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Here Are The Questions We Have For The Filmmakers Of "The Jinx"

There are some problems with its timeline.

Originally posted on
Updated on

The series finale of The Jinx, HBO's six-part documentary examining the life and (probable) crimes of Robert Durst, ended with a bombshell: Durst mumbled seemingly incriminating things to himself in a bathroom after being interviewed by the docuseries' director Andrew Jarecki. "There it is. You're caught," Durst said in audio. "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course." As presented by The Jinx, Durst's confessional mutterings seemed to be a direct reaction to Jarecki showing him an envelope they had discovered that had the same misspelling of "Beverley" (as in Beverly Hills) as a note Susan Berman's presumed killer sent the police in 2000.

Considering that Durst was arrested in New Orleans on Saturday, and will be extradited to Los Angeles to face charges for allegedly murdering Berman, The Jinx has resulted in the highest measurement of success: Durst, who has appeared to have escaped justice in three murders if the accusations against him are true, could finally be convicted.

Still, there are many remaining questions about The Jinx — and they are ones Jarecki and producer/cinematographer Marc Smerling will not be answering. After speaking with CBS This Morning, Good Morning America, and the New York Times Monday morning, representatives for the filmmakers canceled all remaining interviews. They sent BuzzFeed News this statement from Jarecki and Smerling: "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. We can confirm that evidence (including the envelope and the washroom recording) was turned over to authorities months ago."

The questions they don't seem to want to discuss, and ones that BuzzFeed News wanted to ask them, are about The Jinx's timeline. On Sunday night, New York Times reporter Charles Bagli — the foremost authority on Robert Durst who's reported on him and his family's real estate business for years — wrote, "More than two years passed after the interview before the filmmakers found the audio." (The story was co-written with Vivian Yee.)

That assertion contradicted The Jinx's presentation. In the finale, Jarecki and Co. are trying to get Durst to sit down for his second interview so they can present him with the envelope. He is ducking them, but after he is arrested for violating an order of protection from his brother Douglas, the filmmakers suddenly have leverage over Durst (because they have footage of him that might help his case). That arrest, according to the New York Post, took place in August 2013.

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On the left, a screengrab from The Jinx of Durst leaving a New York City courtroom, presumably before his second interview with filmmakers. On the right, a New York Post story from Aug. 17, 2013, about Durst's arrest.

So how could it have taken two years to discover the bathroom audio of Durst? It's a question Jarecki stumbled over when talking to the New York Times on Monday. "I'm just trying to clarify if the arrest for being on Douglas Durst's property happened after the second interview," Bruce Fretts asked Jarecki. To which Jarecki responded: "Yeah, I think I've got to get back to you with a proper response on that."

Bagli confirmed Monday to BuzzFeed News that The Jinx's second interview with Durst took place in 2012. And Jarecki told the New York Times that it did as well. So why did the series present it differently?

There are also questions about when the filmmakers handed the envelope over to the Los Angeles Police, especially since that seems to have resulted in Durst's arrest the day before The Jinx finale.

1. What is the exact date of the second interview with Robert Durst?

2. Did that second interview conclude, as the movie suggests, with the "Beverley"

discussion, leading directly to Durst going in to the bathroom?

3. Did Jarecki and Smerling know Durst still had his microphone on?

4. Is the bathroom audio unedited?

5. If the interview was in 2012, which is when the New York Times says it was and when Jarecki is now saying it was, why did the film show Durst's 2013 arrest? And why did the film present that arrest as "leverage" the filmmakers have over Durst?

6. Exactly how long after the second interview did they find the audio? "Months," or "many months," as Jarecki said Monday morning to CBS News? Or two years, as the The Times wrote, and Jarecki told the The Times on Monday?

7. The Times news story says the filmmakers began to talk with the LAPD in early 2013. When specifically did they hand over the envelope?

We may never know the answers to these questions, but Mike Hale of The New York Times wrote a compelling analysis of what appears to be a fudging of these events by Jarecki and The Jinx. Do read the whole thing, but in a nutshell, Hale thinks that the filmmakers smushed events of 2012 (Douglas Durst getting an order of protection against Robert Durst, the second interview, and Durst talking to himself in the bathroom) with events of 2013 (Durst violating the order of protection and being arrested).

Hale concludes, "The question of whether chronology has been obscured or fudged for dramatic effect comes up often in the documentary field; if that happened here, it will leave an unusually large number of viewers feeling cheated."

In an email to BuzzFeed News, Bagli also thought that the two events were conflated. Bagli, who appeared in The Jinx as an expert, wrote, "It creates some static in the timeline."

HBO has not responded to inquiries from BuzzFeed News about whether it intends to look into how The Jinx presented this part of the story.

Kate Aurthur is the chief Los Angeles correspondent for BuzzFeed News. Aurthur covers the television and film industries.

Contact Kate Aurthur at kate.aurthur@buzzfeed.com.

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