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Exclusive interview: Dr. Robi Ludwig talks Jennifer Dulos murder case

Dr. Robi Ludwig
On Vanished in New Canaan for ID, Dr. Robi Ludwig analyzes the motives Fotis Dulos may have had to kill his wife. Pic credit: ID

Nine at 9 on Investigation Discovery, Vanished in New Canaan recounts the shocking murder-suicide that involved mother-of-five Jennifer Dulos and her person-of-interest estranged husband, Fotis Dulos.

Jennifer Dulos was educated, beautiful, and hailed from an affluent family who adored her. She met and married Fotis Dulos, a man she crossed paths with initially back when she was in grad school, and subsequently married and bore him five children.

It was picture-perfect idyllic life in Connecticut for Jennifer by all superficial accounts, as handsome Fotis appeared to be a brilliant provider, and the family lived the life in leafy, well-heeled suburbia.

Until the morning that Jennifer disappeared without a trace.

In May of last year, this stunning mom —who people truly admired and liked— left her home in New Canaan, Connecticut, and then never returned. Or did she? We see that detectives and the police pieced together that she took her kids to school, returned home, and then something very violent and bloody occurred in her garage, based on the residual DNA found in the space.

Jennifer Dulos officially vanished on May 24, 2019. Her husband was arrested in January 2020, and a few weeks after this, he died from an apparent suicide. The body of Jennifer Dulos has never been found.

ID producers have called upon expert Dr. Robi Ludwig, a nationally known psychotherapist and award-winning reporter, author, who is a broadcast and cable network media go-to expert on all things relationships and interpersonal dysfunction.

She is also a relationship contributor for Investigation Discovery Network’s Scorned.

Monsters & Critics spoke to Dr. Robi Ludwig this past week ahead of the ID Nine at 9 documentary Vanished in New Canaan.

Monsters & Critics: When the Dulos case broke, what was your first gut instinct when you heard the news?

Dr. Robi Ludwig: I wrote a book called ‘Till Death Do Us Part. So I’m aware that when a spouse goes missing, most likely it’s the husband or wife who knows a lot of information and, or is responsible.

So that tends to be the case. That certainly was my first thought when I heard about the Dulos case. It was just very, very sad. By the time that I heard about the case, Fotis Dulos was already with his new girlfriend, and the two of them were very much alive.

There was some question about whether his girlfriend was somehow involved. Why would someone choose to be involved in some kind of murder scheme? So that’s when I entered into the case, as far as talking about it on HLN and nationally.

M&C: Have you ever heard of an attorney getting so sucked into his client’s wrongdoing?

Dr. Robi Ludwig: Well, it’s so interesting when we talk about lawyers, where should we start? There are so many attorneys that are not happy with their jobs and really don’t like being lawyers and, and also maybe there’s an attraction to understanding the law so that you can find ways to get around the law.

I’m not saying it all cases, but certainly, with Fotis’s attorney Kent Mahwinny, it sounds like that is a possibility. But what is so interesting. When I was doing some research, I found that Kent Mahwinny and Dulos were both friends, and both had a lot of issues with their wives, both like the idea of getting rid of their wives.

I think we have two friends that were very much in sync with each other and perhaps grandiose, thinking that they were just so brilliant and so smart that if they helped each other out, they could get away with murder, literally.

The other thing is, I often wonder if Mahwinny was looking for some excitement, and Fotis was very exciting in many ways. He was an excitement junkie, and I imagine that’s what he brought with him into all of his relationships.

That he was a good looking guy and he seemed wealthy. And if you look at his lifestyle, he was always flying from one place to the other and doing exciting sporting activities. And it wouldn’t surprise me if his friends somehow admired him and wanted to absorb some of that feeling that Fotis seemed to have a being alive and living on the edge.

M&C: What was the clinical term for Fotis Dulos?

Dr. Robi Ludwig: Well, anyone who commits murder deliberately has an antisocial personality disorder. What we say in layman’s terms is a sociopath.

And what I’ve stated on other shows is that every sociopath is a narcissist because every sociopath just really thinks about themselves and what’s in their best interest.

What’s very interesting about the murder-suicides that I wrote about in my book, and granted it was very different than in this case because the suicide was delayed, but very often there’s a dependency on the wife in some way.

