True Crime Story of a Croatian Immigrant in California: Jakov Dulcich

By 18 November 2019

Recently, we wrote about a member of the Croatian diaspora who was a villain in a true-crime story. Today, it's time to hear about a very successful Croatian immigrant to California, Jakov Dulcich, who fell victim to violent crime in a somewhat bizarre story.

We all know about numerous Croats who have moved to California and started growing grapevines there. Maybe it's more precise to say that they continued growing grapes and making wine there, as most of them (or their families) were making wine here in Croatia long before moving to the New World.

However, there are other options of what can be made with grapes, Pretty Lady is one of the biggest growers, packers, and shippers of premium California Table Grapes and several raisin products. The company which owns the brand Pretty Lady, called Jakov P. Dulcich and Sons is located in McFarland in California's Central Valley, and was founded and owned by Jakov Dulcich. Mr. Dulcich was born in Argentina, but his parents returned to Brusje on the island of Hvar when he was just a boy.

He grew up on Hvar, and after getting married to his wife Antoinette, he left Hvar, first for Chile and then for California. That's where he founded the company, which grew each year, his sons joined him in the business and now they have thousands of acres of premium table grapes.

All of that would seem like an amazing success story of a Croatian emigrant, were it not for how Jakov's life ended, at the age of 85.

The story is told on Twitter by @kchironis (you can find the thread here).

On April the 11th, 2018, he was driving his SUV and was chased by a Kia, the whole thing was seen by an eyewitness. The witness later told the police that both his and Dulcich's cars swerved off the road and crashed, the driver of the Kia then got out and shot Dulcich point-blank. He tried to kill the witness too, but he managed to escape (it's not entirely clear how, as there were supposedly two assailants, and he just managed to escape them and go to the cops, apparently).

Soon after the incident, police located a burnt car belonging to a guy called Mariano Perez, and the witness picked him out of a lineup, saying that he looked "closest" to Dulcich's killer. Soon after, he retracts that, claiming that he wasn't sure it was Perez, and since there was no other evidence linking Perez to Dulcich's murder, he was found not guilty by the jury. But not even a full month after being released from jail, the suspected killer, Mariano Perez, turns up dead too. He was found with multiple gunshot wounds. His killer was never found. 

Then, a few months after that, another weird twist to the story emerged: another employee of Dulcich's company, Rodolfo Elizalde, called the police as his house was targeted by a drive-by shooting, and more than 30 rounds had been fired from what appears to be an AK47-type weapon. Elizalde had worked for the Dulcich's for over 25 years and told the police he was shot at twice before the final incident on his drive back home.

This seems to have been the final incident in the story thus far - if it even is the same story. Jakov Dulcich's killer has never been found. Perez's killer has not been found. It's not known who shot at Elizalde. There were rumours of it starting as a hired assassination of Dulcich, but why then kill the (potential) assassin after he's been found innocent? Does the series of attacks on his long-time employee have anything to do with Dulcich?

Hopefully, there will be a resolution to this mystery (dubbed by @kchironis as "True Grape Crimes"), and if that happens, you'll be able to read all about it on Total Croatia News!