There was no obituary or funeral service after she died earlier this year, and police in West Palm Beach, Florida, opened an investigation into her death. After The Daily Beast reached out for comment, police spokesman Mike Jachles told us that the investigation was concluding and that Carolyn died of an accidental overdose.
The 36-year-old mother-of-five had planned to start a new chapter in North Carolina, at a new house with a fireplace and half-acre lot with a chicken coop. Carolyn and her husband, John Pitts, had purchased the property just weeks before she was found unresponsive in a West Palm Beach hotel room on May 23.
Before her death, “she was ecstatic,” Carolyn’s mother, Dorothy Groenert, told The Daily Beast. “She was all set up for a whole new lifestyle.”
Groenert says Carolyn’s death came as a shock because she was working on building a new life and texted her recently about being free of drugs and alcohol.
The way Groenert sees it, some things about her daughter’s overdose don’t make sense, and she wants cops to investigate further.
Jachles, however, said that Carolyn’s case would officially be closed this week. Officers on the scene took a statement from Pitts, who told them that Carolyn had been using drugs, and Carolyn’s brother, who rushed to the hotel after Pitts texted Groenert that Carolyn had died. Pitts tried to administer CPR and “was given directions over the phone with 911,” Jachles said.
“It shouldn’t be closed,” Groenert said of the police investigation. “I begged them, I sent them numerous messages. I’ve asked for them to make meetings, contact me, and to no avail.”
Now Groenert is in a legal battle with Pitts over Carolyn’s will, which was filed in 2010 before she married him and which left her estate to her mother and two oldest children. Because the will hadn’t been updated, Pitts and his three kids with Carolyn were left out of her estate. Carolyn had received millions from Epstein-related settlements, though probate court documents indicate she had $183,000 in a bank account. The filings also listed unknown assets as the JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank class action settlements—which, as The Daily Beast reported, amount to $290 million and $75 million, respectively, and will result in big payouts to victims.
Pitts did not return messages seeking comment. When reached by a reporter from The Daily Beast, he warned, “Don’t call me again. You got the wrong John.”
Since Carolyn’s death, he’s posted tributes to her on Facebook and mourned his family’s loss.
“you showed me what love really is and i will never forget how big your heart is,” Pitts wrote in June, adding, “i know our souls will always be attached together.”
“i will do right by you because i know what u really wanted in life a to give our kids the life we never had… i miss u so much no words can say just know i will give our kids the best life that i can…”
While Pitts could not be reached, his sister Serena told The Daily Beast that Groenert’s and her family’s suggestion that Carolyn’s death was suspicious is “ridiculous.”
“Right now our family is grieving the loss of Carolyn and prioritizing the care of her children. At this time we kindly appreciate space and privacy,” she added in a text.
The Daily Beast has submitted requests for information to both the medical examiner and police department. While a cause or manner of death hasn’t been released, a toxicology report indicates Carolyn had methadone, fentanyl, and alprazolam (the generic name for Xanax) in her system when she died.
Lewis Nelson, professor and chair of the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School’s Department of Emergency Medicine and Director of the Division of Medical Toxicology, said alprazolam and fentanyl can be a dangerous combination, as both drugs suppress breathing.
“Her fentanyl use was very recent,” said Nelson, who is not involved in Carolyn’s case but independently reviewed her toxicology report. “My postulation is she is on methadone, takes a high dose, she took fentanyl, and she died quickly.” The low levels of a metabolite of fentanyl, Nelson added, suggest that Carolyn died before her body had time to metabolize the drug. Bloodwork, however, doesn’t usually paint a picture of how often someone uses a substance.
Carolyn was one of four victims to testify at the Maxwell trial in December 2021, telling the jury that the British socialite had groped her and routinely scheduled her “massages” with Epstein, who molested her up to three times until she was “too old” for him at age 18.
