The Fitbit was introduced to the market in 2009. Meant to count steps and check heart rate, it was used to solve a murder in 2022. The man condemned by the Fitbit, Richard Dabate, is currently serving 65 years in prison.
An Unfortunate Pregnancy
In the life of a killer, technology cuts both ways. It allows those of homicidal temperament to track, eavesdrop on, and flush their prey. It also records, tangles, and, in ways the bad people never seem to anticipate, foils their most elaborate plans. Which is why Richard Dabate is known as “the Fitbit Killer.”
Dabate, a 38-year-old computer-network administrator, was living with his wife, Connie, and their two sons in Ellington, Connecticut, when he got word that his mistress—his paramour, his lady friend, his inamorata—was pregnant.
Considering his immediate future—his wife’s rage, the consternation of his friends and parents, the filing of divorce papers, followed by divorce proceedings, followed by actual divorce, with its probable loss of house, custody, status—made his mind reel. Think of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life grabbing his besotted uncle and screaming, “Do you realize what this means? It means bankruptcy and scandal and prison!”
For some, the best solution would be apology and tears. Beg for mercy. For others, it would be stubborn, unbending denial. Never complain, never explain. For others still, it would be flight to the hinterlands, a new life under a new name. An order of linguini for Mr. Jones. For Dabate, the straightest line between two points—between this shore, which is “bankruptcy and scandal,” and that shore, where he is happy and free—was murder.
He plotted each step with great care, arranging alibis, explanations. Killers do not necessarily lack intelligence, but they do tend to underestimate the intelligence of other people, especially police. There was, for example, the matter of gadgetry, the device meant for one set of tasks, counting and monitoring, that could be re-purposed for another, corroborating and disproving.
A quick note: It’s not that Connie Dabate was a workout freak. It was more that she was a typical suburban mom who liked the scene at the local spin classes and wanted to get the most out of them, hence the Fitbit she slipped on her wrist each morning. The fact that Richard Dabate did not notice this, or consider what it might mean, is another indication that he was an inattentive husband. That it was this very inattention that would trip him up is a good example of irony.
A Drifting Marriage
There are many pictures of Richard Dabate. They float on the Internet alongside shots of B-list actors and TikTok stars. Dabate is Bachelor handsome in these pictures, dimple-cheeked and dark-haired, chin and jaw as strong as the chin and jaw of a 1930s cartoon character. (He counted Superman among his heroes.) Dabate’s hair is just as black as that of the midcentury Clark Kent. He has thick, dark eyebrows and bone-white teeth, a solid neck and broad shoulders.
But his brow is a little too heavy, his Adam’s apple a little too prominent, his hairline a little too low. The thing that is brutal but sublimated in many men is right on the surface with Dabate. It’s less the body than the eyes. Though circumstances and outerwear change, the eyes stay the same. These eyes, which follow you like the eyes of a dime-store Jesus, are coal black and slightly crossed. It gives the impression of something gone wrong, an early injury or accident that severed a synapse, sending a pupil adrift and cutting access to the cortex that prevents us, even when enraged, from killing our spouses.
The thing that is brutal but sublimated in many men is right on the surface with Dabate.
Connie Dabate (née Margotta) graduated from Ellington High School in 1995, then got a bachelor’s degree at the University of Connecticut. She wore her wavy blond hair below her shoulders, or tied back tightly. She had high cheekbones and startling blue eyes which narrowed endearingly when she smiled, which was a great deal of the time. She could be sarcastic, especially regarding herself. In one of her last missives—a note sent to a friend regarding a potluck dinner—she begs off cooking the meal herself in fear that such an attempt will result in an unintended group poisoning.
She was working as a pharmaceutical sales rep at the time of her death. She was very successful. At trial, Connecticut state’s attorney Matthew Gedansky described Connie as the family’s “breadwinner.” Her sons were six and nine at the time of the tragedy. She’d been married to Richard Dabate for just over a decade.
