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February 8 2020
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The Dulos case: “No amount of money or square footage can fix what’s wrong with some people.”

I never wanted Jennifer out of the way.
—Fotis Dulos

The moves made by Fotis Dulos on May 24, 2019, would have seemed nonsensical to any observer other than an omniscient narrator, the Devil, or God.

He woke at 4:20 a.m., about an hour before sunrise. He may have spent the night apart from his paramour, a 44-year-old Venezuelan publicist and ski bum named Michelle Troconis, who was back in the master suite of Dulos’s 14,000-square-foot mansion, at 4 Jefferson Crossing in Farmington, Connecticut. He was behind the wheel of a red Toyota Tacoma pickup truck by 5:35, the early-morning sun turning everything into its shadow. At 6:36—scattered clouds above the highway now, fair-weather cumulus—the red pickup was recorded as it sped past the Fairfield rest stop on the Merritt Parkway.

It was not even his truck. He’d “borrowed” the Tacoma—without permission—from an employee. Fotis, 51, did not look remotely like a pickup-truck sort of guy. He was small and finely made, with large dark eyes and handsome features. In life, as at the movies, be suspicious of any character better-looking than is strictly necessary. A builder and developer, Fotis owned the Fore Group, which built the sort of high-end marble-soaked McMansions that devour forests and destroy marriages.

In life, as at the movies, be suspicious of any character better-looking than is strictly necessary.

It was after seven a.m. when the Tacoma reached New Canaan, a town on Connecticut’s Gold Coast. About an hour from Grand Central on the Metro North—35 miles as the crow flies—New Canaan is one of the wealthiest towns in America, and one of the safest. Before that morning, there had hardly been a murder in New Canaan in decades. The streets were filled with school buses when Fotis arrived, the station wagons filled with nannies, the Range Rovers and Saabs filled with moms who, on their way to work or not, keep track of their children and BMW-driving husbands via cell phone and G.P.S. When seen again at 7:40 a.m., the red Toyota pickup was parked on Lapham Road, on a turnaround beside Waveny Park—300 acres of trails, this was once the estate of Lewis Henry Lapham, a founder of Texaco—and the driver was apparently gone.

Fotis, having vanished from the matrix, reappeared several minutes later, only now riding a bike—the detectives believe it was him, anyway—a fancy French racer with curved handlebars.

Dark Pants, Hooded Sweatshirt, Pedaling Fast

He was going northwest on Weed Street, past lawns and houses, mailboxes, parked cars, and dogs, the wind in the trees whispering the same sentence again and again: You don’t have to do this. Fotis was wearing dark pants and a hooded sweatshirt that hid his face. He pedaled fast. It was a 20-minute ride—about 3.5 miles—from Waveny Park, where he’d left the truck, to 69 Welles Lane, the New Canaan mansion where Jennifer Farber Dulos, Fotis’s estranged but not yet ex-wife, lived with the couple’s five children.

Meanwhile, a 2017 Chevy Suburban, a huge S.U.V., was ghosting along Welles Lane, heading for the big house at the end of the cul-de-sac. This passing car—it was Jennifer Dulos, returning to 69 Welles Lane after having dropped her kids off at the New Canaan Country Day School—was captured by a private security camera, which tells you a lot about New Canaan, a place of constant activity, the comings and goings of repairmen, landscapers, pool guys, delivery trucks, much surveillance but not much crime, where just about everything that happens is seen by someone or something.

Jennifer likely parked the Chevy beside the Range Rover in the center bay of the three-car garage. It was shortly after 8:05 a.m. The garage door would have closed. For the next 130 minutes, the 9,800-square-foot house—six bedrooms, seven baths, and two half-baths—was quiet. These were the crucial moments when whatever did happen was happening. If the security cameras could see through wood and plaster, we’d know everything.

In New Canaan, just about everything that happens is seen by someone or something.

