I’m not Charles Manson.
People don’t grow up. They just grow old. It’s the same part they play, only with different actors, before fresh backdrops. What had been a ski slope in Argentina becomes a mansion in Farmington, Connecticut—but the essence remains the same.
Michelle Troconis was 42 when she met Fotis Dulos, in 2016. She had been all over the world, worked various jobs, been involved in affairs and breakups, married, divorced, and had a child, yet here she was, in the middle of life, behaving no differently than she might have at 20, sleeping with a married man, a father of five, moving into his house before he was divorced, engaging in the sort of love triangle that invariably ends in disaster.
There are gaps in this story. We cannot know how everything looked or felt, or exactly what happened and when. The only people who knew for certain were Fotis Dulos, Jennifer Farber Dulos, and Michelle Troconis. Fotis is dead. Jennifer is presumed dead. Michelle, who has been charged with conspiracy to commit murder—she has pleaded not guilty—is under house arrest and is not talking.
Fotis and Michelle probably met in a hotel or spa, being habitués of high-end resort life. They looped the same wheel of mountains and beaches, dining rooms, and marble lobbies. It was only a matter of time before the dealer placed the jack of diamonds beside the queen of hearts. A lift line in Colorado, say—Troconis owned an apartment in Vail, according to Crimefeed—at the foot of one of those preposterously named black-diamond runs, Genghis Khan or Dragon’s Teeth.
Fotis had re-united with his schoolmate Jennifer Farber in just such a place in 2003: the little airport in Aspen, where they ran into each other by chance. “Serendipity cast its spell,” Jennifer later blogged. “We had a special chemistry together, always, something special and precious and we were careful to be careful with one another until lightning finally struck.”
He was 36, trim and handsome, looking not so different from when they were students at Brown. He was still married to his first wife, Hilary Aldama, another Brown alumnus. She was nearly a decade younger than Jennifer but years ahead in knowledge, having already learned what Jennifer would come to know at great cost: that Fotis, though smart, straight, charismatic, and energetic, was not the key to happiness. Aldama’s divorce was finalized in July 2004. Fotis and Jennifer married six weeks later. Aldama, a lawyer who lives and works in Shreveport, Louisiana, must feel like the traveler who exited the train at the last station before it derailed.
Fotis, though smart, straight, charismatic, and energetic, was not the key to happiness.
Fotis was nearly 50 when he met Troconis, a dangerous age for a certain kind of man. To paraphrase T. S. Eliot, he had seen the moment of his greatness flicker, had seen the eternal Footman hold his coat and snicker. Was it his wife in Connecticut, the five kids, the house, the business and debt, the employees, cars, and trucks that sent him back to this familiar fishing hole, this green sea of resort life, where the rich and eligible and recently divorced swim by in teeming schools?
Even after three decades in America, Fotis seemed to consider himself an expat, a Greek who’d spent some of his formative years in Turkey, a foreigner at a double remove. When he thought of childhood, it was the markets and streets of Istanbul, which he insisted on calling by its Byzantine name, that came to mind. In an essay Fotis wrote for Working Journal, a chronicle of people and their stories he’d been collaborating on with a photojournalist named Michael Fiedler (Fotis’s contribution was removed after Jennifer’s disappearance and before publication), he wrote that being a Greek in “Constantinople” had allowed him “to witness and understand a great deal about what it takes to live harmoniously in a multi-cultural society.... My family moved to Athens, Greece and by the time I was … approaching the end of my high school years, I knew that I wanted to get exposed to society and cultures beyond the confines of my own country.... When I attended Brown University and Columbia Business School, I met people from every corner of the globe and this excited me beyond belief.”
Michelle Troconis had led a similar, all-over-the-world kind of life, the wayward existence of the wealthy. Though South American—Spanish is her first language; she often uses a translator in court—she was born (in 1974) in Tennessee, according to the Daily Mail, while her father, Carlos Troconis, a cardiac surgeon, was in residency at the children’s hospital in Memphis. He later worked in Italy and the Dominican Republic, according to the Daily Mail, but spent most of his career in Venezuela, where Michelle grew up in the 1980s. Her mother, Marisela Arreaza, is a counselor.
Troconis earned a degree in psychology at the Central University of Venezuela. According to the news site Heavy.com, she also worked at the Cheff Therapeutic Riding Center in Augusta, Michigan, where those with special needs are soothed on horseback—“Fifty Years of Smiles, Laughter, Horses, Healing & Fun.” She learned marketing and P.R. along the way, later taking positions at resorts and spas around the world. She has spent her working life in the upper layer of the service industry, among the instructors, guides, and concierges who sit atop the resort world like the froth on a cappuccino.
