The monster surgeon who got away with murder for 30 years

When Carole Fisher met Bob Bierenbaum, she was overjoyed to have met the most eligible man she could have hoped for.

Even when a red flag emerged on their very first date an Indian Restaurant in Las Vegas, she did her best to ignore it. After all, he was a charming, wealthy plastic surgeon who could cook amazing meals, speak five languages and fly planes. Carole, then a divorced single mum, believed he was her knight in shining armour. 

‘I was trying to understand who this man is and I was talking about his past while sharing mine,’ Carole tells about their date in 1995. ‘When I asked him if he had ever been married before, he was very, very hesitant to admit it. So I joked: “Hey, what did you do? Murder your wife?”’ 

Bierenbaum went pale and very quiet – and then started to quiz Carole about what she knew. ‘His reaction to that question was a red flag. I had great intuition but I ignored it,’ she admits. 

‘He then proceeded to tell me a very elaborate story, designed to make me feel sorry for him, all about his wife who had a drug problem, who had affairs, who left the home for good one day and probably either committed suicide or was out living with another guy.

‘I wanted to believe that to be true, because I didn’t want him to be anyone other than who I wanted him to be.’ 

What Carole didn’t know was that she was about to embark on a relationship with a convicted murderer. 

Bierenbaum’s wife, Gail Katz, did indeed go missing from her New York home on July 7, 1985. He told her family and police they had a fight at their apartment and Katz stormed off.

In the days that followed he and Gail’s family would traipse through Central Park,desperately distributing missing-person flyers. However, he knew she was never coming bome, as Bierenbaum had killed Gail and thrown her body out of a hired light aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean.

With no body and no evidence, police failed to bring him to justice, and for three decades, Bierenbaum protested his innocence.

Gail’s bereaved sister Alayne refused to believe him and for the next 30 years hunted Bierenbaum relentlessly, leaving answerphone messages, saying: “I know you killed my sister. You’re not going to get away with it.”

During that time, Alayne also gathered testimonies from Carole and other ex girlfriends. They were shared experiences that would eventually see her sister’s killer brought to justice. 

Following Gail’s disappearance, Bierenbaum had dated a string of women and even re-married and had a child. Many of them had been on the receiving end of his terrifying temper and disturbing behaviour, and it was their accounts that helped build a case against him.

But while the cold-blooded killer was finally convicted in 2000 -with him still maintaining his innocence – Gail Katz’s body has never been found.

From her Las Vegas home Carole, now 65, recalls a series of warning signs that should have sent her running after that first date in 1995.

On one occasion Bierenbaum threatened to kill her mother’s dog, she tells On another, he accused her of giving him syphilis. 

‘He could go from zero to 100 in a rage really quickly,’ she remembers. ‘There was a time when I was emptying his dishwasher and I dropped a glass and it broke. And he was so angry and it was out of proportion with the event. That was a significant red flag. I wasn’t scared for my safety, but I was alarmed that this man had such a temper. I thought: “Something’s not right here”. 

‘And he was extremely controlling. He had this sense of ownership of me. He would behave in a certain way in public, as if he was showing me off all the time. It was odd. It wasn’t like a partnership, it all felt like manipulation and control. I would like other women to know – if someone is trying to control and dominate and has a bad temper – take it seriously.’

The sinister behaviour exhibited by Bierenbaum towards Carole was the same that had been experienced by Gail more than a decade prior.

He would control what she wore, force food into her mouth in public and on one occasion, even tried to drown her cat in the toilet.

After six months, Bierenbaum ended the relationship with Carole. ‘I was too strong a personality for him, I wasn’t going to be the compliant woman for him,’she says, knowing now that she was lucky to escape with her life. 

One in three women will be subject to domestic abuse in their lifetime, according to No More, a global nonprofit dedicated to ending domestic and sexual violence which has been working with Carole on podcast The Girlfriends about her – and other women’s – experiences with Bierenbaum.

When he was finally arrested in 1999, and Carole was called to give evidence in court the following year, she was terrified.

She hadn’t seen her ex in 25 years and the first time she faced Bierenbaum in court was chilling: ‘It was a very, very intimidating experience, one that I will never forget,’ she recalls. ‘I flew in the night before and got the hell out of there the next day. Bob gave me this really odd kind of smirk, looking at me.

‘And I’m thinking: “This is not a smiling situation. This is a serious situation.” I’ve never been sure what that smirk or smile was but I wasn’t there to protect him. I was there to do the right thing. And to make sure that I told the truth. 

‘It was just horrible to see him. There’s not many things that intimidate me or scare me. But I was shaken that day to the core. It was a very emotional experience. And I was very scared.’ 

Carole, a strategic advisor, was relieved when, back at her desk in Las Vegas and she received the call confirming that Bierenbaum had been jailed for 20 years for strangling Gail to death.

But she still couldn’t get her head around it, wanting to believe that somehow it was an accident or an argument gone wrong. 

‘I wanted to live in denial. It was an easier place for me to live,’ she explains. ‘I’ve been in denial for more than 20 years. I never wanted to admit that it could have been me, or that I dated someone who was so horrific. Such a sociopath. Even at the time of conviction, I can tell you that while I understood he murdered his wife, I still was under the impression in my mind of twisted thinking – that maybe that was an accident. Maybe it wasn’t intentional. 

‘But it was. And it was horrific either way, whether it’s an accident or not. There’s no excuse for that behaviour. It was hard for me to think that I allowed my daughter, who was maybe nine years old at the time, to go and be with him, or that I dated him. I just had a hard time really getting to grips with that.’ 

It wasn’t until Carole started working on the podcast that she realised how deep this river of denial ran. She says she is now proud to be a voice for Gail and for all the women in violent relationships who can’t speak out for themselves. 

‘Today I am very pleased that he’s behind bars,’ says Carole. ‘I hope that he remains there. He’s eligible for parole, but I think that would be a mistake to let a man like that out. And today I’m owning this part of my story.

‘There are women that are in domestic violence situations that just don’t feel they can ask for help,’ she adds. ‘

We have to create a safety net for these women. And we have to talk about this issue. So this podcast is serving as a voice for those women and I’m really proud to be part of that.’ 

The next episode of The Girlfriends is due out 24 July and will be available to listen to here.

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