At the start, a Manhattan federal prosecutor asked Carolyn if she’d ever been addicted to drugs, and she replied, “Pain pills and cocaine.” Carolyn also testified about her home life when she was 14 and had first visited Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion in 2001. “I was allowed to do whatever I wanted,” she said, adding, “Because my mom was an alcoholic and a drug addict.” (Asked about Carolyn’s testimony, Groenert denied this. “No, I was working. I was working to pay for my children. I didn’t get any supplements. I had to work,” she said. “That’s inaccurate.”)
Carolyn, who said she dropped out in seventh grade and never returned to school, later testified that she became addicted to drugs while visiting Epstein’s lair: “Marijuana, cocaine, alcohol, anything that could block out for me to go to the appointment.”
She had confided in Maxwell and Epstein about her history of being sexually abused as a young child (by a relative at age 4) and of her family’s struggles with addiction. This emboldened the sick high-society couple to groom her and even attempt to bring her to Epstein’s U.S. Virgin Islands compound. “I told him I was only 15 and I couldn’t leave,” Carolyn said of Epstein.
The prosecutor also asked Carolyn about her medications, and she answered that she took methadone, an antidepressant, Xanax, and a drug for schizophrenia because “I am scared that my kids are going to get kidnapped.”
When Maxwell’s lawyer cross-examined Carolyn, he noted the Epstein victim compensation fund awarded her $3.25 million but had subtracted $446,000 because she’d received that amount in 2009 from a lawsuit against Epstein and his assistant Sarah Kellen.
“Yes, but no money will ever fix what’s happened to me,” Carolyn responded.
Carolyn testified using only her first name but came forward to the Daily Mail after Maxwell’s conviction. During this interview, she spoke of Pitts’ support.
“I had rosary beads in my hands for the entire time and my husband was in the courtroom and every time I felt like I was getting weak, he would give me a little thumbs up or I’d clench the beads,” Carolyn told the tabloid. “I was determined to have the strength to have this woman put away for what she did to me and other young women.”
“Sure, they accused me of lying, but I knew that was coming and I stood up to it because I was telling the God’s honest truth.”
At another point in the interview, Carolyn suggested that Virginia Giuffre, a victim who allegedly recruited her into Epstein’s sex ring, deserved to face similar consequences as Maxwell because, she claimed, Giuffre “trafficked me into a world of spiraling downward slopes and it has taken my husband John 12 long years to get me to love myself again.”
“I’m very happy being a wife and a mother and I want to show people how the tragedies in my life did not stop me,” she added. “I’m overcoming them. I’m not going to let Maxwell and Epstein ruin my life any more. I’m grateful every day when I wake up.”
In the spring before the high-profile trial, Carolyn and Pitts purchased a $570,000 home in Wellington, Florida. Public records show they sold it for the same price in April of this year and bought their North Carolina home soon after for $265,000. Pitts sold that home in July for $260,000.
In August, Pitts asked a court in Onslow County, North Carolina to vacate Carolyn’s 2010 will. The motion alleges Carolyn had “requested said will be revoked.” According to Pitts, the couple purchased the new home “with the plan to possibly relocate to the area after the conclusion of the academic school year.”
The filing added that the family visited the property “for the first time after the purchase and immediately determined they would not be moving to said residence” and “camped out” for one night before returning to Florida. They intended, the document said, to buy another home in the West Palm Beach area. Pitts’ motion said that he, Carolyn, and the kids lived in a hotel after they sold the Wellington house.
In the court record, Pitts accused Carolyn’s executor, Michael Danchuk, of falsely claiming that Carolyn was not married and had no children after the 2010 will. He’s also trying to move the probate case from North Carolina to Palm Beach County, Florida, where Groenert and Carolyn’s oldest son filed a motion to dismiss Pitts’ petition for administration.
According to Pitts’ petition for administration filed in Palm Beach County, Carolyn “parted ways” with Danchuk “during her lifetime and is believed to have instructed him to revoke the Purported Will.” The document accused Danchuk of handling Carolyn’s “previous substantial settlement funds under unknown pretenses” and claimed he “may have received substantial fees or otherwise diverted funds.”
