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'My stomach just sank': Nanny describes frantic day Connecticut mother of five disappeared

A nanny who cares for five children whose mother went missing in Connecticut in 2019 recalled in court on Wednesday the frantic day Jennifer Dulos vanished, kicking off a search that eventually turned into a murder investigation.

The nanny, Lauren Almeida, testified in the trial of Michelle Troconis, who was the girlfriend of Dulos’ estranged husband, Fotis Dulos. Troconis is charged with conspiracy to commit murder and other crimes on allegations that she helped Fotis Dulos cover up the killing of Jennifer Dulos.

Almeida said Wednesday she had four of their children with her — the other was at a friend's — when she was supposed to meet up with Jennifer Dulos in Manhattan on the afternoon of May 24, 2019. She texted and called Jennifer Dulos, but she didn't respond.

“My stomach just sank. She never not answered her phone,” Almeida testified in Superior Court in Stamford, Connecticut.

Almeida went to a doctor's office in Manhattan where Jennifer Dulos 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,” Almeida said. “I just walked outside, and I started to call people who could have heard from Jennifer.”

Police believe Fotis Dulos attacked Jennifer Dulos 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 Dulos denied having anything to do with her disappearance. He died by suicide in early 2020, shortly after being charged with murder.

Troconis, 49, has pleaded not guilty and denies the charges, which also include evidence tampering and hindering prosecution.

At the time she vanished, Jennifer and Fotis Dulos were going through a contentious divorce and child custody proceedings that had limited his time with the children. Jennifer Dulos had moved out of the family home in Farmington, Connecticut, while Fotis Dulos was living there with Troconis and her daughter.

The case drew widespread attention and was the subject of a made-for-TV movie. Jennifer Dulos, 50, was a member of a wealthy New York family whose father, the late Hilliard Farber, founded his own brokerage firm. She also was a niece by marriage of fashion designer Liz Claiborne. Fotis Dulos was a luxury home builder originally from Greece.

Almeida testified that she and Jennifer Dulos had become afraid of Fotis Dulos in 2017, when the Dulos' relationship deteriorated after she found out he was having an affair with Troconis. That year, Almeida said Fotis Dulos chased Jennifer Dulos outside the home with a piece of paper and had a screaming argument with her inside the Farmington home, where she ran into a room and he tried to barge open the closed door.

When Jennifer Dulos went missing, Almeida said she was in a panic as she called Jennifer Dulos' 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," 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. Troconis’ lawyer, Jon Schoenhorn, later called for a mistrial based on Almeida’s comment, but Randolph denied the motion.

Almeida, 32, continues to be a nanny for the five children, who have been living with Jennifer Dulos' mother, Gloria Farber, in Manhattan since their mother vanished.

Also Wednesday afternoon, 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 favoring the prosecution.

Wednesday was the fourth day of the trial. Over the first days, police testified about blood evidence found in Jennifer Dulos' garage and her SUV, which was found abandoned at a New Canaan park.

Police have said there was evidence of an attempted cleanup in the garage. Almeida testified that she had put a 12-pack of paper towels in the kitchen pantry the day before Jennifer Dulos vanished, but there were only two rolls there the next day.

When Almeida went to the home on the day of the disappearance around 11 a.m. — a short time after Jennifer Dulos' SUV was seen on a neighbor's camera leaving the neighborhood — she said she did not notice blood in the garage but found Jennifer Dulos' purse inside the house, which she thought was odd.

Among the evidence expected to be shown to the jury later in the trial is police surveillance video of Fotis Dulos and Troconis driving around Hartford later in the day that Jennifer Dulos disappeared. Fotis Dulos is seen getting out of his pickup truck and disposing of garbage bags at various locations as Troconis sits in the vehicle. Troconis told police she didn't know what was in the bags.

Police said they later recovered some of the bags and found clothing, zip ties and other items with Jennifer Dulos’ DNA on them. Some items had Fotis Dulos’ DNA on them, and one bag had Troconis’ DNA on it, police said.

Prosecutors are also expected to show the jury what police dubbed “the alibi script” — a document they say Fotis Dulos and Troconis prepared that detailed their actions and locations on the day of the killing and the day after. Troconis told police that Fotis Dulos’ lawyer had asked them to list their activities on those days.