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Robert Bierenbaum Trial: 2000

Growing Suspicions, The Trial

Defendant: Robert Bierenbaum
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Scott Greenfield, David Lewis
Chief Prosecutor: Daniel Bibb
Judge: Leslie Crocker Snyder
Place: Manhattan, New York
Date of Trial: October 2-24, 2000
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: 20 years to life

SIGNIFICANCE: Fourteen years after the disappearance of his wife, a prominent New York City doctor was tried and convicted for her murder, although her body was never found.

Dr. Robert Bierenbaum moved after his wife's July 7, 1985, disappearance from their New York City apartment—first to Reno, Nevada, in 1989, and then in 1996, to Minot, North Dakota. Fourteen years later prosecutors would charge that Bierenbaum had murdered Gail Katz Bierenbaum, packaged her body, and then dumped it from a Cessna 172, flying over the Atlantic Ocean somewhere between Montauk, New York, and Cape May, New Jersey.

After Gail vanished, her husband told police that she had left their apartment on East 85th Street in Manhattan following a fight, stating she was going to Central Park to calm down. A friend would later testify that Bierenbaum had speculated that his wife had been abducted or murdered by drug dealers with whom she was acquainted. As all their friends knew—and Bierenbaum acknowledged then and would later—their relationship had been a troubled one.

In Nevada and in North Dakota, by all accounts, Bierenbaum led an exemplary life. His medical practice flourished and, from 1990 on, he frequently flew his own plane to El Fuerte, Mexico, to perform free reconstructive surgery on poor children with cleft palates. He remarried and his new wife, Dr. Janet A. Chollet-Bierenbaum, praised him as a caring and loving husband. Friends believed that the first time around he simply had had the misfortune to marry a tormented, manipulative, and suicidal woman.

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