Four Murders and a Missing Woman in the Nutmeg State
By Luanne RiceJanuary 31, 2020
Connecticut conjures images of grand estates, private schools, manicured hedges, cozy shoreline towns with white steeples, yacht clubs, and Wednesday night regattas. Martha Stewart has lived here, Jacqueline Bouvier went to school here, and Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward raised their children here. Connecticut is also the location of some vicious and bizarre murders—including the one upon which I based Last Day.
The Ellen Sherman Murder
On August 2, 1985, Ed Sherman left for a sailing trip with five friends. He kissed his wife Ellen—five months pregnant with their second child—goodbye, and took off. On his way out of Niantic, he stopped at his pal Henry’s house and rang Ellen from the kitchen phone to remind her to make a bank deposit—the family was right there and heard him talking to her. While on the sailboat, out in the Atlantic, he called home again, and a police officer answered, telling Ed that Ellen was deceased.
Ellen had been strangled. Her body had been found in her bedroom, the air-conditioner turned up so high that the person who found her said it felt “like a refrigerator.”
Mike Malchik, of the Connecticut State Police’s Major Crime Squad, was convinced that Ed had killed Ellen, but it took five years to bring him to trial. When Ed’s indictment was reported in the New London Day, people began to talk. By then I was married to Henry; we were driving along Shore Road with his two daughters in the car. His youngest asked if Henry thought Ed had done it. “No,” he said. “He couldn’t have. He called Ellen from our kitchen, and we all heard him. And then we went to the boat—he never went home after that.”
“But Dad,” his older daughter said from the back seat. “I picked up the hallway extension to call my friend, and he was talking to a ringing phone.”
She became the star witness in Ed’s trial. Medical Examiner Henry Lee testified that the temperature of the bedroom, with the air conditioner turned on high, changed his opinion of the time of death. Ed was a member of Mensa, “the genius club” as New London State’s Attorney Robert Satti put it during his cross-examination, and Ed had tried to outsmart the forensic team by cranking the AC.
Ed was convicted of murdering Ellen—committed on his 42nd birthday and his and Ellen’s 15th wedding anniversary. He was sentenced to 50 years. One of the marshals I knew told me that Ed’s best friend in prison was Richard Crafts—the woodchipper.
The Woodchipper Murder
On November 18th 1986, Helle Crafts disappeared from her home in Newtown, Connecticut. She had told friends and family that her marriage was over. Her husband Richard, an airline pilot, had been abusive and had cheated; she hired a private investigator, and she planned to leave him.
Richard told friends that Helle went to visit her sick mother in Denmark. Her car was found at the airport. But the family housekeeper recounted seeing a stain on the bedroom carpet that was later removed. Still later, sections of the carpet were cut out.
A snowplow driver reported that at about 3 AM on November 20th, he saw a woodchipper machine hitched U-Haul parked on the side of the road beside Lake Zoar. The police searched the area and found fresh wood chips, sections of logs, and scraps of paper—one of which was a section of an envelope addressed to Helle. There were also strands of hair, bits of tissue, and fragments of bone and teeth. DNA and a tooth crown matched Helle’s. This case changed forensics history—the first murder conviction in Connecticut history without a body.
In 1984, a serial killer was at work in Eastern Connecticut, the land of small towns, farms, and close families (my mother was born there). Mike Malchik (the same detective who solved the Ellen Sherman case) was chief investigator in the murder of 17-year-old Wendy Baribeault. She was the sixth girl to have been murdered in the rural area around Norwich.
A witness reported that he had seen a light-colored car, either silver or light blue, a Nissan or a Toyota, parked on the road where Wendy’s body was found. Malchik went to the DMV and got a list of all such vehicles, owned by males under the age of 35, within fifteen miles of the spot. The second house he visited was Michael Ross’s, and by the end of the interrogation, Ross had confessed to the kidnapping, rape, and murders of eight women—six in Connecticut and two in New York State, killed while he was a student at Cornell University.
Michael Ross was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. He was executed by electric chair in 2005, the last execution in Connecticut before the state repealed the death penalty in 2012.
Lorelei and Erik Rasmussen
At 2 AM May, 5, 1988, Erik Rasmussen called the police to report that his wife Lorelei had been murdered in their Montville home. He said that he and his dogs had been asleep in the bedroom when he had heard a “clunk”; when he investigated, he found Lorelei, 22, in the next room, naked in a pool of blood, with a spear through her chest.
