A true story of murder among the super-rich
Glencoe-raised author recounts a story from his Connecticut home
end on May 24, 2019, with the disappearance of Jennifer and, not quite soon enough for many, the Jan. 7, 2020, arrest of Fotis, charged with her murder, even though there was no body.
“Naturally this story got a lot of attention here, in the local papers and television and the internet,” Cohen says.
He gives tremendous credit to local newspapers for helping him form the foundation of his research. But it was when he was able to get access to the lengthy and detailed arrest warrant issued for Fotis that Cohen realized he had the stuff of a larger story.
“There was so much in there that had not been reported, so many details,” he says. “Still, this was probably the hardest writing I’ve ever had to do.
“As I was deep into the writing of one piece, I was finishing the previous one, trying to determine how to get readers to come back to the story. I often had the feeling that I was writing on a stage because the feedback from readers was so immediate.”
In our short-attention-span journalism era, finding a home for long stories is no easy task. But Cohen had a relationship with a new publication called Air Mail that allowed for, was even eager for, what would eventually be his 22,000-word series.
Self-described as a “mobilefirst digital weekly that unfolds like the better weekend editions of your favorite newspapers,” it is the creation of Graydon Carter, who was once and for many years the editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair magazine. Formally launched in July, it is staffed by many of Carter’s former colleagues, editors and writers. One of them is Cohen, with the title of Editor at Large.
“When he was starting the magazine, Graydon and I talked about my writing for it,” says Cohen, who was born and raised in Glencoe and now lives in Connecticut.
He is a pro, having written for magazines for decades, most recently writing a monthly column on conspiracies for the Paris Review.
Cohen is the wildly prolific author of many books, including “Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams,” and “The Avengers: A Jewish War Story”; “Sweet and Low: A Family Story,” about the development of the popular sweetener by his maternal grandfather; coauthor of producer and deal-maker Jerry Weintraub’s autobiography “When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead”; “Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football” and “The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse”; “The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones” and “The Record Men: The Chess Brothers and the Birth of Rock & Roll.”
His latest book, “The Last Pirate of New York: A Ghost Shop, a Killer and the Birth of a Gangster Nation” was published in 2019 and soon to be released in paperback.
He knows a good story when he sees one and this one was right in his own backyard.
Cohen is correct when he writes, “There’s something mesmerizing about rich and superrich 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.”
There was something else, something more personal that drew him to this story.
“My family and I live near where this took place,” he says. “And Jennifer and I were roughly the same age, ran sort of in the same literary circles for a bit, surely knew some of the same people. Did I meet her? I don’t remember, but I must have.”
It would be unfair of me to give away too many details, thus spoiling Cohen’s forceful narrative and incisive social observations. But there are surprises aplenty, as this in the final chapter of the series, when Cohen writes, “If Jennifer had a weakness it was her taste in men. In her mid-20s, according to several friends, she had flings with future #MeToo ne’er-dowells Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer.”
“As the series began to be published, I started to hear from people who had known Jennifer and wanted to share information, in part to see that she was treated justly,” Cohen says. “They were all so helpful.”
Cohen and his wife Jessica, an attorney, are busy with the demands of with four boys, aged 16, 14, 12 and 4.
“I will try to get some work done in the mornings and then it’s all about the kids,” he says. “We do school work and maybe go outside and take hikes.”
In the morning Cohen’s phone has been ringing with calls from publishers interested in having him expand the Air Mail series into a book. In the evenings, he and his eldest son are reading together the Truman Capote true-crime masterpiece “In Cold Blood.”
“In a sense I continue to grapple with the mystery to evil,” he says.
Author Rich Cohen, here near the Chicago Water Tower in Chicago in 2013, has written a series for Air Mail magazine titled “Murder in Fairfield County.”