The garage door would have opened at around 10:25 a.m. A minute later, the Chevy Suburban was on the move. Shortly after that, it was parked near the red pickup truck on Lapham Road beside Waveny Park. The Tacoma then left New Canaan. At 11:20, it was seen on the northbound side on the Merritt Parkway, going back the way it came. An object was visible in the bed of the truck: the dandified rim of an elite racing bike. The truck was seen on Route 8 just across the Naugatuck River from the River Rock Tavern in Derby, Connecticut, then seen on I-84 in Waterbury, Connecticut, at noon, before it finally arrived at its point of departure, 80 Mountain Spring Road in Farmington, a house that Fotis’s company owned and that he’d been using.

The house in New Canaan where Jennifer Dulos lived, and from which she disappeared.

Fotis Dulos had been gone just under seven hours, had driven around 140 miles, likely biked 3.5 more, and probably believed that, in that time, he’d solved all his problems.

How could he know that nearly every step along the way had been captured on some sort of surveillance—cameras posted on highways and at rest stops, on private front and back porches, and mounted on school buses, which, between six a.m. and four p.m., canvass nearly every inch of the state? In the weeks that followed, it was the job of New Canaan police and state detectives to first find and then assemble each piece of this puzzle into a coherent picture. The detectives were in fact trying to pull off the most difficult feat in police work, a trick that’s been attempted in the U.S., according to one source, just 526 times since the early 19th century: prove a murder in the absence of a body.

One of the Richest Counties in the U.S. …

Fairfield County is one of the oldest parts of the United States. The British sought to destroy its farms and burn its villages in the Revolutionary War, then again during the War of 1812. In several Connecticut towns, a local will show you the musket shell or cannonball that’s been lodged in the tavern wall since the age of candlelight. Contractors at work on a house in Ridgefield recently unearthed four skeletons, soldiers killed at the Battle of Ridgefield in 1777.

Fairfield is also one of the richest counties in the United States. As of 2010, it was the nation’s sixth-wealthiest county, which does not do it justice. Fairfield County supplies bedrooms and retreats to some of the richest people in the world, with a special interest in financiers. Ray Dalio (net worth: $18.7 billion). Steve Cohen (net worth: $13.7 billion). Andreas Halvorsen (net worth: $3.7 billion). The Connecticut Gold Coast consists of just the swankiest of these swanky towns: Westport, Weston, Greenwich, Darien, and New Canaan, which may be the most affluent of them all. These towns stand for a certain American social context—old money, horses, and blueblood snobbery—which is why a certain kind of movie had always been set there. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, The Stepford Wives, The Swimmer, and The Ice Storm. It’s where the heroes and villains of Showtime’s Billions machinate and scheme. New Canaan was supposedly a setting for Gentleman’s Agreement, in which Gregory Peck posed as a Jew to unmask the “gentleman’s agreement” that kept real-estate brokers from selling property to Jews.

… And One of the Most Beautiful

Why, you may ask, would Jews want to live where they were not wanted? Because Fairfield County also happens to be one of the most beautiful places in America, as striking in its way as Marin County, in California, or Door County, in Wisconsin.

When you leave New York City for New Jersey, you enter a malarial swamp of highways and cloverleafs. When you leave New York City for Long Island, you enter a bottle that is a hundred miles deep, full of strip malls and muscleheads. But when you leave New York City for Fairfield County, taking I-95 or the Saw Mill River Parkway through Westchester, you enter America as you imagine it used to be, a Martha Stewart land of rolling hills, green valleys, and blue forests. It’s possible in summer, while standing on a cliff in the northern part of the county—amid the ruins of the composer Charles Ives’s estate on Pine Mountain in Ridgefield, say, which is just over 1,000 feet—to look clear to the Long Island Sound and see nothing but trees between, as if this were old-growth forest, Connecticut as known by the Ramapough, when, in fact, the land beneath the oak and elm is lousy with roads, estates, playhouses, and stores. Though it looks like wilderness, this is a carefully manicured garden.