Ten years—that’s when certain married men fill with wanderlust and begin to wonder, What might have I done differently? What might that, or she, or those have been like? It was at this dangerous moment that Dabate bumped into Sara Ganzer, a friend from junior high. (For men who marry young, middle school is a memory of missed chances.) They talked, talked again, met up, then more than talked. Dabate was possibly trying to get back to the last time his future had been open and he’d felt free.
When Nick Carraway admonishes Jay Gatsby, saying, “You can’t repeat the past,” Gatsby looks at him dumbly and says, “Can’t repeat the past? Why, of course you can!” Putting Richard Dabate and Sara Ganzer on a level with Jay and Daisy might seem laughable, but all of these affairs, examined in the gritty light of tabloid morning, look rank, tawdry, and small in exactly the same way. The Great Gatsby is a crime story, film noir. The best crime stories double as love stories.
When Dabate learned his girlfriend was pregnant, it was not his wife he considered, nor his kids, nor even Ganzer. It was himself. The shame coming his way. The opprobrium. Hassle. The moment his thoughts turned inward is the moment he began to plan the murder.
Every Step Counts
December 23, 2015.
Connie Dabate left the house at 8:46 a.m. She drove five miles to the Y.M.C.A., where she was signed up for the Wednesday-morning spin class. (It was ultimately canceled.) It was unseasonably warm, 55 and overcast, black clouds rolling in from the West. Two days till Christmas. The houses on Birchview Drive were draped with multi-colored lights.
Richard brought the kids out to the school-bus stop at 8:15 a.m., then, or so he later said, left for work in Bloomfield, a 22-mile drive down Highway 91, a trip that usually takes under an hour.
He e-mailed his office at 9:04. He said he’d realized, halfway to work, that he’d forgotten his laptop. He also said he’d received an alert on his phone that his home-security system had been tripped, which was probably a false alarm. Not an uncommon occurrence. He planned to go back to the house, reset the security system, and retrieve his laptop, meaning he’d be about an hour late.
At just after 10:15 a.m., an alarm sounded at the Connecticut State Police offices in the neighboring town of Tolland. Someone at 7 Birchview Drive had pressed a panic button. The Tolland County Mutual Aid Fire Service received a distressed 911 call from the same residence. When Ellington firefighters approached a few minutes later, a man’s voice called out. It was Dabate. He said the people, whoever they were, were still in the house. Extreme caution should be used. The firefighters called the cops, who rushed to the scene and advanced on the house with guns drawn.
Dabate turned out to be the only living person inside. He’d been lashed by zip ties to a chair—one arm, one leg—stabbed, and burned. He directed the cops to the basement, where they found Connie shot to death by a Ruger .357 Magnum, the gun Richard kept in a safe downstairs.
Dabate was treated by paramedics in his front hall, then carried to an ambulance parked in the driveway. The police took his statement. He talked for six hours—first on the scene, then at the hospital.
He’d been lashed by zip ties to a chair—one arm, one leg—stabbed, and burned.
On returning home to retrieve his laptop, he said, he heard someone upstairs. This someone, when confronted, turned out to be a six-foot-two-inch man dressed entirely in camouflage, with gloves and a face mask. Dabate said he could identify the man by his voice, which was deep and scary and a lot like that of the actor Vin Diesel.
Dabate said he confronted the man. There was a fight. Dabate was being “manhandled” when he heard the garage door. It was Connie, coming home. Dabate called out, crying for her to “run.” Instead of running to the yard, she went down to the basement, possibly to retrieve the Ruger and save her husband, who, in Connie’s obituary, is described as her “best friend.”
Dabate followed the man down the stairs. He heard a gunshot. The sound stunned Dabate. The intruder, who was on Dabate before he could think, did “‘some kind of pressure point thing’ to [Dabate’s] wrist and neck,” then lashed Dabate to a chair. But only partially. His right arm remained free.
