Judy Schwartz still can’t believe her daughter, Jennifer Lynn Dulin, is gone.
Schwartz, who lives in northern California, filed a missing person’s report more than a year ago after Dulin, 43, took a road trip and never returned.
After months of worry and seeking her whereabouts, Schwartz learned that on Jan. 6, her daughter was found dead in Waterville, Maine, more than 3,000 miles away.
Why Maine and why Waterville? Those are questions she has sought to find answers to since she got the news.
“The police detective in charge of her case came over here early in the morning to tell me she had died on the sixth,” Schwartz, of Arcata, California, recalled in a recent phone interview. “I was crushed, I was devastated, I couldn’t think, actually, for days. I couldn’t remember what I was doing. I really was messed up. I couldn’t function.”
Dulin was the youngest of three children, earned a degree in religious studies from California State University, Long Beach, was a member of the Screen Actors Guild and worked in television, using the stage name Jennifer Dicelli. In 2015, she planned to marry her college sweetheart, an attorney.
Things turned sour, however, and they split up. The $36,000 they had spent on the planned wedding was irretrievable, according to her mother.
“It’s been since then that she has been off, and struggling, and just really unable to grasp anything, and it got progressively worse,” Schwartz said.
Dulin suffered from bipolar disorder, but it had never been as bad as it turned in December 2019, when she showed up at her mother’s home. During her brief stay, according to Schwartz, Dulin believed she and her mother were training to fight during the apocalypse and urged her to drive to Columbus, Ohio, with her.
“She wanted me to go with her, and I should have,” Schwartz said.
Dulin, 5-foot-4 inches tall and 135 pounds, with brown hair and eyes, drove east in her black 2009 Honda CRV with clothes, her favorite Teddy bears and a three-diamond ring. She texted Schwartz the next day, but her mother heard nothing more until she received a bill a few weeks later from a hospital in Columbus, Ohio, where Dulin had been admitted. Schwartz later learned through medical records she received after Dulin died that her daughter was admitted to RiverVista Hospital because of an attempted suicide. But because of privacy laws and Dulin not wanting anyone to be contacted, Schwartz wasn’t told at the time. The medical records said that Dulin was delusional and paranoid.
Schwartz has no idea how her daughter got to Maine after being released from RiverVista. Neither she nor her daughter had ever been to the state.
After Dulin was found dead, her body was flown back to California. Schwartz did everything she could to try to find out what happened to her and why.
She learned that Dulin had stayed a few days with a man in Waterville who encountered her at the corner of Hazelwood and College avenues one evening in January and offered her a place to stay for a few days. She was cold and has asked where she could go to warm up.
On Jan. 6 — three days into her stay — she was found unresponsive on the floor just after 4 a.m. Police were called and were not able to identify her, so her body was taken to the state Medical Examiner’s Office in Augusta. The autopsy revealed she had died from natural causes: heart failure due to chronic ischemic changes, with tracheobronchitis a contributing factor. Ischemic means decreased blood flow and oxygen to the heart muscle.
On Tuesday, I called Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey, who confirmed it took a few days before police were able to identify Dulin, whom they finally learned was listed in the system as being a missing person from California. Massey said police did a thorough investigation to determine where she had been prior to her death and who she may have had contact with, but that information was elusive.
“Based on the medical examiner’s cause of death and our investigation, we determined that no crime was associated with her death,” Massey said.
Schwartz is plagued by questions about her daughter’s life the last several months. She called the Morning Sentinel this week to try to find answers. She emailed Dulin’s medical records, autopsy report and other information, including photos of her daughter.
Seeking to find answers myself, I drove to Home Place Inn, an apartment complex at 150 College Ave., and found Roger Whitehead, with whom Dulin stayed before she died. A man of few words, Whitehead said she seemed nice but was reserved and did not want to talk about her past or what led to her homelessness. Another man who was visiting the apartment found her unconscious early in the morning, according to Whitehead.
“She pretty much slept — she slept on the floor,” he said. “She didn’t talk much about herself. She kept her face covered. You couldn’t see her face.”
I relayed this information to Dulin’s mother, who hopes anyone who knew Dulin, spoke to her or saw her along her journey to Maine, will email her at [email protected] She wants to piece together the last few months and days of her life. Her questions are many.
“Why was she in Maine? What other states was she in? What had she been through? How did she get from California to Maine? Where is her car? Her three-diamond ring? What has she been doing for a year?”
For a mother, the “not knowing” is agonizing. I could hear it in her voice as she spoke lovingly of a daughter whose absence has left a large hole in her heart.
“She was my youngest. I almost died when I had her and was in intensive care five days,” Schwartz said. “She was just my very sweet daughter and the best person I know. She helped everybody. She’d bring people home and give them clothes, feed them. We went on lots of road trips. She was my navigator. She’s beautiful. People would tell me, ‘Your daughter’s beautiful.’”
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 33 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.
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