When State Police officer John Kananowicz arrived, he had Erik restrain his dogs, Barney and Bonnie, which according to the police were “vicious and aggressive in nature.”
Erik said he believed a burglar had cut a screen, entered the house, and disabled the alarm. When questioned at the police barracks, scratches and redness were observed on Erik’s arms and upper body, but he said that he and Lorelei, his high school sweetheart, ran a dog grooming business, and a dog had jumped on his shoulder the day before.
The police found Erik’s story to be suspicious and determined that Lorelei had been dead for several hours by the time he called to report her death. The homemade spear, thrust through her chest, was a sharpened mason’s trowel attached to a wooden dowel. Her face and eyelids showed petechial hemorrhages, indicating manual strangulation. The German shepherd and poodle were watchdogs, and investigators found it unusual that they wouldn’t have barked at an intruder.
Lorelei’s mother said her daughter had told her that she and Erik had argued over his upcoming birthday party, and that Erik had been feeling pressured to finish renovating the house’s only bathroom in time for the party.
A jury convicted Erik of murder and sentenced him to 35 years in prison.
Jennifer Farber Dulos is missing and presumed dead.
Although her body has not been found, on January 7, 2020, her estranged husband Fotis Dulos was charged with her murder.
On May 24, 2019, the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, Jennifer Farber Dulos disappeared from her New Canaan home. She had been living there with her five children since separating from Fotis. Her family reported her missing at 7 PM after she had failed to show up for appointments that afternoon.
The police investigated and discovered blood and evidence of a cleanup in the garage. Jennifer’s black SUV was found at a nearby park. She and Fotis were in the midst of a high asset, acrimonious divorce. He was having an affair with Michelle Troconis, and had suggested moving Michelle and her daughter into the family home in West Hartford. Instead, Jennifer took the children to a rented house in New Canaan.
Cell phone records revealed that Fotis and Michelle were in the North End of Hartford the night of May 24. Surveillance videos show a truck driving along Albany Avenue, stopping intermittently at dumpsters where the driver dropped black garbage bags. Police believe the driver was Fotis and the passenger was Michelle.
The police brought dogs and undertook a massive search and bags full of bloody items including Jennifer’s bra and the Vineyard Vines shirt she had been wearing when last seen. A FedEx box containing doctored license plates registered to Fotis was discovered in a storm drain.
On June 1, 2019, Fotis and Michelle were arrested and charged with hindering prosecution and tampering with evidence.
A sheaf of notes was discovered in Fotis’s office. Some were written by Michelle. They list supposed-activities by the pair and others, including Kent Mawhinney—a friend and ex-lawyer of Fotis’s—on May 24 and 25, during the time period Jennifer went missing. Detectives call these the “Alibi Scripts.”
Footage obtained from cameras along the highway reveal a truck appearing to be that of one of Fotis’s employees—and borrowed by Fotis that day—driving from West Hartford to New Canaan and back on May 24. Police theorize that Fotis was “lying in wait” for Jennifer, and when she returned home after dropping the children at school, he killed her in the garage of her house. The Connecticut medical examiner states in an affidavit that Jennifer sustained “non-survivable injuries.”
On January 7, 2020, Fotis was charged the murder, felony murder, and kidnapping of Jennifer. Michelle was charged with conspiracy to commit murder, as was Kent Mawhinney. Fotis and Michelle are free on bond; they are prohibited from contacting each other. Kent Mawhinney remains in jail.
As of now, Jennifer’s body has not been found. The case is still ongoing.
*Author Photo Courtesy of Kristina Loggia
About Last Day by Luanne Rice:
Years ago, Beth Lathrop and her sister Kate suffered what they thought would be the worst tragedy of their lives the night both the famous painting Moonlight and their mother were taken. The detective assigned to the case, Conor Reid, swore to protect the sisters from then on.
Beth moved on, throwing herself fully into the art world, running the family gallery, and raising a beautiful daughter with her husband Pete. Kate, instead, retreated into herself and took to the skies as a pilot, always on the run. When Beth is found strangled in her home, and Moonlight goes missing again, Detective Reid can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu.
Reid immediately suspects Beth’s husband, whose affair is a poorly kept secret. He has an airtight alibi—but he also has a motive, and the evidence seems to point to him. Kate and Reid, along with the sisters’ closest childhood friends, struggle to make sense of Beth’s death, but they only find more questions: Who else would have wanted Beth dead? What’s the significance of Moonlight?
Twenty years ago, Reid vowed to protect Beth and Kate—and he’s failed. Now solving the case is turning into an obsession…