Using tools found in Dabate’s own toolbox, the intruder tortured Richard with a box cutter and a blowtorch. But Dabate, kicking with his free leg, was able to redirect the flame, igniting the Vin Diesel sound-alike’s mask, which sent him running.
Dabate stumbled upstairs to the kitchen and pressed the panic button on the alarm system.
This story started to come apart right away. The police brought a dog to sniff the crime scene, then find the fugitive, who might’ve been hiding in the trees behind the house. After pulling K-9 state trooper Ryan Cloukey through rooms and hallways and around the yard, the dog, Rocky, ended his search in the foyer, where Richard Dabate, cross-eyed and bloody, was lying on a stretcher as his wounds were salved. Rocky’s second search ended in the same place: at the stretcher in the front hall.
When asked if there’d been trouble in his marriage, Dabate said, “Yes and no.”
Besides, he had an alibi. He’d said he’d been on the side of the highway when that first alarm was tripped, a fact he memorialized in that 9:04 e-mail to his office. But the investigators, having gone to work in the wake of the first responders, determined that this e-mail, meant to exonerate Dabate, had been sent not from the roadside but from the house, putting Dabate at the scene, implicating him further.
When asked if there’d been trouble in his marriage, Dabate said, “Yes and no.”
Then the timeline began to crumble. Dabate told police he’d returned for his laptop just after nine a.m. and confronted the intruder almost immediately. But, according to cell-phone records, Dabate had logged onto his computer—when he was supposedly being “manhandled”—at 9:01. And was still online at 9:04.
Connie Dabate’s Fitbit was the clincher. It showed her having driven home from the Y.M.C.A. around 9:08 a.m., moving inside the house at 9:23. The walk from the garage to the basement, where she’d supposedly gone for the gun, was about 125 feet. According to Richard, Connie was shot right after she returned, but the Fitbit had her walking 1,217 feet between 9:13 and 10:10. From 9:40 to 9:46, she was on Facebook. That is, the tech showed her alive and active for almost an hour after, in Richard’s version, she’d been killed.
Here’s what probably happened: Richard Dabate brought his kids out to the school-bus stop, then went home and stayed there, waiting for Connie to return. His text to work was a fake alibi, which suggests pre-meditation. Connie came back, Richard shot her in the basement, staged the scene—zip ties, stab wounds—then pressed the panic button.
But his story was too complicated, too strange. The detail about Vin Diesel, meant to heighten verisimilitude, comes off in documents as absurd. In trying to avoid opprobrium, Richard Dabate walked right into it.
He was arrested on April 14, 2017. Released on a $1 million bond, Dabate was as good as free for five years—the Connecticut courts were nearly shut down by the coronavirus—before prosecutors brought him to trial. He’d apparently been surviving on the money he and Connie had set aside for their kids. By the spring of 2022, a little less than seven dollars of that money remained for R. J. and Connor Dabate, who’d been living with Connie’s older sister and her husband in Tolland, Connecticut, since shortly after Richard’s arrest.
Dabate was convicted in the summer of 2022. On August 18 of that year, he was sentenced to 65 years in prison, which, for a person his age, amounts to a life sentence. Connie’s mother, Cynthia, who had pinned Connie’s picture to the lapel of her sleeveless white sweater, celebrated on the courthouse steps as the sun went down. She raised her hands to the sky, thanked God. She was 84, meaning she’d been born in 1938. Before spin class and the integrated circuit. Before the notion that there was value to be found in counting one’s steps. The fact that such a person, who’d witnessed the end of World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union, would live to see her daughter murdered, then to see the killer brought to account by a Fitbit, demonstrates just how short the life of this country is.
For the investigators, the takeaway was more prosaic: the husband always did it.
Rich Cohen is an Editor at Large for AIR MAIL and the author of The Adventures of Herbie Cohen: World’s Greatest Negotiator