2000, a crime he was never charged for, became overly apparent.

His moment of truth upon him, he denied writing the letter, the interview ended and that was that. Then, he walked into a bathroom without knowing that his microphone was still recording.

“What the hell did I do?” Durst asked himself, privately, in the bathroom. “Killed them all, of course.”

Was this an admission of guilt?

Yesterday, on the eve of the show’s finale, Durst was arrested in New Orleans, and will probably be extradited to Los Angeles soon to face charges for Berman’s murder. The motive for the killing appears to have been to keep her from spilling the beans about the disappearance of Durst’s wife Kathleen McCormack in 1982.

Whether or not the damning bit of audio will stand in a court of a law is not my area of expertise — I’m not a criminal lawyer, obviously — but after watching the series, I have to say that Robert Durst, guilty or otherwise, might be one of the stupidest people on earth.

As the story goes, director Andrew Jarecki made a movie loosely based on the events of Robert Durst’s life called All Good Things, which came out in 2010. Impressed by that film, it was around then that Robert Durst, sensing an opportunity to tell his story through a lens that was far less-biased than the mainstream media, contacted Jarecki and asked him if he’d like to interview him.

Five years later, here we are. If the world is a just place, Durst will be found guilty for the murder of his wife, Berman and his neighbor Morris Black (though he admitted to dismembering him, he was found not guilty of murdering Black in 2003), while the victim’s families will finally get closure they deserve.

Still, justice thirty years in the making notwithstanding, one has to wonder what the hell Robert Durst was really thinking when he asked Jarecki to interview him. Why on earth would a person who, despite his obvious guilt, had skirted the long arm of the law for his whole life, subject himself to a series of interviews which might ultimately reveal his crimes?

Vanity is a powerful thing. Considering the negative portrayals in the media, his own family disowning him and the public perception that he’s a devious killer, he might have, in his advanced age, wanted one last opportunity to clear his name before he died. One last chance to prove he’s just been nothing more than a victim of circumstance.

It’s because of this that Jarecki comes to Durst with an open mind, clearly believing that it’s possible Durst has been unfairly maligned due to his enormous wealth and rich family history. Nothing gets American people more excited than a rich man doing something horrible. Jarecki, perhaps because of his own wealth and rich family history, is initially sympathetic and not judgmental.

But as the series wore on, it became clear that Jarecki was being presented with evidence and ancillary interviews that implicated Durst might actually really be guilty. It then became his responsibility to not protect Durst, but to do what was right.

In the final episode, after he’s uncovered the envelope which proves Durst’s guilt, Jarecki has problems getting Durst to sit for another interview. And it’s this final interview that damns him.

Again, I truly wonder why Durst wanted Jarecki to interview him in the first place. After seeing each episode, which reviewed a lot of the evidence, it became clear that Durst could never stick to a single story, got caught in multiple lies and his only defense, in most instances, was to just say black while everyone else said white.

Perhaps the reason why is that he wanted to get caught.

Throughout the series, you can see that his is not a rational mind, but rather, one that continuously forces him to toe the line between being conservative, like living as a mute woman in Galveston, T.X. to avoid detection from police regarding the reopening of his wife’s disappearance case, and being flat out ridiculous, like getting arrested shoplifting a sandwich when he’s got thousands of dollars on him.

Robert Durst is not of clear mind.

But the best case scenario for someone like him, who seemed to, if he was innocent, been in the wrong place at the wrong time one too many times, was to just slowly, calmly, quietly fade away. Durst was not a poor man, although he may have been a lonely one, and still, it’s tough to understand why he chose to come out of the woodwork now. If he’d have stayed in the dark, he could stayed there forever.

And maybe that’s, again, the reason why he chose to be interviewed. Old, lonely and estranged from nearly everyone, all the money in the world couldn’t bring back the people he loved — people he’d killed! — and the life he’d left behind.

Throughout the whole series, Durst rarely shows emotion. He’s cold, calculated and disaffected by everything. His wife is missing thirty years, and not once does he express sadness about not knowing where she is.

But at the end of the last episode, he’s shown a photograph of Susan Berman, his best friend, whom he’d allegedly killed. And it’s only then, when he sees these two young people, their whole lives ahead of them, that he opens up.

In that photograph, there’s something long gone, long forgotten, and undoubtedly missed. The two look so… innocent. Durst asks Jarecki for a copy. Then he walks into the bathroom.

Alone, he talks to the only person who truly knows what’s done — himself. And it’s to himself, not anyone else, that he quietly, sadly, admits his guilt.

It’s there, finally, when we realize what Robert Durst wanted out of this whole ordeal. His own bit of closure. His own peace. The jinx, finally over.

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Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

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