What Happened to Jennifer Dulos: A Missing Mom, Murder Charges and a Search That Captivated the Nation

Connecticut mother of five Jennifer Dulos disappeared in 2019, but not without a trace

By Natalie Finn Jul 24, 2020 4:00 AMTags
Jennifer Dulos Murder, DatelineNBC

Fotis Dulos compared his estranged wife Jennifer's disappearance to the plot of Gone Girl.

In Gillian Flynn's 2012 bestseller, Amy fakes her own violent abduction after methodically planting evidence that will implicate her husband, Nick. Treachery ensues.

"We have been provided a very dark, 500-plus page novel Jennifer wrote," Fotis' attorney, Norm Pattis, told NBC News in a statement last year. "We don't know what had become of Jennifer, but the Gone Girl hypothesis is very much on our mind."

Those close to Jennifer thought that was cruel nonsense.

"I read Jennifer's novel in installments as she was completing the manuscript. She finished the draft around 2002 [before she even started dating Fotis]," Carrie Luft, a spokesperson for Jennifer's family, said in a statement. "Jennifer's novel is not a mystery." Luft added, "Trying to tie Jennifer's absence to a book she wrote more than 17 years ago makes no sense. This is not fiction or a movie. This is real life."

And in real life, Jennifer Dulos was gone.

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So, now, is Fotis Dulos, who suffered carbon monoxide poisoning in an apparent suicide attempt and died after being charged with his wife's murder in January.

His girlfriend, Michelle Troconis, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit murder.

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Still, Jennifer has not been found. On May 22, two days shy of the one-year anniversary of her disappearance, the New Canaan Police Department posted on social media a synopsis of what had happened since and thanked an extensive list of law-enforcement bodies that had assisted the search and investigation, calling it the "most far-reaching and complex case our Department has ever handled."

"We will never forget the impact this tragic case has had on Jennifer's mother, children, family, and friends," the department continued. "On Sunday, May 24, 2020, please keep Jennifer, her mother, children, family and friends in your thoughts and prayers."

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Jennifer Farber Dulos was last seen dropping her children off at New Canaan Country Day School in the moneyed enclave of New Canaan, Conn., at around 8 a.m. on May 24, 2019, a Friday. Her cleaning lady later told detectives she went to Jennifer's house at noon and no one was there. Jennifer then missed appointments she had scheduled for 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Two friends reported the slim, 5'7" 50-year-old brunette missing at 7 p.m. that evening. Police found her black Chevrolet Suburban on the side of the road near New Canaan's 300-acre Waveny Park that night.

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The next day, when police went to search Jennifer's rental house—where she had moved with her five kids in June 2017, several months after finding out that Fotis was having an affair with Troconis—they found traces of blood in the garage. Helicopters searching for signs of Jennifer flew over Waveny Park, canine units traversed the grounds and divers probed the depths of the ponds. As the days went by, there was no activity on her credit cards and no calls made from her cell phone. Missing-person posters dotted the landscape all over New Canaan.

"Those who know Jennifer know her to be a devoted mother; an extremely thoughtful, reliable, and organized woman; and attest that she would never, ever, disappear when she is responsible for the lives of five loving and energetic children," Jennifer's family said in a statement at the time obtained by NBC News.

According to the Hartford Courant, she and Fotis, a luxury property developer, had been fighting in court for two years over custody and alimony. Jennifer had said in court filings that she was afraid her Greek-born husband would whisk the kids away with him and his girlfriend to Greece and she'd never see them again—or, that he would harm her in some way. More than 400 court filings had been logged since Jennifer filed for divorce in June 2017 after 13 years of marriage, and there were five more hearings on the docket for August, per records reviewed by NBC News.

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"He has the attitude that he must always win at all costs. He is dangerous and ruthless when he believes he has been wronged," Jennifer alleged in one filing from 2017. "During our marriage, he told me about sickening revenge fantasies and plans to cause physical harm to others who have wronged him." And, her estranged husband owned a gun, she stated.

In March 2019, a judge had granted Fotis—"a liar who willingly ignored court orders," she had previously called him—supervised visits with his kids every other weekend, but there were numerous restrictions, including that he couldn't speak to the children in Greek to try and get a message past the supervisor.

At the same time, the estate of Jennifer's father, a banking executive who died in January 2017, was going after Fotis in court as well, alleging he owed his estranged wife's family $2.5 million in unpaid loans they had provided him to fund his business.

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While police searched for Jennifer, the kids—then between the ages of 8 and 13 (including two sets of twins)—were with their maternal grandmother in New York. Fotis' family attorney filed a motion for a new custody hearing after, the father of five alleged, he had gone to see them on May 26 and was turned away. A hearing was set for June 5, 2019.

