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April 9, 2015
by Dr. Christina Barber-Addis,Psy.D

Our Fascination With True Crime Drama: The Robert Durst Story

April 9, 2015 05:55 by Dr. Christina Barber-Addis,Psy.D

The mini-series, “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” recently aired on HBO. The show clearly documents the creators’, Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling’s ten-year immersion into the life of Robert Durst, the eldest son and heir to the Durst family real estate empire.  The creators were fascinated with the story of Durst who may have been involved in the deaths of his close friend Susan Berman and his neighbor Morris Black, as well as the disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen Durst. The story follows Durst being questioned for the disappearance of Kathleen as her body was never found. He was never a serious suspect, even though there were many holes in his story regarding the night before and day of her disappearance. In addition, Kathleen had made comments to her friends about being fearful of Durst, that he was controlling and apparently she had sought out a divorce attorney. The mini-series also follows Durst being questioned for both murders of Berman and Black and eventually being arrested for the murder of Black. He was found not guilty of murdering Black even though Durst confessed to dismembering his body (Jerecki & Smerling, 2015).                  

Durst Got Involved

The most interesting component of “The Jinx” is that Durst volunteered to do interviews for the series, to tell his own side of the story. He consistently repeats his innocence in his wife’s disappearance and in the deaths of Berman and Black, even though he admitted to dismembering Black’s body after his accidental death. Even more fascinating is that at the end of the final interview in the last episode of “The Jinx”, Durst goes to the bathroom with his microphone still on. He apparently confesses to the killings saying to himself, “I’m caught…killed them all of course.” Just after this episode aired, Durst was then arrested for the murder of Susan Berman. He is currently in jail awaiting trial (Jerecki & Smerling, 2015).

What is the fascination with the story of this man who may also be a murderer? For some, perhaps they are riveted by the serialized story that each week gives us only a piece of the story at a time. For others, it seems possible that the fascination is in the psychological aspect of the story, that Durst shows little facial expression even when recalling his childhood trauma of witnessing his mother plummet to her death from the rooftop of his home after his father summons him to watch. Or perhaps it is his oddness that captivates audiences, with his dark, almost black eyes that blink with tick-like movements, especially after recalling something where one would expect deep emotion. Or is it in some of his calculated behaviors such as fleeing to another state after the disappearance of his wife and taking on the identity of a mute woman? (Jerecki & Smerling, 2015).

Innocent? Liar? Sociopath?

We saw a similar fascination for “Serial”, the radio show on NPR that chronicled the re-examination of the murder of high school student, Hae Min Lee. Her boyfriend Adnan Syed was convicted for her murder in 1999 but he consistently attests to his innocence. Throughout it’s 12 episodes, the audience is drawn in by the question of whether Sayed may in fact be innocent or is he just an incredibly good liar? Or worse yet, is he a sociopath? (Koenig & Snyder, 2014).

Hosted by Sarah Koenig and produced by Koenig and Julie Snyder, “Serial”, like “The Jinx” tells the story, bit by bit, over 12 episodes. The audience clearly perceives Koenig’s opinion of Syed change throughout the broadcast, from being doubtful of his guilt to wondering if he did in fact murder his girlfriend. She seems to almost want him to be innocent and in actuality her investigation into the murder assists Syed in the case being re-opened, allowing an appeal to be filed against the conviction. (Koenig & Snyder, 2014)

Antisocial Personality Disorder

In actuality, what people call a “sociopath” or “psychopath”, in psychological terms, is called Antisocial Personality Disorder. The disorder is catalogued in the newest Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), which is the book that mental health professionals use to diagnose psychiatric disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). In order to meet criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder, one must meet three of the following criteria:

1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors, as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.

2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.

3. Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead.

4. Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.

5. Reckless disregard for safety of self or others.

6. Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations.

7. Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another. 

Obviously we cannot diagnose Durst based on a documentary made about him but some of the criteria above ring true. Whether or not we can diagnose him, the fascination exists to learn more about his story and perhaps finally know whether he truly committed these crimes. This will keep us watching and following his story.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Jarecki, A. & Smerling, M. (Director/Producer). (2015). The Jinx: The life and deaths of Robert Durst. [Television mini-series]. United States: Home Box Office.

Koenig, S. & Snyder, J. (Producers). (2013). Serial. [Radio podcast]. United States: National Public RAdio.

About the Author

Dr. Christina Barber-Addis Dr. Christina Barber-Addis, Psy.D.

Each person has strengths and coping skills that they often don't realize they have. My job is to help them realize these strengths and find their "inner therapist". It is truly rewarding to walk along with clients on this journey to self-discovery.

Dr. Christina Barber-Addis can be found at
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