How Jennifer Dulos' Disappearance Turned Into a Complex Murder Case

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Fotis Dulos compared the disappearance of his estranged wife Jennifer Dulos, a blogger and aspiring novelist, to the plot of Gone Girl.

In Gillian Flynn's 2012 bestseller and the movie adaptation starring Rosamond Pike and Ben Affleck, Amy Dunne fakes her own violent abduction after methodically planting evidence that will implicate her husband, Nick—though you don't know that at first.

"We have been provided a very dark, 500-plus page novel Jennifer wrote," Fotis' attorney, Norm Pattis, told NBC News in a statement in January 2019. "We don't know what had become of Jennifer, but the Gone Girl hypothesis is very much on our mind."

But those close to Jennifer weren't buying it.

"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 at the time. "Jennifer's novel is not a mystery."

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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 according to a court of law, Jennifer—whose body has never been found—is gone and not coming back.


Fotis was charged with Jennifer's murder in January 2020 but died weeks later after an apparent suicide attempt. He was 52.

And after a seven-week trial, plus two days of jury deliberations, Michelle Troconis was found guilty on March 1 of conspiracy to commit murder, tampering with evidence and hindering prosecution.

The 49-year-old stood accused of trying to help Fotis—her boyfriend at the time—cover up the crime. She had pleaded not guilty on all counts.

A judge set bond at $6 million and she's due to be sentenced on May 31. Her attorney said he plans to file a motion for a new trial, according to NBC News.

Michelle's trial got underway Jan. 11, the prosecution kicking off their case with police body cam footage from May 24, 2019, showing what looked like blood on the concrete floor of Fotis' garage at his Connecticut home and alleged blood spatter on the front grill of his Range Rover.

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How Jennifer Dulos' Disappearance Turned Into a Complex Murder Case


What happened to Jennifer Dulos?

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, according to authorities.

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-foot-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 allegedly having an affair with Michelle—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.

Were Fotis Dulos and Jennifer Dulos getting divorced?

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 2019, per records reviewed by NBC News.


"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 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.

Chris Ehrmann/AP/Shutterstock

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 Michelle, who had been living together with her then-10-year-old daughter, 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.

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

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."

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."

New Canaan Police

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

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 in July 2020 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. Investigators 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 Jennifer's 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 transport her body.

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

Erik Trautmann/Shutterstock

Afterward, 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, Pawel told police, but he refused. The next week, however, Fotis and Michelle took the truck and had it washed and detailed, Pawel said.

Fotis also pressed him to get his seats replaced, Pawel alleged, and he did—but he kept the old ones, and turned them over to police. Investigators said they found blood on the passenger seat and testing linked it to Jennifer's DNA.

Patrick Raycraft/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Furthermore, state police said, Michelle 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. Rather, she told police, she didn't know where he was that morning.

"Remember that Michelle is presumed innocent and she should be," Michelle's 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 lawyer Jon Schoenhorn argued that his client, who's originally from Argentina, was interviewed three times without a translator, preventing her from properly communicating her side of the story.


On an episode of Dateline that aired in September 2019, Fotis 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."


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

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 in July 2020 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 prosecutors' belief that zip ties 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.

Kassi Jackson/Hartford Courant/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

What happened to Fotis Dulos?

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

On Jan. 28, 2020, 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 also wrote that Michelle "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," Fotis' attorney also told reporters on behalf of the deceased's 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."


Michelle entered her initial not guilty plea on the conspiracy charge on Feb. 7, 2020. She had been confined to house arrest since posting bond, according to Connecticut's Fox 61, 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.

On May 22, 2020—two days shy of the one-year anniversary of Jennifer's disappearance—the New Canaan Police Department posted a synopsis on social media of what had happened since she was reported missing. They thanked an extensive list of law-enforcement bodies that 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 post continued. "On Sunday, May 24, 2020, please keep Jennifer, her mother, children, family and friends in your thoughts and prayers."

Erik Trautmann/Hearst Connecticut Media via AP, Pool

What did Michelle Troconis say in response to allegations she helped Fotis Dulos cover up his wife's murder?

Free on a combined $2.1 million in bonds from her three arrests, Michelle broke her public silence in May 2020, saying in a statement released by her attorney (whose office translated it from her native Spanish into English) that she regretted trusting Fotis.

"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

Michelle 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."

The proceedings were delayed multiple times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in temporary court closures around the country.

"It has been more than four years and seven months since Jennifer Farber Dulos was murdered and disappeared," Carrie Luft said in a statement on behalf of Jennifer's family the day before Michelle's trial began, per People. "We, her family and friends, have waited patiently, understanding that the justice process moves slowly and deliberatively, especially given the disruption of a global pandemic."

"As this trial begins," she continued, "it is crucial to remember who is at the center: Jennifer, whose five children have lost their mother and, as an eventuality, both parents. Jennifer's family and loved ones have lost a loving daughter, sister, cousin, and lifelong friend. We do not seek closure, as nothing can bring Jennifer back. Our hope is that this trial provides for accountability and answers."

Taylor Hartz/Hartford Courant/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

On March 1, Jennifer's family called the guilty verdict "a crucial attribution of accountability, not a victory."

Michelle's family, meanwhile, decried her conviction.

"My sister is innocent of all the charges she was convicted of," Michelle's sister Claudia Marmol told reporters outside the courthouse, per NBC News. "We still don't know what happened to Jennifer. We too care to know the truth of what happened to Jennifer. Choosing and putting my sister as the guilty person is not the right thing to do."

(E! and NBC are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)

(Originally published July 23, 2020, at 9 p.m. PT)

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