The nanny who cared for Jennifer Dulos’s five children revealed in court on Wednesday that the slain Connecticut woman was so terrified of her husband, Fotis Dulos ,that she hired an armed bodyguard to stand outside her hotel room while she filed for a divorce.
“She was afraid of what Fotis would do to her and the kids if she filed for divorce while they were living under the same roof,” Lauren Almeida told jurors in Stamford. “She was terrified.”
It was the second day on the stand for Ms Almeida at the trial of Michelle Troconis, Fotis’ former girlfriend who is charged with conspiracy to commit murder and other crimes on allegations that she helped him cover up the killing of Jennifer Dulos.
At the time of her disappearance in May 2019, Jennifer – whose remains have never been found – was in the middle of a bitter divorce and custody battle with Fotis. The Greek-born luxury home builder killed himself after being charged with Jennifer’s murder in January 2020.
On Wednesday, the Dulos’s nanny Ms Almeida continued her testimony, recalling what happened after Jennifer first voiced suspicions about her husband’s affair on a trip to Miami in 2017, two years before she vanished.
Ms Almeida first met Ms Troconis that same year at a water ski club in Miami. It was clear the five children already knew her.
“They were calling her ‘Michi’ and they hugged her, so they already knew her. Fotis introduced her as a friend. She was nice. She was with Fotis a lot. They’d go on the boat to ski,” Ms Almeida said on the stand.
Ms Almeida told the court that Fotis stayed behind with Ms Troconis and her daughter in Miami, while Ms Almeida returned to Farmington with the children.
Upon returning home, Jennifer reportedly told Ms Almeida that she had confirmed her suspicions that Fotis Dulos was having an affair.
“Through email and receipts, she found out that he went to Utah with Michelle,” Ms Almeida said. “She was just like, ‘I knew it.’ She was, again, very soft-spoken. She seemed sad but also like she was trying to figure out what to do.”
Ms Almeida said that Jennifer told her she was no longer in love with Fotis but for the sake of their five children, the Dulos’s would “try to work out what they could”.
When Jennifer confronted Fotis about the affair, she said he admitted it and things became tense in the household.
Ms Almeida said Fotis had threatened Jennifer that he would take the kids to Greece and never come back.
After that, Jennifer asked Ms Almeida to start secretly moving things out of the home – things that Fotis “wouldn’t notice.”
“Her anxiety was really bad. She lost weight. She was just afraid,” Ms Almeida said.
In 2017, Ms Almeida and one of the kids witnessed a frightening scene.
Ms Almeida said that she was playing with the Dulos’s youngest daughter when a terrified Jennifer came running inside the bedroom and closed the door behind her. She looked scared and Fotis was behind her, yelling and trying to push the door open.
Ms Almeida said Fotis had reportedly chased Jennifer outside the home with a piece of paper and had a screaming argument with her inside the Farmington home.
“Fotis was yelling. I’m not sure what he was yelling. She closed the door behind her and pushed her body up against the door, and he was trying to get in, and her face, she was terrified,” Ms Almeida said.
When he managed to get inside the room, Fotis realised Ms Almeida and his daughter were inside.
“His demeanour changed. He was like, ‘Jennifer, I just want to talk,’ Like very soft-spoken.” Ms Almeida said. “It was very weird.”
Ms Almeida took Jennifer’s offer to continue being the children’s nanny after Jennifer made arrangements to move out of the family home. She also put in her two-week notice at Fotis Dulos’s construction company.
“It’s started to become very tense and uncomfortable to be in the presence of both of them,” Ms Almeida said. “They were arguing all the time.”
Ms Almeida told the court that Jennifer was afraid of filing for divorce, so she created a plan to leave the family home without Fotis Dulos suspecting her intentions.
So after weeks of planning, Jennifer, Ms Almeida and the five children spent a week in Manhattan, where the divorce was filed, before moving to New Canaan.
Jennifer had told Fotis that she and the children would be visiting her father’s grave in New York.