However, Fotis and Troconis, who had been living together with Troconis' 10-year-old daughter at the time, were arrested on June 2 at a hotel in Avon, Conn. They were charged with hindering prosecution and tampering with evidence after, according to the arrest warrant obtained by NBC News, authorities found clothing and sponges stained with Jennifer's blood in city trash cans in Hartford.

The warrant stated that surveillance footage from city security cameras showed a man who matched Fotis' description disposing of multiple trash bags in different bins on Albany Avenue in Hartford, while a woman who appeared to be Troconis waited in the passenger seat of a pickup truck (which turned out to belong to one of Fotis' employees, and Fotis had taken it from a job site). Investigators also spent many hours weeding through garbage at the city trash plant to search the contents of the cans that had already been hauled away.

Referring to the blood traces found at Jennifer's house, there "was evidence of attempts to clean the crime scene," the warrant stated.

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Bail was set at $500,000 for each and they were required to wear ankle monitors once they were released. They both pleaded not guilty, and Fotis maintained his innocence in an interview with NBC New York, telling the station, "I think with information they had, they did [the] best they could, I understand they had tremendous pressure on them. Statistically when this happens, 90 or 95 percent, it's the spouse. So I understand why people feel like this."

New Canaan Police

A few weeks later, Fotis' attorney Norm Pattis introduced the Gone Girl theory, suggesting that Jennifer could have staged her own disappearance. He also floated a "revenge suicide" theory in court, citing "evidence of an alarming number of medical tests she endured just prior to her disappearance."

"Jennifer is not here to protect her children, and these false and irresponsible allegations hurt the children now and into the future," the Faber family spokesperson Carrie Luft said.

The case—rich, attractive, white mom with a picture-perfect family disappears—naturally attracted national attention from the beginning. So much so that Gillian Flynn was asked about it after Fotis' lawyer compared the scenario to Gone Girl.

The author told NBC News in a statement, "It absolutely sickens me that a work of fiction written by me would be used by Fotis Dulos's lawyer as a defense, and a hypothetical, sensationalized motive behind Jennifer's very real and very tragic disappearance."

Patrick Raycraft/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Meanwhile, authorities continued to investigate.

Dateline reported this week that, among the 200 pieces of security camera video reviewed from various sources, school bus cam footage showed the pickup truck Fotis had been driving on May 24, 2019, parked about 3 miles away from Jennifer's house. An eagle-eyed detective spotted a bike tire in the back. They eventually found footage of a man, conspicuously (in their stated opinion) dressed in black on a warm May day, riding an identifiable Mercier-brand bicycle toward her home at around 7:30 a.m. on the day she disappeared.

Investigators surmised that Fotis rode the bike to his estranged wife's house and then used her car to leave with her body.

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Additional charges of tampering were filed against Fotis and Troconis on Sept. 4. They both pleaded not guilty and he was released on a $500,000 bond, while Troconis was let out on a $100,000 bond.

In similarly worded dual arrest warrants for the couple, Connecticut State Police noted a surveillance image taken of Jennifer in her Suburban driving toward her house on May 24, 2019, after taking her kids to school. The warrants stated, "At the time this footage was recorded, Dulos is believed to have been lying in wait...for his wife to return home." Then, the "crime and cleanup are believed to have occurred between 8:05 and 10:25 a.m."

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After that, the warrants continued, "Dulos is believed to be operating the victim's vehicle which is carrying the body of Jennifer Dulos and a number of other items associated with the clean-up which occurred in the garage of the residence." After Fotis was done with Jennifer's SUV, he took his employee's truck—the one seen on the surveillance footage near the garbage cans—to finish getting rid of the evidence, police charged.

Fotis tried to get employee Pawel Gumienny to lend his boss his truck while he used a company car over Memorial Day weekend, Gumienny told police, but he refused. The next week, however, Fotis and Troconis took the truck and had it washed and detailed, Gumienny said. Fotis also pressed him to get his seats replaced, Gumienny recalled, and he did—but he kept the old ones, and turned them over to police. Investigators found blood on the passenger seat and testing linked it to Jennifer's DNA.

Patrick Raycraft/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Furthermore, the state police said, Troconis had admitted in an Aug. 13 interview with them—their third sit-down with her—that she hadn't been entirely truthful with them in her previous interviews. Her falsehoods included that she was with Fotis on the morning of May 24, she said. In fact, she told police, she didn't know where he was that morning.

