It’s a good idea to get into a person’s head. If, for example, you are trying to find something that’s been hidden—let’s say a man, in the midst of financial trouble and a bad divorce, complete with child-custody brouhaha, killed his wife, but her body has not been found—you might want to get in your car and retrace the route the presumed killer took that day, see what he saw, look at what he looked at, and possibly catch a detail missed by all those F.B.I. agents, cops, helicopters, cadaver dogs, surveillance cameras, and forensic teams.
Jennifer Farber Dulos, New York City transplant, mother of five, playwright, memoirist, and scion of a great fortune, vanished on the morning of May 24, 2019, after dropping her kids off at the New Canaan Country School.
Fotis Dulos, builder, father of five, unfaithful and occasionally violent husband, water-skiing aficionado, handsome small man with exotic background—born in Turkey, lived in Greece, educated at Brown—was in a red pickup truck that same morning, traveling from Farmington, Connecticut, where he lived with his paramour, to the tonier town of New Canaan, where his estranged wife lived with their children.
When Fotis complained to the children about their mother, the subject of the towns came up. According to Fotis, Jennifer told the kids that successful people do not live in places like Farmington but in places like New Canaan. If she did indeed say this, it was a toss-off that illuminates the engine of the tragedy: money, status, class.
Fotis, who met Jennifer in college, then met her again at the Aspen Airport a decade later, was a failure in business, a builder of homes that did not sell, a man who had to borrow from his in-laws to stay afloat and owed Jennifer’s mother, Gloria Farber, an esteemed New York educator, a great deal of money.
Well educated and handsome as he was—good looks are like equity investments; too much is trouble—Fotis was just not that smart. (He pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges and died while the case was still ongoing, but investigators have been able to reconstruct many of his actions.) While he clearly tried to cover his tracks—he swapped vehicles and license plates, and, according to the prosecutors, shaved his head to disguise his appearance—he left a trail of evidence, bread crumbs that could be followed from Farmington to New Canaan and on to several other places, where incriminating items—zip ties, Jennifer’s Vineyard Vines shirt—were found in the days leading up to Fotis’s arrest.
The engine of the tragedy: money, status, class.
Fotis took his own life on January 28, 2020, eight months after Jennifer’s disappearance, but, being Fotis, botched it, lingering in this world just long enough for his kids to sit at his bedside before he expired. His alleged accomplices—Kent Mawhinney, the friend and lawyer who allegedly helped him invent an alibi; Michelle Troconis, the paramour who allegedly helped dump the evidence—have been left to take the rap. According to the latest, Mawhinney may try to make a deal, flip on Troconis and save himself, a reversal Troconis’s lawyer has dismissed as the antics of a “jailhouse informant.” Both Troconis and Mawhinney have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit murder.
Even in death, Fotis is ruining the lives of his friends.
Spec Houses and Cul-de-Sacs
Farmington, Connecticut, is just over a hundred miles from New York City, where Jennifer Farber was born and educated, a member of the 1987 class of Saint Ann’s in Brooklyn, an elite private school. And that’s probably how she oriented herself—not to Boston, or New Canaan, but to New York.
In truth, she spent her last decade, having given up a career as a playwright for a shot at the American Dream of family, house, grass, barbecues, and blue skies, living in what amounts to a suburb of Hartford. She was Rapunzel in a hilltop castle, perched above Farmington Avenue, a gauntlet—UConn Health, UConn Dermatology Associates, Jefferson Radiology—of hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices. In morning or afternoon, the last words she’d see before getting on the highway—they’re on the big sign above Route 4 near South Road—are some of the most ominous in the language: Children’s Medical Center.
What she gave up in proximity was returned in square footage. The house where Jennifer and Fotis lived—4 Jefferson Crossing, Farmington—was 10,396 square feet of suburban luxury that Fotis had built in his inimitable Modern Duchy style. The house, which, according to Realtor.com, was built “with reclaimed brick and slate,” features “a gourmet Christopher Peacock kitchen appointed with Viking appliances, marble countertops, and a butler’s pantry.
