Missing Babies: Steve and Marlene Aisenberg Offer Support to Lisa Irwin's Parents

1997 case, similar and unsolved, shows complex roles of parents and police.

ByABC News
October 14, 2011, 10:50 AM

Oct. 18, 2011— -- A baby girl goes down for a night's sleep. The next morning she's gone, her parents say. No unusual sounds had awoken anyone in the house. There is no damning evidence of break-in and abduction.

And the parents, initially given sympathy and support, are increasingly viewed with suspicion.

Lisa Irwin, the girl who disappeared two weeks ago in Kansas City, Mo.? Yes, but the scenario also applies to Sabrina Aisenberg, the four-month-old girl her parents said was stolen from her crib in November 1997, in Valrico, Fla..

"Our hearts go out to the parents," said Steve Aisenberg, 48. "We're more than willing to talk to them. They're not alone. Our prayers and thoughts are with them every day. … Hopefully, they won't have to wait as long as we have."

The Aisenbergs are still without Sabrina. The police investigation is still open.

No arrests have been made in Lisa's case, and her parents maintain their innocence. Lisa's mother, Deborah Bradley, told ABC News that before Lisa's disappearance, she would always suspect the parents in missing-baby cases. She said she knew she may well be arrested herself.

Marlene Aisenberg, 49, said, "It's a very tough thing. We knew we didn't have anything to do with [Sabrina's disappearance]. And [Lisa's parents] know they didn't have anything to do with Lisa. The hardest thing in the world is having your child taken from you. The second-hardest is being accused of doing something to her."

According to press reports, as the search for Sabrina and/or her abductor went on, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office grew more suspicious of the Aisenbergs. It got a warrant to bug their home. State prosecutors chose not to charge the Aisenbergs, but in 1999 a federal indictment charged them with assorted crimes, the most serious being lying and conspiracy. The indictment relied on alleged recorded outbursts between the couple about Steve having killed Sabrina while high on cocaine. The Aisenbergs denied the charges.

A federal judge declared the tapes inaudible and the transcriptions faulty, and in February 2001 the prosecution dropped the charges before the trial had begun. In February 2004 an appeals court ordered the government to reimburse the Aisenbergs almost $1.5 million for defense fees.

The last public events in the case were in 2008. A police informant reportedly said his cellmate had told him he bought a boat from the Aisenbergs as part of a plan to dispose of Sabrina's body in Tampa Bay.

"It's ridiculous to begin with," said Steve. "If police had done due diligence, they would have found that we didn't have a boat or any contact with this person." All it did was "rub salt into an already deep wound," he said.

If as a missing-baby drama unfolds parents are cast in conflicting roles -- victims and suspects -- so are police. They are uniquely equipped and empowered to both find the missing child and solve the mystery of its disappearance, which can mean being helpful to and suspicious of the parents.