Details of Disappearance Gail was last seen at the apartment she shared with her husband, Dr. Robert "Bob" Bierenbaum, in the New York City borough of Manhattan at 11:00 .m. July 7, 1985. A photo of Robert is posted with this case summary. Robert claimed he and Gail argued that morning and Gail walked out of the residence on east 85th Street to go sunbathe in Central Park. Robert later said he waited in the apartment until 5:30 p.m., then went to a family birthday party in New Jersey. He didn't appear concerned at the party, but while at a friend's house that evening, Robert seemed upset and called his apartment a few times.
At midnight, Robert called one of Gail's friends to ask if she knew his wife's whereabouts. The next day, he called her psychotherapist (Gail missed her regularly scheduled appointment that day) and other people to ask if they had seen her. When Robert her missing to the authorities on the evening of July 8, he stated their marriage was deeply troubled and both of them were in therapy. Gail has never been heard from again. The last time anyone besides her husband saw her was on July 6. That day she saw her gynecologist and her hairdresser and spent some time with a friend in the afternoon hours.
Early on in the investigation, police asked for permission to search the couple's apartment. Robert said he'd get back to them about that, but he never did. In September, he finally gave permission for investigators to come to the apartment, but only to search for fingerprints and anything else that might identify Gail. When a police officer conducted the search on September 30, he looked around for evidence of a crime but didn't see anything of interest.
Gail's family denied Robert's statements about Gail's alleged mental illness and substance abuse to investigators and said that Gail told them he had been mentally and physically abusing her for some time prior to her disappearance. Her family said that Robert once choked Gail into unconsciousness after catching her smoking cigarettes, which Robert stated was "forbidden" in their household. He also tried to kill her cat, according to Gail's relatives. Robert's attorney denied the Katz family's statements during the initial 1985 investigation.
Investigators determined that Robert, a licensed pilot, took a two-hour flight in a rented four-passenger Cessna 172 Skyhawk from Essex County, New Jersey over the Atlantic Ocean the day Gail vanished. Robert failed to mention this fact to authorities during their initial questioning of him, although at their request he had provided a timeline of his and Gail's activities in the days immediately prior to her disappearance. A 1986 search of the plane and two vehicles Robert drove at the time of Gail's disappearance yielded nothing of interest.
Gail and Robert had been married since 1982 and had had a stormy relationship for some time. She had left him for a time in the fall of 1983, but the couple reconciled. Gail had an affair with an investment banker during the summer of 1984 and the spring of 1985, and by the time of her disappearance she'd become romantically involved with a coworker. Gail was working on a doctorate in clinical psychology from Long Island University at the time she vanished, while Robert was on-staff as a physician at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn.
Gail told friends that she was planning to divorce Robert. She had taken out a $10,000 loan so she could pay for graduate school without his help, and for months prior to her disappearance she had been looking for another place to live. Investigators believed that Robert was involved in Gail's disappearance for many years and was responsible for her presumed death, but lacked evidence to make an arrest in the case.
Robert moved to Las Vegas, Nevada in 1989 and set up a medical practice in the city. This was the same year that a partial female body washed ashore in Staten Island, New York. DNA tests were not available at the time, but authorities believed that the remains were Gail's after conducting x-ray exams on the corpse. The body was buried and it was assumed that Gail had been located, but the case remained unsolved.
Robert married another doctor and the couple had a child together in the 1990s. Robert and his family moved to North Dakota, where both he and his wife practiced medicine. DNA testing became available in 1997 and the body believed to be Gail's was re-examined at her family's request. Forensic results proved that the body was not Gail's and her case was officially reopened by New York authorities.
Robert was arrested with second-degree murder in Gail's case in 2000 in North Dakota after ample evidence was compiled to prove a case against him. He was then extradited to New York to face trial.
The majority of Robert's associates and friends were shocked by his arrest, saying that they had no indication he was capable of such violence. A former nanny who was employed by Robert and his second wife did tell investigators that Robert was very opposed to cigarette smoking. She claimed that he required her to wash her clothing if she was exposed to any smokers and seemed to be quite vehement about his beliefs. The nanny's claims appear to support the Katz family's statements about Robert and his reactions about smoking.
Authorities believe that Robert strangled Gail in their Manhattan apartment on July 7, 1985 and then dismembered her body, placed her in a duffel bag and tossed it into the ocean during his plane flight. At his 2000 trial, eleven witnesses testified that Gail had told them Robert abused her and she was afraid of his temper.
Two of Gail's friends testified that Gail said Robert's psychiatrist had written her a letter, warning her that Robert was dangerous and advising her to leave him. Gail said she planned to use the letter as leverage in divorce court. Another friend said Gail frequently came to her for advice about her marital problems and had confided that Robert had threatened to kill her if she ever left him.
Many of Robert's acquaintances, including a woman he began seeing only three weeks after Gail went missing, testified about the numerous different stories he'd told them about Gail's disappearance. Robert reportedly stated Gail was a drug addict and an alcoholic and was depressed and suicidal at the time of her disappearance. Her friends and therapist denied these statements, although one of Gail's boyfriends admitted they had used cocaine together several times.
Robert denied all the allegations against him, although his defense attorney did concede that Gail was probably dead. He was convicted of Gail's murder in October 2000 and sentenced to twenty years to life in prison. Gail has never been located, but she is presumed deceased due to the circumstances involved in her case.
- New York Police Department
Updated 2 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated June 2, 2010; picture and clothing/jewelry description added, details of disappearance updated.