“Viking appliances include a six-burner stove with a grill, three ovens, a warming drawer, microwave, and a Subzero fridge. Two additional serving refrigerators, one a wine fridge, are in the butler’s pantry. The outdoor grilling area has a deep fryer, a refrigerator, and a freezer.
“There are six bedrooms in the main home, each with an en-suite bath.... The master-bedroom suite features a wood-burning fireplace, a sitting room, a walk-in closet, marble-slabbed shower walls, a soaking tub, and two marble vanities. The home includes a library complete with arched ceilings and custom butternut cabinets, a wine cellar, a furnished exercise room, four-car attached garage, and an elevator.”
Even in death, Fotis is ruining the lives of his friends.
Like almost all the stops on my Fotis Dulos Murder Tour—houses in Farmington and New Canaan, as well as Fotis’s spec houses, where he was thought to have possibly hidden the body—the homes are on streets that end in cul-de-sacs, which tells you two things. First, that every decision made by the couple was ostensibly all about the safety and well-being of the kids. And second, that this world is an ugly place and though you can protect your children from through traffic you cannot protect them from a violent father.
There were very few cars on the highway when I made the trip, but lots of trucks, big-riggers servicing the millions of New Englanders who’d been shut down by the virus. Jefferson Crossing is reached via a network of ever quainter roads. There are obstacles at the top of the street, A-frame barricades affixed with signs meant for murder-tour-type gawkers: “Private Road. Residents and Guests Only. No Trespassing. Notice: Security Video Camera in Operation.”
Here’s the problem with most American mansions: they don’t look like they were designed to be massive in the way of the White House or Hearst Castle, but like typical suburban houses that did not know when to stop, center-hall colonials that just kept going. Four Jefferson Crossing is out of proportion to its design, a mash of red brick and dormers.
Gloria Farber made the mortgage payments after Fotis stopped, then moved to foreclose on the property. She contested the estate and was eventually awarded $2 million—the money Fotis still owed the Farbers—as well as several objects that were inside the house, which she will eventually turn over to the Dulos kids, who are living in her custody on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
This includes $35,000 worth of coins and jewelry recently found in a safety deposit box. The most pathetic item on the list—pathetic in the Latin sense—are the Legos, which Gloria Farber sought for her grandchildren but which Michelle Troconis said belonged to her own daughter.
I parked in the driveway at Jefferson Crossing and looked for the video camera. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it, all those eyes. The house has been kept in good shape, with just a single shutter askew—it sagged like the eyelid of a stroke survivor—to suggest what had happened inside.
Jennifer and Fotis had terrible fights here. Fotis chased Jennifer through the house. She locked herself in a bedroom, cowering as he pounded on the door. And it was from this house, in June 2017, that Jennifer lit out with her kids in the car, finally freeing herself, or so she must have hoped, from Fotis Dulos.
Until its new owners give it a different story, 4 Jefferson Crossing will be a shrine, frozen in its last bad moment: January 28, 2020, when Fotis, due in court that morning, sealed the cracks in the four-car garage, got in his car, started the engine, and put his head back, eyes closed or open, waiting for the darkness that would take him away from what he had done.
That happened the day Fotis may have believed he would be taken into custody for the last time. Explaining himself, he wrote, “I refuse to spend even an hour more in jail for something I had NOTHING to do with.”
Local cops, sent to 4 Jefferson Crossing on a “Wellness Check”—Dulos was late for court—could see the car through a garage window, engine on, man behind the wheel with closed eyes. They broke in and dragged him onto the driveway, where paramedics were able to bring him back for a last helicopter ride to the hospital, where he died.
A Fateful Path
That was the end for Fotis. I was more interested in the beginning of the end, Jennifer’s last morning, when Fotis either woke in the master suite beside Michelle Troconis or didn’t, either had sex with Michelle Troconis in the shower or didn’t—such details have been offered and retracted during interrogations. Fotis was up before the sun, in the red pickup truck he’d borrowed from an employee, registering on surveillance cameras all the way from Farmington to New Canaan.
