Photo Credit: HBO

Whether they admit it or not, every true-crime podcast host and documentary filmmaker dreams of being The Jinx.

The 2015 HBO docuseries The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst was a groundbreaking Emmy-award-winning feature that helped solve a murder. Now that a six-episode sequel (The Jinx: Part Two) will debut Sunday, it’s worth revisiting the impact of director Andrew Jarecki’s project, for better and worse. 

The original contributed to the rise in popularity of true crime as entertainment. The genre is the most common topic among top-ranked podcasts. Newsmagazine TV shows Dateline and 20/20 consistently draw viewers. There are entire networks such as Investigation Discovery and Oxygen dedicated to true-crime programming.

We’ve always been fascinated with tales of murder. There’s an undeniable morbid curiosity about killers and victims. What drives people to commit heinous acts that most of us can’t fathom? The motives may be familiar — money, sex, revenge, control — but the people behind homicides remain captivating.

The central figure in The Jinx is deceased. Durst died in prison in January 2022. When he was alive and a free man, his presence in the 2015 series made it different from anything we’d ever seen, because his inability to keep his mouth shut sealed his fate.

Any decent defense attorney would have advised their client not to participate in a crime documentary while they’re still suspects. But for reasons that Durst took to his grave, he willingly and enthusiastically became a star for Jarecki’s series.

Perhaps it was the ego of a man who repeatedly escaped justice. The tagline for The Jinx told you all you needed to know: “Four decades. Three Murders. And one very rich suspect.” Hollywood couldn’ have come up with a better story. Jarecki tried. His 2010 film All Good Things, starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst, was a fictional account based on Durst. And while it was a box-office bust, it caught the attention of Durst and eventually led to Jarecki’s crowning career achievement.

The Jinx resonated with the American public in a way the feature flick never did. For one reason, many people outside the Greater New York City area had never heard of Durst. The Durst family reportedly owns more than 16 million square feet of real estate in New York and Philadelphia. That includes a 10% stake in One World Trade Center. As of 2020, their estimated worth was $8.1 billion.

Generational wealth buys influence and layers of protection when you’re accused of killing your wife, your neighbor, and your best friend.

Before The Jinx, Durst had only been charged in connection with the death of a man who lived across the hall in a modest Galveston, Texas apartment. He was acquitted in 2003 after superstar attorney Dick DeGuerin argued self-defense even though he dismembered the body of 71-year-old Morris Black.

The Jinx did what law enforcement could not, get a confession from Durst. Jarecki won over his subject’s confidence leading to the gotcha moment every true-crime content creator hopes for. In the explosive series finale, Durst, who had forgotten he still had a microphone, mumbled to himself in the bathroom: “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

He presumably was referring to his wife Kathleen Durst, who disappeared in 1982, and his friend Susan Berman, who was murdered in 2000. Durst was arrested in 2015 and convicted in 2021 of killing Berman. While he was indicted for the murder of his wife, Durst passed away before the trial. He was 78.

The Jinx won Emmys for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series and Outstanding Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming. It also had its critics. There are ethical questions surrounding the series. When and how did Jarecki and cowriter Marc Smerling share their information with law enforcement? Did they withhold certain findings for the sake of the dramatic reveal? Their interviews with Durst took place from December 2010 to April 2012, and according to The New York Times, the authorities were first notified of their meetings with Durst in October 2012.

From the Times: “Obviously, we’re not law enforcement officers, and it’s important that we maintain our position as journalists and filmmakers,” Jarecki said. He added that he and Smerling insisted they weren’t working for the police.

This is a very blurry line. Traditional journalists probably would have conducted themselves differently. At best, Jarecki and Smerling looked like participants in active criminal investigations. At worst, they left us wondering if they held on to vital details for the sake of their documentary.

We may never learn the complete story. It’s an asterisk the filmmakers must live with.

What hidden truths will The Jinx: Part Two reveal? We still don’t know what happened to Kathleen Durst or the location of her body. We’ll soon find out if Jarecki has uncovered more explosive evidence.

The first episode of The Jinx: Part Two is scheduled to debut on April 21 at 10 p.m. ET on HBO and will be available to stream on Max.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.