Opinion: Robert Durst and ‘The Jinx’: Is watching TV the future of detective work?

Police forces are constantly looking at new technology and new methods for catching criminals: DNA, drones, flying helicopters over high-crime areas to discourage the bad guys from carrying out their dastardly deeds. Could there be a new means of nailing suspects: watching TV?

Last weekend’s arrest of Robert Durst, the New York real estate scion who has been implicated in the deaths of three people over three decades, makes me wonder about that in this week’s cartoon.

Durst has been suspected of being involved in the 1982 disappearance and presumed death of his first wife and now has been charged with the killing of a friend, Susan Berman, in Los Angeles in 2000. He shot and dismembered a neighbor in Texas in 2001 but was acquitted, claiming it was self-defense.

While filming a six-part HBO documentary called “The Jinx,” Durst apparently failed to realize that his microphone was still “hot” (live) when he went to the restroom. Talking to himself, he asks rhetorically, like something out of a tale by Edgar Allan Poe, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”


It isn’t clear whether this qualifies as a confession, at least enough to sway a jury, or whether it’s admissible in court. It also isn’t known whether this statement led to the request to the FBI by Los Angeles police to arrest Durst at a New Orleans hotel where he was staying under a false name, and to ask that he be extradited to California. Whatever the details, the revelation in the sixth and final episode of the documentary was pretty much as blockbuster as blockbuster gets – and it probably isn’t going to help him if and when he gets to trial.

Though the families of Durst’s alleged victims and the detectives who have been trying to nab him for years are no doubt pleased that he may be about to face justice for his alleged crimes, they must be a little frustrated that it was a true-crime documentary rather than traditional police work that finally did the job. That said, the police contributed mightily to where things currently stand.

The Durst case is unusual in several respects, none more than the open-mike gaffe. Generally speaking, alleged serial killers with a run dating back to the Reagan years don’t stay free by absentmindedly blabbing — even if it is to themselves in that most private of places.

In the end, it may not have been so much the cliché that Durst wanted to get caught as his succumbing to his outsize ego by agreeing to do the documentary and by taunting the authorities, like a real-life Hannibal Lecter. “Bob doesn’t seem to feel totally comfortable unless he’s at risk,” one of the documentarians told an interviewer. “He seems to like to put himself at risk. It may make him feel more vital. It may be something he’s just compelled to grasp for. In this case, we felt he had a kind of compulsion to confess.”

Sadly for detectives, murder suspects aren’t usually wired for thrills.

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