He’d been to Jennifer’s house a few days before. She’d been reluctant to let him in even then—a scheduled visit, with nanny and children present. How would she respond if he turned up unexpectedly? She’d probably lock the doors and call the cops. For the plan to work, he had to break in when she was out, which meant arriving after she left with the kids for school but before she returned.
I followed the route that Fotis may have taken that day. It led through the coronavirus-sapped thoroughfares of Farmington, a varicose network of streets, Jefferson Crossing, Ely Road, Old Mountain, then the heavy going-somewhere-else traffic of Farmington Avenue, then I-84 West.
For Fotis, jacked as he must have been, more blasted on adrenaline, excitement, psychosis, and fear—Hey, Fotis, you don’t have to do this!—than a trucker on an amphetamine binge, every building and landmark along the way—the golf course at Hawk’s Landing Country Club, the Masjid Al Mustafa mosque that looms over the road near Waterbury—would have been hard, jagged-edged, clear. Did he plan to confront Jennifer, make her feel his pain, or did he plan to kill her? In the end, it amounts to the same thing. It’s what you do that counts, not what you tell yourself you will do.
Jennifer and Fotis had terrible fights here. Fotis chased Jennifer through the house. She locked herself in a bedroom, cowering as he pounded on the door.
He would have likely got onto Route 8, which means exiting 84 and driving through the outskirts of Waterbury, a depressed small city, a city, with its old churches and dilapidated government buildings, that can stand for Fotis—once a place of promise, a can-do town where every arrow pointed up, that feels as if it’s been left behind, that, on the morning of the murder, had more past than future.
The Victorian houses that come close to the Route 8 on-ramp recall the suburban fantasies of an earlier generation. So much of this story is about houses—houses and what they say about status. Jennifer Farber, a woman from an elite Jewish family, had married slightly below her station. Fotis must have loved her for who she was, but also for what she was—a step up, the promise of a moneyed future.
Then, after he’d taken all he could from her status and bank account, he moved on to something and someone else. When she did not give him the clean getaway he clearly wanted—Why can’t I have that and this too?—he was irritated, then enraged.
When he lost custody in court, his anger spiked with humiliation. That woman and her lawyers … Jennifer didn’t merely take the children, she took them to New Canaan, which read as a comment on his own failure. Successful people do not live in places like Farmington but in places like New Canaan.
Fotis would have watched the time and his speed the entire way. One missed exit, one spaced-out moment, would have blown everything. He likely merged onto the Merritt Parkway just north of Bridgeport, then headed west toward the golden towns of Fairfield County—Westport, Darien, Greenwich, bankers and barons living the high life on broad flat lawns that ended, Gatsby-like, at the Long Island Sound.
The entire length of the Merritt is in the register of National Historic Places. It’s one of the beautiful old roads, built in the 1930s so the debutantes of Greenwich and Darien could redline their Alfa Romeos and Cadillacs. A boulevard with trees in the center and scenic stone bridges above, it would have reminded Fotis that he was ascending, moving from his world to hers.
Explaining himself, he wrote, “I refuse to spend even an hour more in jail for something I had NOTHING to do with.”
He would probably have taken Exit 36, then driven the short distance to New Canaan’s Waveny Park, 300 acres of walking trails and fields set around the so-called castle, a grand mansion—more houses—built in 1912 for the fat cat that deeded the grounds to the town. The castle served as “Cortland Manor” in All My Children and played the creepy estate in the 2004 remake of The Stepford Wives.
Fotis parked the truck on the western side of Waveny, got out the fancy European bike he had in back, then pedaled to 69 Welles Lane, where Jennifer and their children lived. Retracing this route convinced me of something I never would have realized had I only read about the case. Fotis had to be waiting behind or near the house when Jennifer left that morning. There’s no way he could’ve timed his arrival to her absence.