Spas, Resorts, and Ozzy Osbourne
From 2003 to 2012, Troconis was the director of marketing and public relations of Cerro Castor on Mount Krund, in Argentina. The southernmost ski resort in the world, Cerro Castor sits beside the Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego. The resort, which is relatively new—it opened in 1999—has become a curiosity, a star on the map of well-heeled snow fanatics. Ozzy Osbourne and his wife, Sharon, visited Cerro Castor in 2009. There is a picture of the rock ’n’ roll aristocrats bookended by Michelle Troconis and Gaston Begue, who managed the resort. What floppy-haired, big-toothed Begue lacked in looks he made up in athleticism. A member of Argentina’s Olympic ski team, Begue competed in the 1994 Games in Alberta, Canada, finishing in 48th place—last—in the super G. Begue is the father of Michelle’s daughter.
Michelle had been married and divorced to another man by 2016: Venezuelan Paul Enrique Gimenez, according to the Daily Mail. She had moved to Miami, where she lived near her mother, father, and other family. She did some work for her sister, who has a company that sells “chic covers” to protect “chic shoes” from the rain, according to Heavy.com, but was mostly at loose ends, wandering from resort to resort, waiting to see what would happen next, which turned out to be Fotis Dulos.
What did Michelle Troconis look like in her natural habitat, at a beach hotel or on a ski slope, in a bikini or Moncler snowsuit? It’s hard to get a sense, because these days you only see her on the way to or from court, surrounded by lawyers, reporters, and cops. She looks run-down, put-upon, although, during one court visit, she flashed a smile as she entered a conference room and you got a sense of the kind of fun she must have been for Fotis. She has long dark hair and wide-set, almond eyes, high cheekbones, and a hard, angular face. She looks pampered. She looks like the citizen of that nation that exists everywhere and nowhere, above and beyond all other nations, a republic of the first class and top drawer that exists beyond restriction and border. She looks rich.
Michelle was mostly at loose ends, wandering from resort to resort, waiting to see what would happen next, which turned out to be Fotis Dulos.
She had done some work for Fotis at the Fore Group, fixed up the Web site and so forth. The fact that all this was happening while Jennifer was trying to raise her children only added to and complicated the pain.
The marriage had not been good for a while. There was estrangement, distance between the couple even when they shared a bed. Jennifer knew Fotis had been running around, cheating. His Facebook page was filled with pictures of women, various and sundry, clinging to him, or smiling happily into the smartphone.
Why did it take her so long to ask for a divorce?
Because she’d been afraid of how Fotis would react.
“I know that filing for divorce, and filing this motion will enrage him,” she wrote in divorce documents. “I know he will retaliate by trying to harm me in some way.... During the course of our marriage, he told me about sickening revenge fantasies and plans to cause physical harm to others who have wronged him.”
Fotis’s Facebook page was filled with pictures of women clinging to him. Why did it take Jennifer so long to ask for a divorce?
But there was no way to ignore the affair with Troconis. When Jennifer confronted him in March 2017, Fotis admitted the affair. He said he’d been involved with Troconis for about a year. He said he had real feelings for her.
At first, Fotis believed the divorce could be “amicable.” That’s how he wanted it. Easy. Obliging. Amicable. But Fotis’s plans for the summer of 2017 pushed Jennifer beyond amicability. “My husband informed me that he decided to move [Troconis] and her daughter into the marital home and enroll [Troconis’s] daughter in the private school that our children had attended for the last two years,” Jennifer testified. “He informed me that our children and I will continue to reside in the marital home every weekend during the summer, so that we all—his paramour and her daughter included—would be together.”
One night in June 2017, when Fotis was gone—he was always gone—Jennifer loaded her kids in the car and drove away. Fotis called the police when he got home. He said the children had been kidnapped, spirited off by his unstable wife.
Jennifer filed for divorce that June. She enrolled her kids in the New Canaan Country School for the fall, then rented the house at 69 Welles Lane in New Canaan, which would turn out to be the last place she ever lived.
For the Dulos kids, it was a move from a wealthy town to one that was even wealthier. This became an irritant to Fotis, who claimed his wife was poisoning his children against him, telling them, “Your father likes Farmington because he is not that smart; successful people live in New Canaan.”
It was a move from a wealthy town to one that was even wealthier. This became an irritant to Fotis.
Divorces feed on their own blood. The worse one is, the worse that’s said in court. The worse that’s said, the worse it gets. It’s a negative-feedback loop, a spiral. For the first few months, the Dulos parents continued to share custody. Fotis got his kids for family dinners and Greek lessons and water-ski practice right up to the moment Jennifer learned that Michelle and her daughter were living in the Farmington house. From that point, the divorce shifted from mildly to historically contentious. “There were,” according to the Stamford Advocate, “more than 300 motions filed by the estranged couple during their contentious divorce battle.… Data shared with Hearst Connecticut Media by the Judicial Branch in July 2019 showed that the Dulos’ divorce case could be among the most litigious of all divorce cases in Connecticut.”