“We went to New York often because that’s where Jennifer’s parents were,” Ms Almeida recounted. “Her plan was to file for divorce, once we were in the city.”
That night, Ms Almeida said, Jennifer hired an armed bodyguard to stand outside the room she, Ms Almeida and the children shared at the Mandarin Oriental. Fotis Dulos then called Ms Almeida and accused her of kidnapping the children.
“He was angry, yelled at me, and told me the only reason I was there for Jennifer was because she paid off my student loans, which is an absolute lie,” Ms Almeida said. “He was yelling in front of the kids.”
Ms Almeida also testified about the day Jennifer disappeared in May 2019, her growing dread as the mom failed to return text messages and phone calls.
On 24 May 2019, Ms Almeida was supposed to drive the children to Manhattan, where she would meet Jennifer at her mother’s home.
But when she arrived at the family’s New Canaan home around 11am – a short time after Jennifer Dulos’s SUV was seen on a neighbour’s camera leaving the neighbourhood – Ms Almeida noticed that her Range Rover, which she said she would be taking to New York, was still in the garage.
Ms Almeida said she thought it was weird but dismissed her concerns after she realised the SUV was missing. She did not notice blood in the garage, she testified.
When she went to the kitchen, she also found it odd that Jennifer had left her tea and granola bar on the counter and that her purse had been left on the floor, something she said Jennifer would not do.
Ms Almeida also testified sthat he noticed 10 rolls of paper towels were missing from the pantry. The prosecution believes Fotis Dulos killed Jennifer Dulos in the garage, and used the towels to clean up the crime scene.
Ms Almeida said on Wednesday that she had four of their children with her – the other was at a friend’s – when she was supposed to meet up with Jennifer in Manhattan that afternoon. She texted and called Jennifer, but she didn’t respond.
“The second I called Jennifer, my stomach just sank,” she said. “She would never not answer her phone. I started calling people who could have heard from Jennifer.”
Ms Almeida went to a doctor’s office in Manhattan where Jennifer had a scheduled appointment, hoping to find her there.
“And so when she wasn’t there... I was shocked but also like, OK, I have the four kids in front of me and don’t know what to do,” Ms Almeida said. “I just walked outside, and I started to call people who could have heard from Jennifer.”
Ms Almeida said she was in a panic as she called Jennifer’s friends and others who might know where she was. She also called hospitals but had no luck. She called her mother, who tried to calm her down, she testified. Then she called New Canaan Police.
“We told the police that a mother of five was missing and that she was in a very contentious divorce. And I knew that he (Fotis Dulos) had purchased a gun, and so I was afraid. And they were on it right away,” Ms Almeida said.
Judge Kevin Randolph struck the comment about the gun from the record, after prosecutor Sean McGuinness said he was not claiming that Fotis Dulos had a gun. Ms Troconis’ lawyer, Jon Schoenhorn, later called for a mistrial based on Ms Almeida’s comment, but Judge Randolph denied the motion.
Ms Almeida, 32, continues to be a nanny for the five children, who have been living with Jennifer Dulos’s mother, Gloria Farber, in Manhattan since their mother vanished.
Police believe Fotis Dulos attacked Jennifer in the garage of her home in New Canaan, Connecticut, after she dropped off the children at school that day. Then, authorities said, he drove off in her own SUV with her body, which has never been found.
Fotis denied having anything to do with her disappearance. He died by suicide in early 2020, shortly after being charged with murder.
Ms Troconis, 49, has pleaded not guilty and denies the charges, which also include evidence tampering and hindering prosecution.
Also Wednesday afternoon, Judge Randolph dismissed an alternate juror who reportedly said “We love you” to two prosecutors involved in the case outside the courtroom during a lunch break. Randolph said the comment gave the appearance of favouring the prosecution.
Ms Troconis’s trial began last week. Police have testified about blood evidence found in Jennifer’s garage and her SUV, which was found abandoned at a New Canaan park. There was also evidence of an attempted cleanup in the garage, police testified.