The New Canaan Country School, a college-like campus behind gates, is too close, a five-minute drive at most: go down the street, turn right, you’re there. Though not quite as large as the mansion in Farmington, Jennifer’s new house was, at 7,395 square feet, a bit of a suburban monster—two dormers, seven bedrooms, seven-and-a-half bathrooms, and a three-car garage—and was recently on the market for $3.1 million. It occupies two manicured acres at the end of its cul-de-sac.
Fotis, who probably stashed his bike in back and hid in the woods, must have gone into action as soon as Jennifer pulled out with the kids. Busted in the back door, surveilled the kitchen for supplies, went to the garage. Five minutes. Eight minutes. He was waiting when she pulled back in, a figure emerging from the shadows—the sort of fright that takes your breath away.
He didn’t have to say much. She would have known why he’d come, what he wanted. She had said she felt threatened by him. “I am afraid of my husband,” she had told a judge a few years before. “I know that filing for divorce, and filing this Motion will enrage him. I know he will retaliate by trying to harm me in some way.” Even if she’d had a restraining order, what good would it have done? She was alone with him in the garage, and the nanny wasn’t due for an hour.
Either they argued and it escalated. He lashed out, struck her, killed her, then improvised a cleanup. Or he killed her right away. The amount of blood in the garage suggests an angry person venting rage. There’s some indication she was bound before she was killed, meaning she could have been taunted, tortured.
Though the body has not been found, the forensic experts said that no one could lose the amount of blood found in the garage and live. Objects taken from the house—gloves, garbage bags, paper towels—suggest that Dulos had not planned to kill Jennifer, or had planned poorly. Again: the man wasn’t very smart.
He likely put her body in her own car, threw his bike in the trunk, then drove back to Waveny, where he apparently moved her into the truck. He left Jennifer’s car in the turnaround with the lights on, as if she’d left in a hurry. This seemed to be the plan: he wanted cops to think she’d been kidnapped and killed in the park, leaving them to search the grounds, which he probably figured were so extensive they’d eventually give up, or maybe they’d think she faked her death and ran.
Fotis’s lawyer, Norm Pattis, told reporters that he was “investigating the possibility that this is a Gone Girl–type case and considering the possibility that no third party was involved in foul play.”
So here’s the question: What did Fotis do with the body? Most theories have him driving Jennifer to a house he’d been working on in Farmington, cleaning the truck, tossing evidence and dumping Jennifer in the woods, in a septic tank or well nearby. Some believe he handed the body off to his friend and lawyer Kent Mawhinney, who ditched it in a forest way up north.
Or maybe he sank Jennifer to the bottom of a lake or river nearby—the tips keep coming, the search goes on. But such theories have Fotis driving beside Jennifer’s body—blood was found on the passenger seat of the truck; asked to explain the stains, Dulos told Troconis, according to Troconis, that he’d “spilled coffee”—for over an hour, which seems not only ghoulish but risky. The Merritt Parkway and I-84, as Fotis would have known, swarm with speed traps and police.
If someone missed Jennifer and called the cops that morning, the cops could have called Fotis, gotten his employee instead, who could have given the description of the pickup, which would have been radioed out to troopers, who, spotting the truck on I-84, would have chased Fotis down, party lights flashing.
Having traced the circuit Fotis followed that day, I am convinced he dumped the body in or near New Canaan, close to the crime scene, perhaps as close as the vacant lot at the end of Welles Lane. The drive from Farmington to New Canaan must have felt like a cross-country trip—a trip between regions, between lives.
One can only imagine what it would have felt like with the body of his children’s mother at his side. Fotis was not stupid, but, as I’ve said, he was not smart. He was a weak and simple person who probably did the job in the easiest way possible, meaning that Jennifer’s body, if it’s ever found, will be found in a place so obvious you can’t even see it.
Rich Cohen is a Writer at Large for AIR MAIL. He is the author of numerous books, including Tough Jews, Sweet and Low, and Monsters. His latest book, Pee Wees: Confessions of a Hockey Parent, is out on January 12