For Jennifer, there was one overriding issue: custody. She did not want her children living in the same house as Michelle Troconis and her daughter, did not want those families mingled. In arguing her case, Jennifer cited Fotis’s “history of controlling, volatile and delusional behavior,” telling the court that she feared for her children’s safety. As the nanny told police, Fotis had tried to run Jennifer over with the car and had chased her through the house. Jennifer said Fotis told her older children that she had hired someone to break his legs. Questioned about this, Fotis corrected his wife, saying that what he actually told the children was that their mother “could have hired someone from the Mafia to break his legs.”
By the end of 2018, Judge Donna Heller of the Connecticut State Superior Court was presiding over the case. Judge Heller appointed a psychologist to monitor the family. Fotis’s visits with his children were observed by a court-appointed counselor, who reported to the judge. There were between 20 and 25 such fishbowl sessions. There is pathos in the picture one gets of Fotis playing basketball with his kids as a social worker takes notes.
Judge Heller established certain redlines, which Fotis promptly crossed. One was about Troconis. She was not allowed to be present during any of Fotis’s visits with his children. Fotis brought Michelle anyway, then told his kids to lie about it. Naturally, Jennifer found out—what’s worse than asking a child to be disloyal to his or her mom?—and Judge Heller restricted Fotis’s visitation rights. According to the Stamford Advocate, “The judge concluded that Fotis Dulos was pressuring his children to lie in order to advance his argument, and that in at least one instance, his actions constituted ‘emotional abuse.’”
In March 2018, the judge awarded Jennifer “sole physical custody of the children and the final word on all decisions involving them,” according to the Hartford Courant. She also ordered Fotis to undergo regular therapy until he “understood the ramifications of the improper requests that he has made of the children to lie on his behalf.”
Desperate, Angry, Paranoid
Fotis became increasingly desperate in these weeks, angry, then paranoid. He believed that Jennifer, her lawyer—a Greenwich attorney named Reuben Midler—and Judge Heller were conspiring against him. He filed a complaint, asking that Judge Heller be removed. He said she was biased against him because he was Greek. When Fotis asked that his children be in Farmington on the weekend of April 28, 2019, to celebrate Greek Easter, Judge Heller said no. According to Jennifer’s lawyer, some 15 members of the Troconis family would be present.
“Then the children will not have Easter,” said Fotis. “That’s great.”
“Your Honor, I am sorry, but why do I always get the raw end of the stick?,” Fotis asked Judge Heller on another occasion. “I really want to see my children. I have spent two percent of the time with them since January. I’m not Charles Manson.”
“The ultimate chutzpah is when Fotis tried to get Judge Donna Heller disqualified from presiding over his divorce case,” writes Lawrence Dressler, a lawyer who, after spending 20 months in prison for mortgage fraud, turned himself into a pundit on white-collar crime. His blog is named for his jailhouse moniker, Larry Noodles, which he says he got when he was caught smuggling pasta into the federal penitentiary in Otisville, New York. “Fotis contacted Judge Heller’s husband,” a divorce lawyer called Norman Heller, Dressler continued. “Fotis asked Norman Heller some legal questions over the telephone. Fotis never met or hired Heller. Fotis then filed a motion to disqualify Judge Heller on the grounds that her husband ‘represented’ him.”
“In his March 13 motion to get Judge Donna Heller thrown off his divorce case, Dulos claimed he had no idea the attorney he was discussing fees with was the husband of the judge overseeing his contentious divorce,” the Hartford Courant reported. “But he argued, ‘There’s a reasonable appearance of impropriety,’ so Heller should be disqualified.”
“But Reuben Midler, Farber Dulos’ attorney, wasn’t buying Dulos’ claim that he didn’t know Norman Heller was the judge’s husband,” the Hartford Courant continued. “In a sharply worded response to Dulos’ motion, Midler said it was ‘common knowledge’ that the Hellers were married, and he asked the judge to order a psychological evaluation of Dulos, saying Dulos’ legal maneuver was further evidence of his ‘manipulative, coercive and scheming behaviors displayed throughout this case and which is indicative of an underlying and potentially untreatable mental condition or psychopathology that should be thoroughly investigated.’”
In short, Fotis was losing on every front. He was losing his wife, his kids, his business. He had to pay all kinds of fees—lawyers, social workers, psychiatrists. The debt, which accumulated day after day, was pushing him toward insolvency. Gloria Farber, who with her now deceased husband, Hilliard, had loaned Fotis millions over the years, was suing for the repayment of one particular loan, $1.5 million the Farbers had fronted their son-in-law so he could buy a house, which he renovated and put back on the market. Even after it was sold, Fotis only repaid a fraction of the loan (he claimed these were gifts). By the spring of 2019 he owed more than $4 million to banks and mortgage companies.
Here was a man, known to erupt when pressed and pressured, being pressed and pressured from every side.
The fourth part of this story will appear in the February 29 issue of AIR MAIL
Rich Cohen is an Editor at Large for AIR MAIL