So it’s very possible that Fotis and keep in mind that he was European and background. He might’ve had a very macho image of what a man is, what a husband is, and what it should be. That a woman should never leave a man… that was not acceptable.

He could leave her, he could cheat on her, he could do whatever he wanted, but that the wife should be there waiting. So it’s very possible when she left him, he felt that was not allowed. And also, he was very dependent on her financially.

M&C: That comes to light actually as the investigation unfolds. The borrowing of money from her father. Then he went into arrears and did not honor the repayment of the loan once her father passed, which was very indicative of his character.

Dr. Robi Ludwig:  Yes. And so once Jennifer decided really, who is this man, how does he support himself? Who is he? How can he maintain the facade? How can he maintain the lifestyle…after think this through, Jennifer left him.

It was almost like his life was on a downward spiral that he did not want to accept. And I don’t know what the murder meant to him.

And with the murder-suicides, as I was speaking of before, very often with these husbands who kill their wives and then kill themselves, they’re very dependent emotionally, and they almost can’t exist without their wives.

Now it looks very different when you look at Fotis, and you look at Jennifer, but that same idea may still be true.

M&C:  Really, what did Michelle Troconis bring to the equation for him? She had a daughter; she wasn’t wealthy. She was more of a distraction for him. I didn’t understand the Michelle part of his equation, it did not add to his high-level grifter-like existence.

Dr. Robi Ludwig: Well, he may have been to her, a knight in shining armor… this man who was going to save her. She’s a single mother. He’s this seemingly wealthy, smart, ambitious guy who’s paying her a lot of attention, and she is helping Fotis to feel like this important man, the savior.

So it worked for his ego. And it sounds like for Michelle; he made her feel very special and important. Listen, beginnings are very different. Right? I guess you could say the advantage for Fotis and Michelle and their new budding relationship is that there was already somebody who was being demonized.

Jennifer was the demon. So they can maintain this idealized image of each other that they obviously both needed and it worked for them until it didn’t,

M&C:  Both parents are dead; Jennifer’s body has never been discovered. You’ve got five children. From your academic background as a psychotherapist, what are these children in store for? What possible problems can present for them as they get older they learn the truth?

Dr. Robi Ludwig:  I really hope these children are in therapy so that they could work with the best professionals on how to work through the trauma and that they’re given permission to do so.

And listen, this is horrible. What can you say? I mean, this is a horrible life story to have to live with, and it’s up to each and every one of them to find a way to be as resilient as possible to live a fulfilling life.

And hopefully, they have enough good people around them and healthy role models where they could see that healthy relationships do exist, that people do know how to interact in a way that doesn’t lead to death.

But this will be a part of their story and their children’s story and their children’s children’s story. So this will have an intergenerational ripple effect. But people do manage to thrive. Not in spite of, but because of. And so we can only help.

We can only hope, as mental health professionals, that that will be the case for these children. But let’s face it, it’s not going to be easy.

M&C:  This may be controversial, but I want your opinion. Schizophrenia, and similar mental illness, bipolar disease, it can run in families, right? And the propensity for crime, criminal brains, crime families, sociopaths. Is this something that’s wired into DNA or is it a learned completely unrelated to hereditary?

Dr. Robi Ludwig:  You know, I think we are finding out, and the answer is not completely known. Everything’s a combination of genetic inclination and environment. So that’s where we’re at. It’s always a combination of the two.

Now, does every child is born from a serial killer turned into a serial killer? No. Do I think that there is an organic component to sociopathy? I do. I do think that there’s something about the brain wiring that’s not like normal human beings that have better coping skills without needing to go to that point.

Many have the fantasy of liking the idea of their partner being dead without having to act on it. Yeah. But it’s an interesting question that we’re still learning about.

M&C: You get to work with great smart people like Diane Dimond and Ashleigh Banfield. How much fun is it being an Investigation, Discovery go-to expert?

Dr. Robi Ludwig:  It is so much fun. And I love these women that I was on the panel with. I’ve worked with Diane for many years and Ashley as well. And it was a sorority of sisterhood amongst women that I truly admire, and I love their, their skills and their talent and their way of describing story and their commitment to getting to the truth.

So it was just so much fun. It was like a little Investigation Discovery, sisterhood, sorority. I love being a part of it.

Vanished in New Canaan: An ID Mystery airs Monday, June 1 from 9-10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.

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