Connecticut mother Jennifer Farber Dulos was the niece of designer Liz Claiborne, who tailored classy, affordable fashions for a generation of working women. She was the daughter of philanthropist and Wall Street titan Hilliard Farber, who became the youngest senior vice president in the history of Chase Manhattan Bank.
Jennifer, a slender, 5-foot-7 brunette, raised five young children, two sets of twins among them, in a community that routinely ranks among the wealthiest zip codes in the nation.
Her May 2019 disappearance was inevitably going to grab headlines.
Today, investigators fear that answers to their pressing mystery—what happened to Jennifer?—were lost with the death of the case’s chief suspect, her estranged husband, Fotis Dulos.
On January 28, 2020, the real estate developer, who was raised in Greece, connected a black vacuum hose from the tailpipe of his Chevrolet Suburban into the SUV, slowly poisoning himself with carbon monoxide while in the garage of the Farmington, Connecticut estate he and Jennifer once shared.
Fotis Dulos, 53, was facing murder, kidnapping and other charges related to the presumed death of his wife when he attempted suicide. He was airlifted to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx and placed in a hyperbaric chamber. Dulos clung to life for two days, but never regained consciousness. His children visited him in the hospital before doctors removed him from life support.
In a note he’s alleged to have left before taking his life, he wrote: “I refuse to spend even an hour more in jail for something I had nothing to do with.”
Richard J. Colangelo Jr., Connecticut’s chief state’s attorney, told A&E True Crime that, in fact, the case against Fotis Dulos was so strong, it would have marked the first time he prosecuted a suspect for murder without a victim’s body.
Now, with no trial or conviction, Jennifer’s relatives have no closure. “In talking with Jennifer’s family, there’s a kind of emptiness there,” says Colangelo, who recalls the day of Fotis Dulos’s suicide as “surreal.”
“The question never got answered.”
Who Was Jennifer Dulos?
Jennifer Dulos, 50 when she went missing, was known to be “a devoted mother” and “an extremely thoughtful, reliable and organized woman,” according to a statement put out by her family at the time.
According to The New York Times, she once co-founded a theater group. More recently, she was writing blog posts for a chain of hyperlocal news websites. Some even said she’d been at work on a novel.
Jennifer disappeared from her rented New Canaan home on May 24, 2019, two years into acrimonious divorce proceedings and a custody battle with her husband, whom she’d first met at Brown University and married in August 2004.
She was last seen early that morning leaving her kids at New Canaan Country School. After not arriving for several appointments in New York, she was reported missing by friends that night.
Authorities say Jennifer was slain by her husband, who was “lying in wait” after she returned from dropping off the children.
A neighbor’s security video shows Jennifer’s Suburban leaving her home just after 10 a.m. Police said in a warrant they believed Fotis Dulos was behind the wheel and his wife’s body was in the car, which was later found abandoned.
Fotis Dulos and his live-in girlfriend, Michelle Troconis, were arrested for the first time a week after Jennifer’s disappearance, on charges of tampering with evidence and hindering prosecution. Surveillance video had shown a man matching Fotis Dulos’s description disposing of trash bags at more than 30 locations in Hartford’s North End on the same night.
Cell phone data placed Fotis Dulos and Troconis in the area, as well. Around this time, investigators also revealed that Jennifer’s blood was found mixed with the DNA of her estranged husband on a sink in the home she rented after their separation, CBS reported.
Fotis Dulos and Troconis posted bond not long after their first arrest. It would be another six months, on January 7, 2020, before escalated charges were brought against them along with Fotis’s longtime friend, attorney Kent Mawhinney. For Fotis Dulos, those charges included capital murder and kidnapping.
Gloria Farber, Jennifer’s mother, has been caring for the couple’s children since her daughter’s disappearance. She’s trying to collect on a $1.9 million civil judgment against her deceased son-in-law, for loans she made to his business that were never repaid
Though Jennifer has not been formally declared dead, attorneys for Farber say the family has “stipulated” the woman is deceased based on arrest and search warrants, according to The Advocate of Stamford.
