Robert Durst, HBO's The Jinx and our obsession with real-time crime solving
Sunday's finale not only ended with plenty of questions unanswered, but led to new ones
True crimes revisited, new stones of evidence overturned, doubts cast and questions raised – just some of the addictive storytelling elements that slowly unfold in a new kind of investigative series that coincides with real-time legal action and endless, explosive online speculation.
The latest true crime series to spark a tsunami of online debate (and subsequent legal action) is filmmaker Andrew Jarecki's HBO documentary The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.
It details real estate fortune heir Robert Durst's life of privilege and his links to three deaths: his friend in Los Angeles, Susan Berman; his wife in New York, Kathleen Durst; and an elderly neighbour in Texas, Morris Black.
Before that, the NPR podcast Serial focused last year on the opaque details surrounding the 1999 murder of 18-year-old Baltimore-area high school student Hae Min Lee and the man convicted of killing her, Adnan Syed.
The series has been downloaded by millions of people worldwide and spawned an obsession online for more information and conversation. Serial also encouraged some people on the periphery of the case to come forward with new information.
It let listeners become part of solving the mystery as journalist Sarah Koenig’s reporting unfolded almost in real time.
The Jinx ups the ante with what appears to be a nationally broadcast murder confession caught on tape.
Durst is heard muttering off camera that he "killed them all, of course," at the end of the series.
A reality show where Sarah Koenig and Andrew Jarecki compete to see who can solve murder mysteries faster.—@katespencer
The show has received beyond glowing reviews from the media. The New York Times called it "gut-wrenching, remarkable television."
GQ called it "the best and creepiest thing to binge watch this weekend," while the blog Grantland called the new true-crime boom "the art of unease," and Gothamist told readers "why you should be watching The Jinx."
“<a href="https://twitter.com/denisedensing">@denisedensing</a>: <a href="https://twitter.com/rosieperezbklyn">@rosieperezbklyn</a> What an Ending to <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Jinx?src=hash">#Jinx</a>!!! Great Doc!!”Still freaked out! "KILLED THEM ALL, OF COURSE"- <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RobertDurst?src=hash">#RobertDurst</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/HBO">@HBO</a>—@rosieperezbklyn
Bravo <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AndrewJarecki?src=hash">#AndrewJarecki</a> for out-sleuthing police in 3 states.—@MiaFarrow
But, TV that good doesn't escape unscathed. First comes the addiction, then the backlash.
Sunday's show not only ended with plenty of questions unanswered, but led to new ones – this time about the filmmakers.
Durst was arrested on Saturday, the day before the series finale aired.
Filmmaker's cloudy timeline
Coinciding in real time was a storm of online speculation over whether something with that kind of jaw-dropping timing could have been orchestrated.
Jarecki is being taken to task online over the timeline of his story.
Mathletes, help! How could that Durst audio, which must have been from fall 2013, have been found two years later? <a href="http://t.co/9nFNLNeFI2">http://t.co/9nFNLNeFI2</a>—@KateAurthur
The New York Times reported that two years went by between when Durst's supposed confession was recorded and when it was discovered. That timing has been discounted online.
Regardless, people are enraptured by the story, which Jarecki himself has called "fascinating" and"operatic."
It isn't immediately clear to what extent the filmmakers co-operated with authorities.
Durst's lawyer, Chip Lewis, smelled a setup, telling The Associated Press that Jarecki was "duplicitous" for not making it clear to Durst that he would be sharing information with police. Lewis also suspected that the timing of Durst's arrest on Saturday was co-ordinated between the authorities and HBO for maximum impact.
"It's all about Hollywood now," Lewis said.
But Los Angeles police said Sunday that the arrest came as the result of new information developed over the last year. And Jarecki told ABC's Good Morning America on Monday that he had no idea the arrest was coming.
Former prosecutor Jeanine Pirro, who had been gathering evidence against Durst in the 1982 disappearance of his wife Kathleen when Berman was killed in 2000, dismissed the idea that federal agents would time an arrest for HBO.
"The FBI picked him up because he was in New Orleans under an assumed name about to go to Cuba where there's no extradition," she said. "There's no way the FBI or LAPD could care about Andrew Jarecki's program. They care about this guy getting away."
With files from The Associated Press