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The Jinx Recap: Why Do I Like This Guy?

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“One of the things I’ve always wanted in life is to have that much exposure to the public. I was made for those moments. I’d like to say the seriousness of the situation dampened my excitement. It didn’t.”

That’s Nick Chavin, former “best friend” to Robert Durst and Susan Berman, talking about how he felt before testifying against Durst for murdering Berman two days before Christmas in 2000. Chavin had craved that level of attention before as “Chinga Chavin,” the brains behind the crude 1976 comedy album Country Porn and other records, like Jet Lag and Live and Politically Erect, that even the woman he married finds disgusting and unlistenable. When Chavin settled into a career in advertising, with Durst’s real estate business as his sole client and benefactor, it must have been humbling for him to shrink from the public life he’s obviously craved as a musician. He may have been reluctant to turn on Durst initially, but he settled into the idea. Maybe he must have been thinking he could star in the popular HBO series The Jinx.

One simultaneously chilling and outrageous aspect of this second season of The Jinx is getting to know Durst’s closest friends and realizing how untroubled they are by the likelihood that he’s a murderer. Loyalty comes first. Or money. Or celebrity. Or some combination of those three things in one order or another. It’s also a reminder of how gummed up The Jinx and Jarecki have become in how the case has played out, beyond the obvious factors of renewed public scrutiny of Durst’s three murders and the “cadaver note” evidence that made the Berman prosecution more feasible. Chavin comes to like the idea of being in front of the camera, and it’s pretty evident, based on the footage in this episode, that John Lewin, Dick DeGuerin, the jurors, the judge, and others are clamoring for their 15 minutes, too. The gravity of the situation often feels like it’s missing here.

“Saving My Tears Until It’s Official” eases into the trial itself, which the opening titles tell us began in 2020 (after preliminary hearings in 2017) and ended the following year after a COVID delay. Andrew Jarecki and his team have the benefit of a wealth of footage from the trial and access to crucial pieces of evidence, even one damning taped conversation that Lewin ultimately opted not to submit for strategic reasons. And as with the Galveston case, where Durst’s team was able to sell the jury on a ludicrous self-defense angle, the first impression jurors get on the Berman trial is a defendant looking so frail that he couldn’t have possibly shot someone in the head over 20 years earlier. Durst gets wheeled into court with his hair shaved, exposing a cerebral shunt jutting out of his head, and a neck brace that looks conspicuously staged. (At least if you watched the Brady Bunch episode where Mike Brady foils a personal injury suit against his wife by dropping his briefcase behind a plaintiff who’s faking a neck injury.)

Based on the trio of jurors Jarecki has rounded up here, the ploy worked. One of them even admits to questioning “whether [Durst] was even aware of what was going on.” But Lewin’s case against Durst is a strong one, in large part because the “disappearance” of Kathie Durst can be connected to Berman, essentially putting him on trial for two murders at once. Beyond the fact that a body was never found, the notion that Kathie had taken the train to New York, away from her husband, was the best argument in Durst’s defense. She was supposedly spotted by the doorman to the Dursts’ apartment (which is not true) and she supposedly called in sick from her training at medical school. It is the prosecution’s contention that Berman placed the call herself in a bid to protect Durst and Jarecki gives a lot of context and evidence to back that claim.

For context, Lewin and Jarecki offer Lynda Obst, a Hollywood producer who’d gotten close to Berman while trying to turn her 1981 memoir Easy Street: The True Story of a Mob Family into a movie. Berman’s father was David “The Jew” Berman, a high-level gangster who had helped “Bugsy” Siegel build out his glittering empire in Las Vegas. For Obst, watching The Jinx had given her crucial insight into Berman, who’d always admired her mother for giving her father loyalty and unconditional support despite the many awful things she must have known he’d done. By this logic, Berman was to Durst as Berman’s wife was to her husband, a willing co-conspirator and keeper of secrets.

Perhaps that seems too tidy an explanation, but The Jinx offers a remarkable taped conversation between Berman and Albert Goldman, a “pop-culture author” and freelance reporter, only nine days after Kathie went missing. The recording proceeds from the assumption that Kathie is dead and then has Berman offering up various theories as to what happened to her. Most of the theories are degrading to Kathie, suggesting her as an alcoholic and a coke addict and a lousy med student, but the one Goldman seems to like is that she wore an expensive pair of diamond studs and was raped and murdered for them. (The earrings were never lost.) She ends the conversation with “I’ll save my tears until it’s official,” which isn’t the nicest way to talk about someone who was murdered, particularly a woman you unaccountably claim to be your “best friend.”

Lewin opts not to use this damning recording under the not-unreasonable logic that the jury will not be sympathetic to the victim in his case, which is Berman, not Kathie. He chooses instead to offer Chavin’s testimony about a dinner he and Durst had together after Berman’s death that ended with a confession before they parted company. “I had to,” Durst allegedly told Chavin. “It was her or me. I had no choice.” Chavin’s reluctance to come forward with this damning line — initially, he’d told investigators that he couldn’t make out what Durst said — makes him a dodgy witness, but at least he was the rare case of a Durst friend who’d turned on him. That was no small matter.

Chavin died last year before The Jinx could offer another round of media stardom. Perhaps a watch party was thrown in his honor.

Beverley Hills

• Some good testimony here from Berman’s friend Robin Karr-Morse, who recalls Berman telling her that she “was going to blow the situation wide open” but was vague in the details because she worried it would put Karr-Morse’s life in danger. Karr-Morse also reacts with appropriate horror at the Albert Goldman recording and scoffs at the fiction that Kathie and Berman were besties.

• Jarecki likes to have Charles Bagli around to connect pieces of the story, but he also has a funny Greek chorus in the “Wonder Twins,” who here joke about the distinction between a stint and a shunt.

• Lynda Obst is no small Hollywood player. She cut her teeth working with big names like Peter Guber, David Geffen, and Debra Hill, and her producer credits include Adventures in BabysittingThe Fisher KingHow to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and Interstellar.

• A reminder: Only see Jarecki’s All Good Things if you’re hopelessly addicted to this case. A very bad movie, despite Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst in the lead roles.

More From The Jinx

  • Who Killed the Gangster’s Daughter?
  • I Have So Many Questions About The Jinx’s Wonder Twins
  • The Jinx Recap: Naughty Boys

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Scott Tobias , 2024-05-06 04:00:16

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