The Real Deal New York

Why is “Mr. Bob” Durst so hard to despise?

TRD’s pop culture columnist on the latest drama from “The Jinx”

March 06, 2015 02:46PM
By Ann Imperatore

RobertDurstCloseup

Robert Durst (credit: HBO)

(WARNING: Contains spoilers)

It’s not every day you get a room full of jurors on a gruesome slaying and dismemberment trial audibly laughing in unison, but that is exactly what happened during Robert Durst’s murder trial in Galveston, Texas. Durst takes the stand as the first witness for the defense — a highly unusual tactic — and goes on to explain matter-of-factly how he decided to adapt the guise of woman. “I went to Walmart and bought a woman’s white blouse,” he says. The courtroom, and the viewers, are in stitches.

This is the same motley crew that just heard from the prosecution — all rather serious stuff, dark and macabre, complete with gory pictures and graphic descriptions of how Durst hacked away for hours at the body of Morris Black, his dead neighbor, with a variety of saws. Yet, amid the gore, there are moments of pure comedy. It all seems so, so wrong and yet they (and we) are riveted. Surely this narrative seems better suited to a scripted Hollywood movie than an actual trial, Durst seeming more caricature than real person.

As we get deeper into HBO’s docu-series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” a strange thing is happening to me: As much as Durst should be reviled — and on many levels is — and his actions and related accusations should never be taken lightly — we are talking about possible multiple murders after all — Durst can be endearing. A man I should despise is very hard to.

“The Gangster’s Daughter,” the third episode of the six-part series, focuses on Durst’s friendship with Susan Berman and her subsequent execution-style murder. It recounts his first wife, Kathie Durst’s disappearance, and the inquiry into it. Years later, never charged, Durst becomes aware that officials are reopening the case and decides to flee to Texas. Episode four, “The State of Texas Vs. Robert Durst” highlights his arrest, trial and defense for dismembering his neighbor.

Throughout, Durst is caught somewhere between acting like the rebellious teenager and the curmudgeon. He loves to annoy his father (late real estate magnate Seymour Durst) so always calls collect. He steals a $6 sandwich for sport. He sits across from Jarecki throughout these episodes being interviewed, looking small and frail with his assortment of twitches and nods, clad in white sneakers and a Mr. Rogers sweater appearing so very … harmless.

When Jarecki asks him about what his plans were when he posted $250,000 bail in Galveston, Durst, incredulous that the state would offer an accused murderer bail, tells him, “You can’t give someone charged with murder bail because they’re going to run away, of course. Goodbye, $250,000. Goodbye, jail. I’m out.” It’s this teen equivalent of “See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya,” this playfulness and unexpected frankness, that makes one feel sympathy for Durst.

When recounting his time behind bars, Durst points out that the other inmates – mostly working-class and uneducated – showed him tremendous respect giving him the name, “Mr. Bob,” a name more suited for a David Lynch character than a prison moniker. He has a poor little rich boy moment when he explains to the camera that the respect was mutual because whatever they accomplished, they did on their own. (Cue playing of the world’s tiniest bow saw.)

As the trial in Texas proceeds we see why that state did what California and New York couldn’t, because you don’t mess with Texas. Even so, Durst seems to roll ten deep with his legal posse, each commenting on their part in his defense strategy. All are aware they have a mess on their hands. Michael Ramsey, one of his counsel team, puts it perfectly, “We got a man cut up in 20 different pieces and they’re expecting us to win this case.”

But Durst’s team manages to craft a narrative that seems to resonate with the jurors. Speaking in the third person about his self-imposed exile to Texas, he says: “It seemed to me the big problem was Robert Durst, so I wanted to not be Robert Durst.” Who can’t relate to wanting to disappear once in a while?

Every story needs a villain and if Durst is to avoid being ours, the defense team needed a substitute: Enter Jeanine Pirro. Not since Eve put apple in hand, has a women caused so much destruction, Durst’s defense wants the jury to believe.

Black is painted as a cantankerous and threatening figure. The prosecutors come off as bumbling; when two DAs try to reenact the logistics of the scuffle while Durst is on the stand asking him if their mock demonstration is accurate, Durst replies he can’t answer because “the two of you look like spaghetti.”

The crux of his defense is that he and Black were friends but when Black gets an eviction notice while at Bob’s house he becomes volatile and shoots the paper. Durst makes it clear the friendship is over but days later, finds Black in his home with a gun. Durst points out that Texas is a different animal when it comes to self-defense. “There’s little you can’t do,” he says. “Obviously you are not supposed to kill them,” Durst adds, but says that he accidentally shot Black in the ensuing scuffle.

“I didn’t murder my friend,” he says, “but I did dismember him.”

One juror explains that when “Mr. Durst was on the stand, I felt he was talking from the heart.” After five days of deliberation, Durst is acquitted.

At the close of the episode though, however, Durst leaves us with an ominous koan. Durst tells Jarecki he was told to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, but to tell the “whole” truth was not necessary. He was instructed to answer questions honestly, but that omission was acceptable. Jarecki tells him they can go on break, but Durst doesn’t realize he is still mic’d and begins talking to himself rehearsing, repeating this phrase three times in secession, “I did not knowingly and purposefully lie.”

When alerted by his counsel he is still mic’d and can be heard, the show ends with him saying, “Nobody tells the whole truth.”

Oh, Mr. Bob.

  • James

    I do not care how charming or endearing he is, he is a cold-blooded sociopath, who probably killed two women and this elderly man, and you make him sound like your nutty uncle. What is wrong with you?

    • Tim

      I gotta agree with James on this one. Great show though!

    • WhoWillRobDurstPissOnNext?

      Lets not forget the pissing incident.

