Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Angels of Death: The Doctors

Dr. Bierenbaum's Missing Wife - Part One
by Marilyn Bardsley

Gail Katz Bierenbaum
Gail Katz Bierenbaum

Gail Katz was an attractive young woman from a solidly middle-class Long Island Jewish family. But she was a troubled girl suffering from low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. A bright girl, she nevertheless dropped out of college, popped Quaaludes and other pills, and drank more than she should. At one point, all of her neuroses, chemical dependencies and too much alcohol ganged up on her and she tried to commit suicide after breaking up with a boyfriend.

Unlike her sister, who was studying to be a lawyer, Gail was drifting without a clear goal in life. She flitted from relationship to relationship, none of them permanent. Then in 1979, at the age of 23 she met Bob Bierenbaum, a young doctor at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. He had a very high IQ, played the guitar, flew small planes and wasn't bad looking. Better yet, he came from a good family and his father was an accomplished physician.

Bob pressed the relationship and soon they were engaged. Gail's parents were ecstatic: not only was he Jewish, but he was a doctor as well. Gail's practical side finally surfaced and she decided that, even though she did not really love Bob and didn't find him sexually attractive, he was too good a matrimonial catch to ignore.

Before they were married, she told her girlfriends of some unusual incidents that would come up many times in the future. Gail told people that Bob had admitted to inadvertently killing his former fiancée's cat. Then, when a stray cat that Gail picked up annoyed Bob, she claimed that he tried to kill the animal. To protect it, she took it to an animal shelter.

She also mentioned scenes that suggested that Bob was irrational and prone to fits of rage over things like finding her smoking.

Every one to whom she confided these incidents urged her to break off the engagement, particularly since she had serious doubts about her feelings about Bob.

To keep her parents happy and not lose a potentially huge meal ticket, Gail went ahead with the marriage. Things seemed to deteriorate almost immediately. They fought loudly and frequently. Once, she called the police and charged that he tried to choke her.

On the positive side, she went back to finish her college degree, but looked for extramarital relationships to satisfy the gaps in her relationship with Bob. Bob seemed to immerse himself in his career and was making himself into a first-class Manhattan surgeon.

The Surgeon's Wife
The Surgeon's Wife

Sunday morning, July 7, 1985, everything came to a head. According to Kieran Crowley, author of the very detailed book on the case, The Surgeon's Wife, "Gail, her pretty face contorted with rage, screeched a final ultimatum at Bob. She told him he was pathetic. She revealed her affairs, including her claimed liaison with an Arab. She declared that she loved another man and that she never loved Bob."

Mae Eisenhower in the apartment below heard the fight and said that it was followed by a loud slamming of a door, suggesting that one of the two combatants upstairs had stormed out of the apartment.

Shortly afterwards, one of Gail's friends called and Bob told her that Gail had gone out.

At 3 p.m., a retired textile executive, Joel Davis, saw a woman in a bagel shop that he was convinced was Gail.

At 3:30 p.m., Bob rented a Cessna at Caldwell Airport for a 2-hour flight. Afterwards, he attended his nephew's birthday party. Then he went to his friend's home and during the evening there called his house a couple of times to see if Gail had returned. Bob went home late that evening to an empty apartment.

The next day, Bob called around to several of Gail's friends, colleagues and relatives to see if they knew her whereabouts. He explained that they had argued and Gail had walked out.

Nobody had seen her and nobody had heard from her. She had simply vanished.

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