"Remember that Michelle is presumed innocent and she should be," Troconis' attorney at the time, Andrew Bowman, told reporters after her second arrest. "We're prepared to let judgment in this case rest in a jury's hands."

Her current lawyer, Jon Schoenhorn, has argued that his client was interviewed three times without a translator, preventing her from properly communicating her side of the story.

NBC

On an episode of Dateline that aired a few nights later in September, Fotis Dulos told NBC News' Dennis Murphy that he believed Jennifer was alive and he had nothing to do with her disappearance—but he didn't want to elaborate, per his attorney's advice, he said.

"I wish she were here, to sort this mess out," he said. "And I'm still hoping that she's going to show up."

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Instead, on Jan. 7, 2020, Fotis was charged with capital murder, murder and kidnapping in Jennifer's death, and Troconos was charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

Norm Pattis, Fotis' lawyer, told reporters that his client was innocent and the state of Connecticut had "thrice now driven a dagger into the presumption of innocence and into the heart of Mr. Dulos by accusing him of scandalous crimes."

Asked by Dateline recently why so many months went by before his office filed murder charges, Chief State's Attorney Richard Colangelo said, "I wanted to make sure that we had all the information and we were able to prove the case when we went forward." Colangelo said it was their belief that zip ties that investigators found in one of the bags Fotis dumped in a trash can in Hartford were ties that he had brought to Jennifer's house to restrain her—but she fought back, resulting in the blood at the scene.

Patrick Raycraft/Hartford Courant/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

At the time, however, Fotis posted a $6 million bond and returned to his Farmington home, where he was confined to house arrest.

On Jan. 28, he was due in court for a bond hearing (the homes he had put up for collateral were said to be in foreclosure). Instead, Fotis attached a tube to his exhaust pipe, got into his Suburban in his closed garage and started the motor. State police officers conducting a welfare check because he missed the hearing found him at 11:54 a.m. and called for an ambulance, while also attempting life-saving measures at the house.

Fotis was airlifted to a hospital in New York, where he died two days later after being taken off life support. Per investigators, he left behind a handwritten note that began, "If you are reading this I am no more. I refuse to spend even an hour more in jail for something I had NOTHING to do with. Enough is enough. If it takes my head to end this, so be it."

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He wrote that Troconis "had nothing to do with the disappearance of Jennifer Dulos" and asked that someone "let my children know that I love them, I would do anything to be with them, but unfortunately we all have our limits." His kids had been able to visit him at the hospital before he died.

"This is a horrific tragedy all around," Jennifer's family said in a statement, per NBC News.

"It's been a truly horrific day for the family filled with difficult decisions, medical tests and meeting the requirements to determine death," Pattis also told reporters on behalf of Fotis' family. "Having said that, we want to thank everybody for their interest. And as to those who contend that Mr. Dulos' death reflects a consciousness of guilt, we say no. We say it was more of a conscience over-worn with the weight of the world that was too busy to listen and that wanted a story more than it wanted the truth."

Troconis entered her not guilty plea on the conspiracy charge on Feb. 7. According to Connecticut's Fox 61, she had been confined to house arrest since posting bond, allowed out only to shop, engage in religious worship or work. At the hearing the judge relaxed the terms of her confinement, allowing her to go on business trips within the state of Connecticut if the court gave her permission, and she had to turn over her passports.

Erik Trautmann/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP, Pool

Free on a combined $2.1 million in bonds from her three arrests, Troconis, who is from Argentina, broke her public silence in May, saying in a statement released by her attorney (whose office translated it from her native Spanish into English) that she regretted trusting Fotis Dulos.

"To those who are quick to judge people they do not know. Let me say this: it is possible to misjudge others," she said, per the Hartford Courant. "Whether or not Fotis Dulos was capable of doing the things the police and prosecutors accused him of doing, I do not know, but based on what I have learned in the last year, I think it was a mistake to have trusted him."

Jessica Hill/AP/Shutterstock

Troconis continued, "But despite the way I have been treated by the police, I know nothing about Jennifer Dulos' whereabouts...what may have happened to her. I know that under American law, I don't have to prove my innocence, but actually to me it feels that way during all this time under public scrutiny."

Her next court date is Aug. 6, the proceedings having been postponed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in temporary court closures around the country.

While the Faber family took some solace in the arrests of Fotis and Troconis, the chance for certain answers died with Fotis Dulos.

In May, marking the one-year anniversary of her disappearance, the family said in a statement, relayed by Dateline, that the "ache of her absence doesn't go away...Somehow an entire year has elapsed. We can see it and measure it in the growth of her children, who are taller, stronger, wiser and more like their mom every day."

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