Maybe that’s why crime, when it does come to the Gold Coast towns, which is not often, tends to be of the domestic variety, ugly and strange but focused on the family. There was John Rice, a 17-year-old who, using a dagger, a necktie, and a hatchet, killed his grandmother, mother, sister, and brother in New Canaan in December 1970. Or Martha Moxley, found beaten to death beneath a pine tree in her family’s yard in Greenwich in October 1975—that case is still unresolved. (Michael Skakel, a Kennedy nephew, was initially convicted, but then the conviction was vacated.) Or Andrew Wilson, who, suffering delusions, killed 66-year-old advertising tycoon John Peters, who he believed was scheming against him, as he swam laps in his pool in Greenwich. Or Adam Dobrzanski, the live-in gardener married to the live-in cook on the Greenwich estate of hedge-fund manager S. Donald Sussman, who slit his own daughter’s throat with the intent of making his wife, who was divorcing him, feel just as bad as he did.

There’s something mesmerizing about rich and super-rich people who go off the rails, with Fotis Dulos being a prime example. They fascinate because they make you realize that no amount of money or square footage can fix what’s wrong with some people.

Crime, when it does come to the Gold Coast towns, which is not often, tends to be of the domestic variety, ugly and strange but focused on the family.

Jennifer Farber was the beloved product of one of those Jewish families that seem to personify the American Dream as it was dreamed in the 20th century, which really was the best and worst of times.

Her mother’s father emigrated from Russia amid the huddled multitude. A cutter and upholsterer of the shtetl school, he married and lived in New Jersey, where he opened his own store. Her mother’s mother, who emigrated from Poland, worked as a seamstress in Newark, which, even then, was like Manhattan in a damaged mirror.

The family name was Ortenberg. There were two Ortenberg children, Arthur (Jennifer’s uncle) and Gloria (Jennifer’s mom). Arthur, who went from college to the hurly-burly of the market, married the clothing designer with whom he built the firm that still carries her name, Liz Claiborne. It led the women’s-fashion industry with $1.4 billion in sales when Arthur and Liz cashed out, in 1990. Her mother, Gloria, went the other way, into the books—she was a standout amid the same Newark public-school generation as Philip Roth. She was Phi Beta Kappa at Douglass Residential College in New Brunswick, New Jersey, then got advanced degrees from the Bank Street College of Education and Columbia Teachers College, which led to a life amid the politics and bureaucracy of New York City’s public-education system.

Jennifer Farber was the beloved product of one of those Jewish families that seem to personify the American Dream as it was dreamed in the 20th century.

Gloria married Jennifer’s father—Hilliard Farber, known to everyone as Hill—in 1958. He’d grown up in Rahway, New Jersey, gone to Rutgers, then the air force. He was the navigator on the air-to-air refuel plane juicing the bombers in the frozen sky above Alaska. He took a banking job when he got back, then started to climb. He was, according to his obituary—he died in 2017, by which time his daughter’s marriage was already coming apart—the youngest senior vice president in the history of Chase Manhattan.

In 1975, he started his own brokerage firm—Hilliard Farber & Co.—serving as chairman and C.E.O. until he cashed out, in 2008, selling to Tradeweb for an undisclosed though surely substantial amount of money. He was a member of Temple Emanuel, the famed East Side synagogue—its vaulted roof punctuates Fifth Avenue—where he would have spent the High Holidays, when the Book of Life is thrown open and God decides who will live and who will die, with his head bent beside the bent heads of Michael Bloomberg, Jeff Zucker, Leon Black, and Eliot Spitzer.

Hilliard and Gloria Farber had two children of their own, Jennifer and Melissa, both of whom attended Saint Ann’s in Brooklyn Heights, one of the most beloved of New York’s elite private schools. The Farbers gave a lot of money to Saint Ann’s. Hilliard sat on the board for 30 years. The lower-school building is named for Gloria.

From the Bottom to the Top

These are people that lived the American experience from “neighborhood saloons to Carnegie Hall,” as Sinatra sings. They’d made it from the bottom to the top, which makes it painful to imagine what they were doing—well, just Gloria; Hilliard had died—as Fotis made his way across Fairfield County in that red Toyota Tacoma. The idea that all that work, sublimation, and planning, all the pent-up will of those penned-in generations, would play out as a murder spectacle and public mystery in New Canaan, a place long considered hostile territory for Jews, the killer closing in fast, on his French bike, is enough to make you cry.