    • magadog

      I am missing the whole charming and endearing thing. I don’t see any semblance of human emotion here. The guy is Ted Bundy.

    • PrincessSmackdown

      Where she says “a strange thing is happening to me” before she admits to finding him endearing? That was her hedging her statement because she knows Righteous Indignation Man (you) is going to show up and say this very predictable, very stupid thing. In life, have you not yet figured out that finding someone charming or charismatic has absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with their moral character and past history? No no, people like you seem to think that if you’re seen admitting you find the guy charming, that others will see you as condoning his actions. So fucking pedestrian.

    • wb

      I agree. Why should society and media glamorize a murderer?

      • doodle

        another example to be to be examined / followed / martaed by our soon to be terrorist sons & daughters worldwide from the parents of “love & peace” generation- who next ?- TO TURN A BUCK -HORRIFIC HOLLYWOOD ?—“ROBERT” TAYLOR , “ROBERT” BLAKE , OJ SIMPSON- all wifes / females/ cross dressers and candy-eating kids… beware, for it’s OK

  • James Sandrino

    The jurors who witnessed more than we’ll ever know, saw the gruesome pics and heard the details and even they were charmed enough to acquit him.

  • Asaf Motem

    I think for anyone who has seen the show, we can all agree that he is a murderer, but what a great tale he spins.

  • J

    Guy is a Class A loser. He should be put to death. Society doesn’t need low-end types such as him.

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  • Duke

    I don’t know that I’d call him endearing. He’s good at playing the hapless role (which comes so naturally because he comes from wealth– he probably grew up thinking when he turns his back all of the dirty dishes simply disappear), and I think he’s got an OJ-level of denial. He’s not likeable; I find myself more inclined to pity him (probably more shameful than liking him).

  • gvt2me

    He killed his wife because he could not allow her to leave his life on
    her own terms as his mother had. To him, it simply seems entirely
    justified because of his determination to stop people from choosing their
    own destiny which does not include him. That has been a lifelong obsession
    since that fateful night when his mother had jumped off of the roof.

  • magadog

    I have no problem despising the man. He is a murderer, who gets to walk free because he has money, money he inherited. The author of this story is the reason why this guy is not on death row, because some people are gullible.

  • Robert Moses Playground

    This story reminds me of the outrageous Aug. 1, 2013 cover story done by Rolling Stone of Boston Marathon Bomber terrorist Tsarnaev. They put a “cute” picture of him on the cover and make him into some sort of rock star celebrity for teeny bopper groupies. Don’t glamorize these murderers…

  • The Nasty Bits

    I knew the rich prick was going to be acquitted, they always are. did we need a documentary reminding us of how “cute” it is that our court system is so corrupt?

    • magadog

      Juries rule with the attorneys that are more personable. Watch episode 4 again and that is pretty damn clear. The Galveston DAs were stiff and uncomfortable. The $5000 an hour defense team on the other hand was personable as hell.

  • Cheeseguyguyguy

    This guy is a bonafide G. I admire him because he’s fearless. If he isn’t innocent (which I’m not implying whether he is or isn’t) then why risk your freedom over a public interview that would be posted on the world’s best TV channel?
    Everyone has their opinions, however it’s evidence that most lack.

  • PiperC

    Let’s not overlook the ONLY reason that Durst wasn’t convicted of murdering Morris Black — they never found Black’s dismembered head. Durst claimed he shot Black in the head in self defense (who does that, btw???), but no head means no way to prove which way the bullet entered the skull. My money is on the entry wound being point blank at the back of the skull, which would have been a clear cut case of murder. Durst is a sociopath – and a smart one. There’s a reason that dismembered head was never found.

    • doodle

      REASON… THE SUFFERING FAMILY – THE MISSING WIFE, MISSING “FRIEND”, THE SUPERSILLOUS BOMBASTIC BUTCHING OF MR BLACK – THE “GET OUT OF JAIL CARDS” , THE CORRUPTION IN OUR LEGAL SYSTEM WITH MONEY OBTAINED IN ILLEGAL WAYS… THAT IS THE QUESTION….

  • John Luciano

    As disgusting as this man is, it’s perplexing why we are so drawn to watching it unfold. I’m addicted to this show.

  • walt kovacs

    is this article serious?

    the man is a sociopath

    do you find charlie manson lovable too?

    • Nope

      How do you think Charlie Manson got so many people to follow him? Like most psychopaths he can actually be very charming.

  • blu bones

    The guy is detestable. The show is interesting because they found 12 people to buy his crap in TX and quite literally let him get away with murder. I could not believe the title of this article, it boggles my mind. This guy is pure sleaze, creeps me out, he thinks he’s getting away murder because he’s so much smarter than everyone else. He chopped up his neighbor, he was barely caught, it’s very possible he’s done more terrible things. Do not be charmed by this man.

  • Jo

    I found myself feeling sorry for him walking around New York, estranged from his family’s business. He does COME OFF as tragically unlucky, but what does it take to murder three people? Certainly someone who would end someone else’s life to protect his own. A sociopath with no empathy, whatsoever. Sociopaths are brilliant at appearing a certain way, while their mind is thinking differently. I think you should reconsider feeling almost sorry for him, as he wouldn’t care if you did or didn’t. He murdered his first wife. He sat in a house with a saw and hacked away at a person. You saw how incredibly breath taken he was to find out he was found not guilty. If he was really not guilty, that is not the reaction you would have. Wonder what will happen with him once the 6th episode airs.

  • anon

    I have no doubts he has something on his family. All of them have blood on their hands. His aunt goes missing and no one talks about but imply robert durst is responsible? Who knows what else in business they did to get ahead and stay on top. I trust none of them. If he goes down they all should.

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