Robert Bierenbaum was a plastic surgeon living in New York City with his wife, Gail Katz-Bierenbaum. From the outside many people, including Gail’s parents, thought they had the perfect life. Gail met Robert when she was in college. Robert was a “genius” doctor who was a licensed pilot and could speak 5 languages. He was also known as a skilled skier and a gourmet home cook. Privately, he was an abuser, strangling Gail into unconsciousness as a punishment for smoking a cigarette and threatening to kill her cat because he was “jealous” of it.
Gail’s sister, Alayne Katz, recalls the terrifying phone call that came after Robert tried to drown Gail’s cat in the toilet. Gail was defending Robert, saying that it might be the right thing for their relationship to get rid of the cat so Robert would feel more loved by Gail. Gail told Alayne, “No, no, no, Alayne… we’re gonna get rid of the cat and then everything’s gonna be fine because he’s gonna believe that I love him.”
Alayne said Gail told her she thought she could keep Robert from hurting her, “My sister told me, ‘I’m smart. I’m loving. My love will cure. This is going to work out.'”
Gail had Robert see a therapist for the health of their relationship. The therapist wrote Gail a letter advising her to run away from her marriage to Robert. The therapist said he was concerned Robert might kill her and called him “psychotic”. Gail started to realize she needed to leave Robert for her safety.
On July 7, 1985 Gail Katz-Bierenbaum disappeared. Robert first told police Gail had gone to Central Park to sunbathe and later said they had an argument and Gail left the apartment while he stayed home. Her body was never found. During the search for Gail, Robert partied in the Hamptons and wooed other women.
Eventually, Robert moved from New York to Las Vegas in 1990 to escape the infamy of being the only suspect in Gail’s disappearance. In Vegas, he met a chiropractor named Dr. Stephanie Youngblood and the two began dating. Chillingly, the relationship progressed much the way it did for Gail Katz-Bierenbaum. At first Robert seemed like the perfect “catch” but then the mask began to slip. Again, Stephanie asked Robert to see a therapist and again this therapist privately told Stephanie to leave the relationship for her safety. Stephanie was able to end the relationship.
In 1996 Robert married Dr. Janet Challot, a gynecologist he met in Vegas. The couple had a baby daughter and moved to Minot, North Dakota to again escape Robert’s reputation. In North Dakota, he was known as a “local hero” who saved a young boy after he was bitten by a tiger at the zoo.
In 1998 one of the detectives who worked the case of Gail’s disappearance was getting ready to retire and wanted to revisit and hopefully close out any cases that still troubled him. He decided to reinterview everyone he’d talked to about Gail and see if he could learn anything that might help him close the case and give her family closure. He flew to North Dakota and Vegas to talk to Robert again as well as his ex, Dr. Stephanie Youngblood. Finally in 2000, a grand jury indicted Robert Bierenbaum for second-degree murder.
Notably, all the evidence against Bierenbaum was only circumstantial. A fact many people used to him and even blame Gail for her own disappearance.
During Robert Bierenbaum’s trial, a 60-year-old male witness says he was “positive” he saw Gail Katz-Bierenbaum getting a bagel in Manhattan at the time Robert was allegedly dumping her body into the ocean. The witness, Joel Davis, said he could be so sure the woman he saw was Gail Katz-Bierenbaum despite the two being strangers because he was attracted to her so he remembered what she looked like. “I’m a legs and ass man,” is what he told police when they asked how he remembered a random woman he encountered in a bagel line.
The defense team also painted a picture of Gail Katz-Bierman as a mentally ill woman with a drug problem. Robert said she was suicidal and having affairs.
Miraculously, Robert Bierenbaum was found guilty and sentenced to twenty years to life. Fifteen years after his wife’s disappearance, in November 2000, his license to practice medicine in New York was revoked. His New Jersey medical license was revoked in 2002.
In December 2020, Robert Bierenbaum spoke at his parole hearing and finally confessed to the details of what happened to his wife. On July 7, 1985 he says he murdered her in their Manhattan apartment and then rented a plane in Essex County, New Jersey and took a two hour flight over the Atlantic Ocean where he opened the door and disposed of her dismembered body.
Robert Bierenbaum claims the reason he murdered his wife is that “she wouldn’t stop yelling”. The actual reason, according to the victim’s sister, is that Gail Katz-Bierenbaum had asked for a divorce. If Bierenbaum held her hostage or threatened her with violence, Gail planned to tell him she would send the medical board the letter from Robert Bierenbaum’s therapist which described him as “psychotic”.
In his own words, “I wanted her to stop yelling at me and I attacked her.” He also said he killed his wife because she was immature and “didn’t understand how to deal with his anger.” He continued, “I went flying. I opened the door and then took her body out of the airplane over the ocean.”
Robert Bierenbaum has another parole hearing in November. He could be released soon. Alayne Katz told ABC News, “This is exactly the same man that I knew 35 years ago… He hasn’t changed … he is incapable of a shred of remorse.”