Jennifer met Fotis at Brown, where they were both students. He graduated in 1989. She graduated in 1990. It’s not clear if anything romantic happened between them at school. One gets the sense of him as a playboy in those years but not just in those years, a type we all remember, a type that’s fallen out of favor in this country, “a philanderer,” as an old friend told a reporter. Fotis liked to play the field.

The idea that all that work, sublimation, and planning, all the pent-up will of those penned-in generations, would play out as a murder spectacle in a place long considered hostile territory for Jews is enough to make you cry.

Everyone is handsome when they are young, but Fotis was especially young and especially handsome. Even if he and Jennifer had not hooked up at Brown, the fact that they had been on campus together must have given Jennifer a false sense of security, a feeling that she knew and understood this person when clearly she did not—not at first anyway, nor for a long time.

Jennifer went on to get a master’s in fine arts at N.Y.U. She wanted to be a writer, or maybe she was a writer. She kept a blog and always talked about writing a book. The years she spent in New York, living in the Village while she was at N.Y.U. and after, had to be the best time of her life. She was young, smart, beautiful, safe, and free. She wrote about the long walks she took with her dog in the city at night, the lights in the windows of the stores, the crowds of people on the streets. She moved to Aspen, Colorado, to work on a novel that she never finished, the book that Fotis would tell the police about later.

It Got Serious Fast

She was in her mid-30s when she re-united with Fotis. She wanted kids but was approaching the far side of the biological window, which is possibly why it got so serious so fast. Perhaps it had the feel of settling, giving up on the first dream, getting a look at what was behind door number two. And what about Fotis? He was 37 years old and at the end of a failed first marriage. Maybe there was something beautiful about it, too, meeting again after all these years, at just the right time. It must have felt almost like good luck.

Jennifer and Fotis first met at Brown, but re-united in their 30s.

Fotis was very handsome. That must be emphasized again and again. Without that, nothing makes sense. Good-looking people get away with things that would land other people in jail. He was born in Turkey but grew up in Greece and the United States. He had dual citizenship, which always makes a person a flight risk. If things go to hell here, he can always go back over there. He seemed footloose and dodgy as a result. He joined a business after graduation, Petros, Dulos & Company, then went to work for the French technology company Capgemini. But his great love, the thing he excelled at and wanted his own kids to learn to do was … waterskiing. High-end, high-speed, big-spray, big-time competitive waterskiing. Fotis was an elite skier himself. You can imagine Gloria Farber questioning her daughter about her new son-in-law’s passion. She sounds like Henry Hill’s mother-in-law in Goodfellas, saying, “What kind of people are these?”

A High-Society New York Wedding

Jennifer and Fotis were married at the Metropolitan Club at One East 60th Street in Manhattan in August 2004. Not a typical time for a high-society New York wedding, what with the summer stink and sweat and bums of the city, not to mention the fact that most of Hilliard and Gloria’s friends would be in the Hamptons. It was a big wedding, no different than if Jennifer had been 26 instead of 36 and if the groom had been a different sort of person. A family member who attended the wedding told the New York Post that the Farbers “didn’t know what to make of Fotis … [but] she seemed very happy and very excited that this very handsome and charming man—and this person she had known before, so there was familiarity and trust—had come into her life.... She really wanted a family and a loving relationship, and he seemed to embody all of these things.”

There are emotions, the world as it seems, and then there are facts, the world as it is. Here are some facts. Fotis re-united with Jennifer in the spring of 2004. He finalized his divorce in July and married Jennifer in August. He started a home-building business that same year, perhaps as soon as he had access to the Farber fortune. Over the next decade, he would support that business with millions of dollars borrowed from the Farbers. What happened in that time—the kids, successes, and failures—was probably meant to bind the family and erase the debt—Fotis later said he was never expected to repay—but ended up destroying every life in its vicinity instead.

The second part of this story will appear in the February 15 issue of AIR MAIL.

Rich Cohen is an Editor at Large for AIR MAIL

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