Carolyn’s estate is expected to receive at least two “substantial settlement payouts from Jeffrey Epstein funds in the near future,” the petition stated, “and it is anticipated that additional class-action lawsuits paid to [her] estate will be forthcoming.”
Reached by The Daily Beast, Danchuk denied the claims in Pitts’ filing but declined to comment at length, citing the litigation. He said he is a consultant for a law firm and has known Carolyn since she sued Epstein in 2008; hers was the first in a string of Florida lawsuits that victims filed against the wealthy sex-trafficker as he brokered a secret deal with the feds.
“I feel more likely that it’s his attorneys that are telling him what to say,” Danchuk said. “I’m actually the person that Carolyn asked to stand in for her father when she got married to John, so obviously, it [John’s claims] does not make me very happy. There were no funds diverted. That’s obviously ridiculous.”
“I’m simply the administrator, executor, and I intend to pursue this as Carolyn asked me to do this a long time ago,” he added. “I never expected her to pass away before me.”
A document from the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner noted that cops said that Carolyn, Pitts and their children had been staying in the Florida hotel since May 18. “They came from North Carolina after they tried to relocate to that area. They returned to Palm Beach County, because their methadone clinic was not providing the amount of methadone, they were asking,” the document stated.
Groenert shared texts from her daughter where she seemed to glow about her new life in North Carolina, where she planned to swap spandex leggings for jeans.
“It’s Jean sneakers and a T-shirt type of girl and I like that and I just want to be a good wife to my husband because me. And him are Hitched for life,” Carolyn wrote.
Her 10-year-old son, she added, enjoyed lighting up their new fireplace. “We have a chicken coop so we’re gonna go get chickens and [he] made me by. Himself a fireplace fire last night for Mother’s Day… we did it old school and it was great.”
Carolyn wrote that because of their proximity to the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, many of her neighbors were military wives. “I enjoy living a very structured life of no drugs or alcohol because I want to be a great mom and the kids are so happy to be in. A new home,” she wrote.
Three days before Carolyn died, Groenert messaged Pitts trying to reach her. “When Carolyn wakes up maybe send more but she is asleep so I don’t wanna get into a argument k love you,” he wrote.
“TY, it is appreciated,” Groenert texted. “Love u guys too.”
Groenert would soon learn her daughter was dead via text message.
“What hotel are you in and where are you where are the kids I’m going to get a flight out of here,” Groenert wrote her son-in-law on May 23 at 8:11 a.m.
“I gotta call u back,” he replied. “Carolyn died last night.”
A record related to the 911 call obtained from West Palm Beach police reveals that authorities were contacted on May 23 at 7:45 a.m., and they arrived at the DoubleTree by Hilton about 10 minutes later. The document lists the nature of the call as “dead person.”
Notes from the call reveal someone reported Carolyn wasn’t “waking up” and “has been sick.” The person added that they’d started CPR but said, “She is ice cold now.”
“Father is hysterical,” the call document continued, adding, “Now sayig [sic] the female is puking.” Someone had also called back referring to “a female difficulty breathing.”
The medical examiner document adds more details about Carolyn’s death, saying that the couple went to sleep around 11 p.m. on May 22 and when the husband woke up around 7:45 a.m., after the kids asked for breakfast, Carolyn was naked and unresponsive in bed. Pitts began CPR and called police.
The officer told the medical examiner that Carolyn’s purse inside the bathroom contained crack pipes, a small baggie with white powdery residue, and a needle cap. “In the bathroom, beside the drug paraphernalia described above, there were six empty small plastic containers that, according to the husband, were methadone in syrup that they received from the methadone clinic,” the medical examiner narrative said.
Groenert said that police also told her that they found “an enormous amount of vodka bottles” in the hotel room but that Carolyn had no alcohol in her system when she died.
