A true story of mur­der among the su­per-rich

Glen­coe-raised au­thor re­counts a story from his Con­necti­cut home

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - A+E - Rick Ko­gan rko­[email protected]­bune.com

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.

JOSE M. OSORIO/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

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.”

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