A Trial with No Victim and No Suspect?
There is no “one size fits all” answer to the question of what happens when a murder suspect dies while awaiting trial, Mike Lawlor, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven and 24-year veteran of the Connecticut House of Representatives, tells A&E True Crime.
State prosecutors typically indicate they will drop charges against the deceased by entering a nolle prosequi, a Latin phrase literally meaning “refuse to pursue.” Then, the judge will enter a dismissal in the case.
After Fotis Dulos died, that’s precisely what prosecutor Colangelo did—but not before one of the man’s attorneys, Norm Pattis, made an unusual request, later squashed, to continue the case by trying the Dulos “estate” in an effort to prove his client didn’t murder his wife.
That, as the Hartford Courant observed, would have meant a trial without a living defendant or a victim’s body.
NBC reported that Pattis, early in his representation of Fotis Dulos, had introduced a “Gone Girl” defense, saying his office had found a mystery written by Jennifer Dulos with striking parallels to the novel (and, later, movie) of the same name. “Gone Girl,” strictly fiction, is about a woman who stages her own disappearance and sets up her husband for the fall.
The Other Defendants
At publication time, the cases continue against Dulos’s two co-defendants Troconis and Mawhinney. At some point, they will either enter into a plea agreement or move forward to trial.
Troconis, described before her troubles as a “jet-setting businesswoman,” faces charges that now include conspiracy to commit murder.
Mawhinney is also accused of conspiracy to commit murder. He was arrested at gunpoint on January 7, 2020—the same day Fotis Dulos was hit with new charges—accused of trying to fabricate an alibi for his friend the morning Jennifer vanished.
Both Troconis and Mawhinney have pleaded not guilty.
Troconis was initially ordered to home confinement, but in August defense attorney Jon Schoenhorn successfully lobbied for the state to relax those restrictions.
She must remain on GPS monitoring and cannot leave Connecticut without permission, which makes it difficult to see her daughter at school, out of state, Schoenhorn tells A&E True Crime. He also indicated other limitations: Troconis is an avid water skier, but she must refrain, even when compliantly staying in Connecticut: “They haven’t invented a waterproof GPS tracker.”
He says the state’s stance toward his client has been punitive for someone not convicted of a crime.
Schoenhorn claims that as part of the discovery process, the prosecution gave him more than 100,000 documents, photos and videos, in three separate “document dumps” without an index, a move he calls “a cynical strategy.”
Schoenhorn also says he believes evidence is being withheld that could undermine the state’s theory that a red 2001 Toyota Tacoma owned by one of Fotis Dulos’s employees was used to transport Jennifer Dulos the day of her disappearance.
In response, Colangelo says he had provided all parties with all of the information he has to date: “The state is not in the business of withholding evidence,” he says.
The next scheduled pre-trial hearing in the Troconis case is slated for November 13, 2020.
Mawhinney had been jailed in Cheshire, Connecticut. In October, a Superior Court judge reduced his $2 million bond to $246,000, to allow him to visit his ailing father in Florida. He was released on October 19 and is due back in court on December 24.
On February 21, 2021 it was announced that if Troconis is tried in Dulos’s disappearance case, Mawhinney will be one of those called to testify against her, according to Assistant State’s Attorney Daniel Cummings.
On May 24, 2021, Troconis’ family put out a statement that acknowledged the two-year anniversary of Dulos’s death. “Our hearts go out to [Jennifer Dulos’s] family while we wait to learn what might have happened to her. But for our family, May 24th also marks the beginning of two years of injustice towards Michelle.”
On May 25, 2021, Troconis attended a virtual pre-trial hearing where it was decided by both her defense attorney and the prosecutors that her trial would likely not start until 2022 because of a backlog of cases due to COVID.