Read all Slate’s coverage of The Jinx.
Anyone who’s listened to the podcast Serial, or watched Andrew Jarecki’s first documentary Capturing the Friedmans, may have tried to go into the finale of The Jinx with carefully measured expectations. Both Serial and Friedmans ended up as meditations on the elusive nature of truth, with no confession or smoking gun in sight. Jarecki even faced criticism for what some saw as Friedmans’ “studied ambiguity.”
No one is going to be making that criticism of The Jinx. Jarecki’s new documentary series for HBO ended with about as satisfying a conclusion as one could ask for. First, Jarecki presented longtime murder suspect Robert Durst with new evidence: an apparent handwriting match between a letter he sent to murder victim Susan Berman and a letter sent to police alerting them to a “cadaver” at her home. The existence of the letter was revealed to viewers at the end of the penultimate episode, but it was something different to see Durst react to it. For the first time, he very visibly struggled to keep his composure, even beginning to burp or retch. (For those who’ve seen The Act of Killing, this reaction might bring to mind that documentary’s similarly satisfying conclusion, which shows Anwar Congo gagging when the full weight of the killings he’s responsible for seems to finally hit him.)
But what would appear to be the most damning evidence came after Durst stepped off camera. Replicating a mistake he made earlier in the show, he seemed to forget that he was still wearing a microphone. “There it is. You’re caught,” he is heard saying to himself, after he steps into the bathroom. “What a disaster.” Then, in the final moments of the show: “What the hell did I do?” he murmurs. “Killed them all, of course.”
Some may question the ethics of Jarecki’s decision to wait before bringing the letter to the police. According to what Jarecki told the New York Times, their lawyers told them that if they brought the letter to law enforcement too early, “they could be considered law enforcement agents,” which might make the evidence useless in the case of a trial. Sure enough, Durst was arrested on Saturday in New Orleans, on the eve of the finale. As former Manhattan prosecutor Daniel J. Castleman put it, speaking to the Times, “That’s pretty damning stuff.” “The question is,” he continued, “Is it admissible in court?”
As unbelievable as all these developments are, after investigators have tried for decades to get a confession out of Durst, the story of the discovery of the tape is almost as unbelievable. According to the Times, “More than two years passed after the interview before the filmmakers found the audio.” That timeline is hard to square with the one presented on The Jinx, but however long it took, fans of the show—and more importantly the friends and family members who have spent years searching for closure—will just be glad that Jarecki and his team finally found it.