Carolyn’s brother told The Daily Beast that he has questions about what he observed at the hotel just after emergency responders arrived—and that he’s repeatedly tried to contact the detective on the case.
Joey Andriano said that when Carolyn and Pitts first got back to Florida, he and his girlfriend met them at a McDonald’s. “She was real happy… the happiest I ever seen her,” Joey said of Carolyn. “She sent me a little bit of money, just to help, because that’s how she is.”
But a day later, he tried reaching Carolyn and Pitts told him she wasn’t feeling well. Carolyn briefly answered and said the same.
“I said, ‘If she’s so sick why don’t you call the ambulance, bro? Do something. You gotta take her to the hospital.’ He said, ‘Oh, no, she’s alright.’”
During another call, he said, Carolyn’s voice was nearly inaudible.
“A couple times I talked to her on the phone, she just sounded real out of it, like, groggy, and he was doing most of the talking for her. She was never like that.”
Groenert says she’s unable to grieve her daughter until authorities further investigate what happened.
She’s also heartbroken that Pitts and his family refuse to let her see her younger grandkids, whom she says she cared for after Pitts temporarily lost custody following a car accident.
Groenert said she learned through her lawyers that Pitts’ sister is now caring for her grandchildren, who in recent months have been featured on the woman’s social media. “Aunts have super powers!” she wrote in July. “My turn to heal the mom wound in the next generation.”
According to Joey, Pitts’ sibling picked up the kids from the hotel after police arrived and took them away. “I see her pulling out and I tried to stop her. I went through the back door where the kids were, I said, ‘Roll down the windows.’ I was at least gonna tell them bye,” Joey said. “And she just sped off.”
“Carolyn and his sister hated each other,” Groenert said. “There was no love there.”
After Pitts was arrested over the wreck in June 2021, the court issued a “no contact” order with his children unless through Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF).
A police report said that cops found fentanyl, cocaine, and alprazolam on him, and he told emergency responders he’d taken methadone and Xanax earlier in the day. His children were admitted to the hospital, where staff contacted DCF because of the children’s injuries and because they appeared “very unkempt.”
He was found guilty of possession of cocaine and fentanyl and driving under the influence; a prosecutor didn’t take action on a child neglect charge. In April 2022, the court docket reveals, Pitts was placed on 12 months of probation, served 45 days in jail, received $2,047 in fines, and had his license revoked for one year.
Meanwhile, court records show that in 2016, Groenert was arrested on a charge of battery on a pregnant woman, whose name was redacted from a police report but who she says was Carolyn. The state attorney ultimately declined to file charges.
The police report says that after the woman asked Groenert to leave the residence and dragged her belongings to the front lawn, Groenert grabbed her arms to stop her.
Groenert said that before the incident, she and Carolyn’s older son from another relationship had temporarily moved in with Carolyn to avoid a hurricane. There had been an escalation of issues, she said, and Pitts was “egging Carolyn on that I should leave.”
“When the cops got there, somebody had to go to jail,” Groenert said.
Groenert’s record also includes a charge of possession of narcotic paraphernalia in 2004, though a prosecutor declined to pursue the case. And in 2002, she was charged with cocaine possession though her adjudication was withheld—meaning she wasn’t formally convicted.
“Those are old charges,” she told The Daily Beast when asked about them, “and it had to do with me helping somebody out with their kids and their wife got mad.”
Groenert said she and Carolyn “were more like sisters.”
“We were partners in crime,” she added. “We did a lot of stuff together, we hung out, went to concerts, we did everything.”
“My daughter was wonderful,” Groenert said. “My daughter was the most loving, kindhearted person. She trusted everybody. And anybody could say anything negative about anybody but my daughter: she was taught to always find a positive.”
“Nobody’s giving me any answers, and you know what? I’m over it,” the mother added. “Because this is my daughter, and she deserves justice. She got to a point where she was turning her whole life around.”