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A former plastic surgeon whose first wife disappeared more than 36 years ago and who was convicted of her murder 20 years ago reportedly has confessed his culpability to a New York state parole board.
Robert Bierenbaum, now 66, was convicted in 2000 of the July 1985 murder of his first wife, Gail Katz Bierenbaum, 29. The theory that prosecutors presented at the trial was that Bierenbaum had killed his wife in their home, possibly dismembered her, put her remains in a large duffle bag and thrown the bag out an airplane he was piloting over the Atlantic Ocean. Gail Katz was never heard from after July 7, 1985 and her body was never recovered, but the jury convicted her husband of her murder on the basis of the circumstantial evidence provided by prosecutors.
Bierenbaum had long maintained his innocence in the case. He put forth numerous theories to multiple girlfriends prior to his arrest: Katz had committed suicide, was off shopping at Bloomingdales, been killed by drug dealers, run off with someone with whom she'd been having an affair, or was living in a "fugue state," according to their testimonies at his trial.
After his trial, he filed multiple appeals to try to overturn his conviction, first claiming that trial court errors in allowing certain evidence against him prejudiced his case, then that ineffective counsel and the delay between the time he murdered his wife and charges were brought against him were a violation of his rights.
His appeals were all denied.
Sentenced to 20 years to life after his October 2000 conviction, Bierenbaum became eligible for parole in 2020. His first parole hearing is when, according to ABC News, Bierenbaum admitted to killing his wife.
"I wanted her to stop yelling at me and I attacked her," Bierenbaum told the parole board in December 2020, according to transcripts obtained by ABC News.
Bierenbaum admitted to strangling his wife, as police had long suspected. Katz had told multiple people prior to her death that, in 1983, Bierenbaum became so enraged by her smoking a cigarette that he'd strangled her into unconsciousness, and she'd once told a friend that Bierenbaum had threaten to strangle her if she left him, according to court records. Katz had told multiple people that she'd planned to ask Bierenbaum for a divorce the weekend she went missing.
Bierenbaum also admitted that he'd disposed of Katz's body more or less as they'd come to believe.
"I went flying," he told the parole board. "I opened the door and then took her body out of the airplane over the ocean."
He reportedly blamed his actions on immaturity and said he "didn’t understand how to deal with his anger" at the time. (Bierenbaum turned 30 shortly after the murder.)
Bierenbaum was not granted parole in 2020, but will have another hearing at the end of 2021.
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