Robert Bierenbaum is making headlines this week by talking about what really happened to his wife all those years ago. The former plastic surgeon was convicted on circumstantial evidence for killing his wife back in 2000. He was serving a 20-year prison sentence when he made a shocking revelation during his parole board hearing.
After years of silence, he finally confessed to the crime and explained how he did it.
A Mysterious Disappearance
His wife Gail Katz disappeared in 1985 and her body has never been found.
According to the official transcript of the parole hearing, Bierenbaum can be heard saying, “I wanted her to stop yelling at me and I attacked her.”
When the board asked him how he attacked her, he said he “strangled” her before adding, “I went flying. I opened the door and then took her body out of the airplane over the ocean.” He also told the board that he killed his wife because he was “immature” and “didn’t understand how to deal with his anger,” according to the transcript.
His admission was shocking to say the least. Prosecutors in the original trial say his story matches up exactly with their original theory.
“I was like, ‘Holy s—, are you kidding me?’” said Dan Bibb, one of the prosecutors who brought Bierenbaum to justice. “I was stunned because I always thought that that day would never come, that he would own up, take responsibility for having killed his wife.”
Bierenbaum remains in prison with his next parole hearing set for November.
The couple first met in the early 80s. At the time, Bierenbaum was a handsome surgical resident with a bright future ahead of him. He had a passion for speaking different languages and piloting small planes. He would often take women on short flights for romantic dates.
Their first date seemed magical, but Katz’s sister Alayne Katz says there were warning signs that something was wrong. She remembers going on a double date with the couple when Bierenbaum shoved food into her sister’s mouth and tried to do the same to her.
Alayne Katz also says her sister called her one day crying, because Bierenbaum allegedly tried to drown her cat in the toilet of their NYC apartment. Alayne Katz urged her sister to dump her boyfriend, but she ended up marrying him, nonetheless.
“My sister told me, ‘I’m smart. I’m loving. My love will cure. This is going to work out,’” Alayne Katz said.
Their relationship became increasingly hostile to the point where Gail Katz no longer felt comfortable in her own home. Alayne Katz says Bierenbaum once caught her sister smoking on the balcony of their apartment and choked her until she was unconscious.
Gail Katz reported the incident to the police, but nothing came of it.
“If this had happened in 2021 … Robert Bierenbaum would have been in handcuffs immediately,” Bibb said. “The fact that this was  … nothing was done about it.”
Gail even went to a therapist who ended up writing a letter suggesting that she leave the marriage because Bierenbaum might kill her.
But she ultimately chose to stay in the marriage. Soon after, she disappeared.
After Gail vanished, Bierenbaum told the family that they had a fight and Gail stormed off, but Alayne Katz wasn’t buying his story.
“She’s not with me, and she’s not with my parents, and at that moment I know that my sister’s dead,” Alayne Katz said. “And if she’s not alive there’s only one person who is a likely suspect to murder her, and it’s Bob. There’s no other suspect.”
The investigation soon heated up as Bierenbaum went back to his old lifestyle of flying planes and dating women.
The authorities checked the flight records where Bierenbaum chartered his plane and discovered that he doctored the flight records to make it look like he went flying the day after Gail disappeared.
Eventually, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office picked up the case and it went to chief investigator Det. Andy Rosenzweig. Prosecutors believed Bierenbaum disposed of his wife’s body over the Atlantic Ocean, but they didn’t have the body to prove it.
Bierenbaum continued to live his life as a free man, but things took a turn four years after his wife’s disappearance.
A torso washed ashore on Staten Island. Without DNA testing, medical examiners used x-rays to confirm the identity of the remains.
“An X-ray technician compared this X-ray with the torso and said, ‘This is Gail,’” Alayne Katz said. “Now … we have a body to bury. We have some closure.”
A Break in the Case
By 1990, Bierenbaum had relocated to Las Vegas to start his own plastic surgery practice. He started dating a young chiropractor named Stephanie Youngblood.
“We went to medical black-tie events … we went on a lot of ski trips,” Youngblood said. “To go ski in Argentina in August when it’s 114 in Las Vegas was absolute heaven.”
She says that Bierenbaum even joined an organization that flew doctors and nurses in and out of Mexico to treat children who needed medical care.
But she became concerned when Bierenbaum eventually revealed that he was married before and that his wife mysteriously vanished.
“The way he told the story, it was believable,” Youngblood said. “He goes, ‘Listen, this isn’t for public knowledge. I would really appreciate it if you kept this under wraps.’”
Youngblood says Bierenbaum exploded in anger twice in public. She saw a therapist who convinced her to leave him as her life could be in danger. Youngblood heeded their advice and left Bierenbaum soon after.
He eventually relocated to North Dakota to start a new life with a different woman.
But prosecutors in New York were still looking for a resolution. As DNA testing became available, Rozenzweig discovered that the torso that washed ashore didn’t belong to Gail Katz.
Alayne Katz said she was devastated when she heard the news.
“That little, little shred of closure that I had has now been ripped away,” she said, “I looked up at Dan [Bibb] and at Steve [Saracco], and I said, ‘Now, you better get a conviction.’”
Investigators started interviewing witnesses to gather evidence. A grand jury eventually indicted Bierenbaum for second-degree murder, 15 years after his wife first disappeared.
“We knew it was going to be the toughest trial that we’d ever had. No forensics, no eye witnesses, entirely circumstantial,” Bibb said. “There was no foregone conclusion to this case, by any stretch of the imagination.”
Prosecutors had to convince the jury that Bierenbaum could pilot a plane and shove a body overboard at the same time. They ended up recreating the scene to show the jury that it was possible.
“I thought the demonstration with the airplane was extremely effective, probably one of the critical moments of the case,” said Leslie Crocker Snyder, the judge who presided over the case.
He was finally convicted in 2000, bringing Alayne Katz some much-needed sense of closure. After so many years of waiting, we finally know what happened to Gail.
If you need help or need help supporting someone else, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.