Doctor Convicted in 1985 Missing Body Case

BySamuel Maull

N E W  Y O R K, Oct. 24, 2000 -- Dr. Robert Bierenbaum, a plastic surgeon who wascharged with killing his wife 15 years ago and dropping her bodyinto the ocean from an airplane, was convicted today ofsecond-degree murder.

Bierenbaum, 44, clasped his hands in front of him and loweredhis head when the verdict was read by the jury forewoman inManhattan State Supreme Court.

Bierenbaum, currently a resident of Grand Forks, N.D., faces amaximum term of 25 years to life in prison when he is sentencedNov. 20 by Justice Leslie Crocker Snyder.

His wife, Gail Katz-Bierenbaum, 29, vanished on July 7, 1985.Her body was never recovered, and the prosecution’s case was basedmainly on circumstantial evidence.

Relief and SorrowWhen the verdict was read, the victim’s sister, Alayne Katz ofIrvington, N.Y., burst into tears and slumped over the leg of herbrother, Steven, shaking and sobbing.

“I’m very relieved,” said Alayne Katz. “I’ve waited a very,very long time for this day. I heard the cuffs close round hishands. I’ve waited for that sound a long time.”

The jury got the case on Monday.

Bierenbaum had been out on $500,000 bail. After the verdict,Snyder ordered him jailed to await sentencing.

‘Proactive and Reactive Lies’During the trial, defense lawyer David Lewis denounced theprosecution’s murder theory as guesswork since there are noeyewitnesses or physical evidence in the death of Katz-Bierenbaum.Lewis said Katz-Bierenbaum is probably dead, but he stated thatnobody knows how or why.

Assistant District Attorney Daniel Bibb said in his summationthat Bierenbaum told “proactive” and “reactive” lies, dependingon whether he was speaking before or after someone asked aboutKatz-Bierenbaum.

Bibb said one lie was that after Katz-Bierenbaum disappeared, aprivate investigator told the cosmetic surgeon that his wife was awaitress at a seaside resort in California.

Another lie was that her psychotherapist, Dr. Sybil Baran, hadtold Bierenbaum that his wife was suicidal and might have killedherself, Bibb said. Baran testified that she never told Bierenbaumthat.

Baran also noted that Katz-Bierenbaum had been apartmenthunting, had gotten a manicure and had bought birth control devicesjust before she vanished. These are not the acts of a suicidalperson, she said.

When Alayne Katz accused him of killing her sister, thedefendant called his missing wife a “tramp” and said he believedshe had run off with another man.

In fact, Bibb said, Bierenbaum knew very well that his wife wasdead.

Never, Bibb told the jurors shortly before they begandeliberations, did Bierenbaum, who has a pilot’s license, evermention that he had spent nearly two hours flying an airplane theafternoon after his wife was last seen.

Flight Log the KeyIt was after prosecutors found Bierenbaum’s flight log, whichthe law requires pilots to maintain, that they suspected they couldmake a murder case against him.

The probable truth, Bibb said, is that Bierenbaum strangled hiswife in their Upper East Side Manhattan apartment after she toldhim she was leaving their loveless and sometimes violent marriagefor another man.

Bibb said Bierenbaum put his wife’s corpse in a large duffelbag, drove it to a New Jersey airport, took the body up in a Cessna172 and dropped it into the ocean somewhere between Montauk, onLong Island, and Cape May, N.J.

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