New Video! The Jinx: How Misogyny Helped Free a Murderer

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Sorta transcript:

On Sunday, HBO aired the final episode of The Jinx, a 6-part documentary about multi-millionaire Robert Durst. Durst was suspected but as yet has never been convicted in the disappearance of his wife Kathie Durst in 1982, the murder of Susan Berman in 2000, and the murder and dismemberment of Morris Black in 2001. The documentary came about after filmmakers created a dramatized account of Kathie’s disappearance and the real-life Bobby Durst contacted them to tell his side of the story.

I won’t go into the details because it’s a terrific series and I highly suggest you watch it in full, though if you’re on the Internet at all this week you’ve probably had the shocking ending spoiled for you already.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.

I’d like to briefly mention a different part of the series that absolutely took my breath away. In 2003, Durst was tried for murdering his elderly neighbor Morris Black in Galveston, TX. Durst claimed that he acted in self-defense, and that he struggled with Black over a gun, which went off, killing the old man. Durst then said he panicked and proceeded to chop up the victim into parts that he put in trash bags and dumped into the harbor.

The documentary interviews some jury members, who seem shockingly convinced of Durst’s innocence. It also shows interviews with Dursts’ attorneys, who describe their strategy of how to get the jury to forgive the fact that Durst was in Texas dressing as a woman and using a false name because he was fleeing a renewed investigation into the suspicious disappearance of his wife.

The defense did that by making the New York attorney pursuing that investigation, Jeanine Pirro, into a bogeyman. And what better bogeyman for a backwater Texas town than a successful woman?

Durst’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, told the Texas jury that Pirro was ”grandstanding” at the expense of Mr. Durst, and that he was driven from New York by a “politically motivated woman.”

As if that wasn’t bad enough, he goes on to say that Durst’s murder and dismemberment of Morris Black never would have happened had it not been for Pirro. It’s literally all Pirro’s fault, for continuing to investigate the disappearance of Kathie Durst, despite the fact that Pirro had not even named Bob Durst as a suspect in the investigation.

Durst’s other lawyer talks candidly about the fact that they created that picture of Pirro out of wholecloth – it was a fantasy of a big city aggressive bitch, specifically designed to distract the jury with a woman to hate. Remarkably, it worked. Chip states that the jury ate it up, and sure enough, interviews with jury members confirm that at least a few of them still believe that Pirro was on a witch hunt, and they still believe that Durst was just a hapless victim.

Obviously there are more stunning revelations in the documentary, but I found it interesting how this thread of misogyny enabled Durst to kill and – slight spoiler alert – get away with it.

So definitely check out The Jinx, and if you like it, I recommend another HBO true-crime documentary, Paradise Lost. There are a lot of weird similarities, including the frustration of seeing the court system repeatedly screw up and the documentary producers becoming unwittingly involved in the case.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. Timely! I just watched this episode last night and my immediate reaction was, “Leave it to tiny-town-Texas to gobble up the nasty New York bitch defense.”

  2. I’m not sure that you’ve proved misogyny here (or any other prejudices, for that matter), other than your own. What evidence do you have that the jury was sympathetic to Durst because of the category of person that was grandstanding, and not solely because they thought he was being persecuted for someone else’s political ends? How do you know they would have been less sympathetic if the prosecutor had been a man? The only prejudice in evidence here seems to be your prejudice that people in a “backwater Texas town” can’t possibly be anything but misogynist.

    I love your work, but this piece doesn’t seem to be up to your usual standards.

  3. What level of proof do you require, elspood? A psychological examination of the jurors? A retrial with a male prosecutor and the same approach?

    Based on the available evidence from numerous psychological papers women in power are judged more harshly and considered less sympathetic than men exhibiting the exact same behaviour. It’s not unreasonable to assume that effect played a role here. It’s not even unreasonable to assume to effect is larger in Texas.

    You have a point about “backwater Texas town” looking a lot like prejudice though.

  4. From watching the doc, it certainly gives the impression that gender bias on the part of the jury played at least some part into them accepting the defense’s narrative. “Over zealous prosecution are railroading my client to further their career!” isn’t exactly that rare of a defense tactic however, especially when you have so little to work with. Still, at least from the perspective that the jury was more than willing to buy into this narrative, Rebecca’s argument does have merit.

    While it’s not particularly relevant to the case considering this is 10+ years later, there just *may* be something in Pirro’s personality however that might have helped that ‘grandstanding’ charge be based on perhaps something more than just blatant misogyny:


    Very likely she presented herself during the case’s heyday in a more professional manner (nothing I saw in the brief clips of her in the docs gave the impression of this level of insanity), but I also find it difficult to accept someone who is singularly dedicated to the cause of justice and truth would actually be comfortable in such a position now. Yikes.

      1. WHAT EVEN WAS THAT? That was like some sort of bigotry buzzword soup. Ah hahaha. No one understands your insider hate words. But do come back when you can teach us how to make metal hair. We love crafts.

        PS: “Metal Hair” is the name of my Poison cover band.

  5. @bjornar, I’m not sure how to codify “level of proof” for you, but it’s certainly more than applying the result of a broad study to this specific case. What makes you say it’s not unreasonable to assume the gender bias is greater in Texas, for example? Other studies comparing Texans to other population samples? Or just more prejudice?

    I’m not even saying it’s incorrect that the jury wasn’t sympathetic to the persecution angle, I just think it’s extra important to exercise epistemic hygiene when one might have a reason to be suspected of motivated cognition.

    Apparently during the jury deliberation, there were never more than three people who would have voted guilty. I don’t think it’s fair to say that misogyny was something that tipped the verdict, when the decision was already so one-sided. There would have to be some particular reason to promote that hypothesis over others that to me seem a lot more likely (e.g. the picture the defense painted of the victim was that of a dangerous lunatic, which made self-defense a likely scenario).

    It’s hard to be rational on the hardware we’ve got. I think it’s good for skeptics to always try to do better, that’s all.

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