UPDATE (Jan. 30, 2020, 6:45 p.m. ET): This piece has been updated to reflect the death of Fotis Dulos, who died on Thursday after attempting suicide at his Connecticut home on Tuesday.
She was the beautiful wife of a hotshot real-estate developer. They lived in one of the most affluent towns in America. But behind closed doors, their marriage was on the rocks, their finances teetering on the edge of collapse. In short order, she disappeared, leaving behind only a blood-stained garment, tossed unceremoniously in a trash can miles from her leafy suburban neighborhood.
This could be the set-up of a Liane Moriarty thriller, or the beginning of any number of news stories published in the last few years, rehashing the disappearances of wives like Laci Peterson and Shannan Watts. But this time it refers to Jennifer Farber Dulos, 50, who has not been seen or heard from since dropping her children at school on a Friday morning in May.
Earlier in January, her husband, Fotis Dulos, 52, was arrested and charged with murder, along with his former girlfriend, Michelle Troconis, 44. Fotis Dulos' death leaves many questions unanswered; his lawyer says the legal fight to clear Dulos' name will continue.
For American readers, crimes that upset the tranquility of wealthy, predominantly white suburbs are a voyeur’s catnip.
Media coverage of the crime has retread old ground: Tabloid reporters have written about Jennifer Dulos’ alleged vices, be they real or a concoction of her husband’s mind. The couple’s reported financial troubles, and Fotis Dulos’ extramarital dalliances, filled in the corners.
The thrust of these stories is understandable. For American readers, crimes that upset the tranquility of wealthy, predominantly white suburbs are a voyeur’s catnip. A murder in New Canaan, where the Duloses lived, and which boasts the highest median-household income in the state of Connecticut, is supposedly an aberration.
But there is also an odd feeling of surprise that accompanies these high-profile arrests. Just as with the Colorado husband, father and convicted murderer Chris Watts, we gasp when the domestic partner is arrested, as if we are shocked to learn — all over again — that intimate-partner killings, particularly where the victim is female, are an ongoing social crisis of the highest order.
According to a 2018 investigation by The Washington Post, nearly half of the women murdered in the prior decade were killed by contemporaneous or former intimate partners. Nearly a quarter of U.S. women will experience general relationship violence in their lifetimes, according to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline. (There is no allegation that Fotis Dulos was physically abusive toward his wife prior to her disappearance, although she did allege emotional abuse in divorce filings.) And the risk is markedly higher for low-income women, according to a study by sociologists at the University of Miami and the University of Texas at Austin.
These numbers are not static — they’re rising. Research compiled by James Alan Fox, a criminologist and professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University, and Emma E. Fridel, a doctoral student at the time, measured a 19 percent increase in homicides by intimate partners from 2014 to 2017 alone. Gun-related domestic murders increased by 26 percent from 2010 to 2017. The majority of victims of intimate-partner murders in 2017 were female.
In her 2019 book, “No Visible Bruises,” journalist and domestic-violence expert Rachel Louise Snyder paints an even more vivid and disturbing picture of America’s relationship-violence epidemic. She contends 50 women a month are shot and killed by intimate partners; 80 percent of hostage situations involve an intimate partner; and domestic violence is the third-leading cause of homelessness nationwide.
Few solutions to these problems have appeared on the horizon. Notably, a reauthorization of the federal Violence Against Women Act of 1994 passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 263 to 158. The modified version of the bill would have closed a loophole in the law — the so-called boyfriend loophole — by implementing a lifetime ban on firearm purchases by individuals who have been convicted on misdemeanor charges of domestic abuse, regardless of marital status. That bill now languishes on the floor of the Republican-controlled Senate, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declining to bring it to a vote.
Amendments to court filings flew back and forth. She moved their children in with her parents. He — notably given what we know about domestic-violence warning signs — bought a gun.
The facts of Jennifer Farber Dulos’s disappearance indeed looked quite damning for her husband: The couple fought viciously. He is alleged to have cheated; the mistress, an Argentine nearly a decade his junior. The ensuing divorce was acrimonious, and protracted. Dulos accused her husband of being controlling and threatening, fearing he might kidnap their children and abscond overseas. He publicly questioned her soundness of mind, alleging an abuse of prescription drugs.
Amendments to court filings flew back and forth. She moved their children in with her parents. He — notably given what we know about domestic-violence warning signs — bought a gun. And most damning of all, Dulos has already been arrested on charges of tampering with evidence and interfering with an investigation in connection with his wife’s disappearance.
But the fact is, while the alleged murder of a woman by her partner may indeed be an aberration among the manicured lawns and six-bedroom colonials of New Canaan, it should neither thrill nor shock the nation.
And in a few months time, when the true-crime podcast about Jennifer Dulos’ disappearance is inevitably made, I hope — as a fellow true-crime writer and producer — that her story is told for what it is: not an aberration, but an outgrowth of an insidious, national disease that even the wealthiest, most privileged among us cannot ignore.