Robert Bierenbaum

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Robert Bierenbaum (born July 22, 1955) is American former plastic surgeon and convicted murderer. He was convicted in October 2000 of having murdered his estranged wife, Gail Katz-Bierenbaum 15 years earlier in their Manhattan apartment on July 7, 1985.

Bierenbaum, a licensed pilot, took a two-hour flight in a Cessna 172 from Essex County, New Jersey over the Atlantic Ocean on the day he murdered Gail. He failed to mention this fact to authorities during their initial questioning.

The prosecution stated that Bierenbaum discarded his wife's dismembered body in the ocean. The victim's torso was first thought to be found in 1989 but after exhuming the torso, DNA testing in 1999 proved it was not that of Gail Katz-Bierenbaum. Despite eyewitness testimony for the defense who stated he saw the victim in a Manhattan bagel shop during the time that Bierenbaum took his airplane flight,[1] Bierenbaum was convicted and sentenced to twenty years to life in prison in New York. He appealed, but the conviction was upheld in the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division in 2002.[2]

Bierenbaum is currently incarcerated in Ossining Correctional Facility. He has been eligible for parole since October 2020. His offender number is 00-A-7114.[3]

At his December 2020 parole hearing, Bierenbaum confessed that he had killed his wife and threw her body out of an airplane.[4]


The Bierenbaum case was the subject of the 2001 New York Times non-fiction bestseller book The Surgeon's Wife.[5] It was the basis of the plot of the episode "The Good Doctor" in the first season of Law and Order: Criminal Intent and also one of the stories in the television show Dominick Dunne: Power, Privilege, & Justice on Court TV.

In the ISBN database, the summary of the book includes:[6]

... Robert Bierenbaum, a prominent surgeon and certified genius ... Gail's parents had been thrilled to learn she was marrying Robert Bierenbaum. He seemed to be the perfect match for their daughter. he was from a well-to-do family, a medical student who spoke five languages fluently, a skier, and he even flew an airplane. ... Robert had tried to choke Gail because he caught her smoking, she filed a police report. She also alleged that he tried to kill her cat because he was jealous of it.

Bierenbaum has been referred to as "The Lady Killer". It has been said in Vanity Fair and New York magazine that women still find him attractive, even though he has been convicted of murdering his first wife.[7]

Legal precedent[edit]

People of the State of New York v. Robert Bierenbaum was a landmark decision, setting precedent on upholding physician-patient privilege even when a Tarasoff warning is invoked: "Neither a psychiatrist issuing a Tarasoff warning nor a patient telling his friends he's in treatment constitutes a waiver of a patient's psychiatrist-patient privilege."[8][9][10]

The case was also used as precedent in the California case of Glyn Scharf, where Scharf was charged with murdering his wife, even though the victim's body was never found.[11]


At a parole hearing in December 2020, Bierenbaum confessed to strangling his wife and tossing her body out of an airplane while flying over the Atlantic Ocean. The hearing denied his parole. His next parole hearing was scheduled for November 2021.[12]

Medical status[edit]

As a result of the New York state Medical Licensing Board's misconduct review following the court case, Bierenbaum surrendered his License to Practice medicine in November, 2000.[13][14] In September 2002, New Jersey also revoked his medical practice license.[15]

In popular culture[edit]

The Robert Bierenbaum case was featured by the television show Law and Order: Criminal Intent, in an episode entitled "The Good Doctor", which originally aired in November, 2001; in an episode of the French series Paris enquêtes criminelles; and in an episode of 20/20 in October 2021.[16]

Lisa DePaulo profiled the Bierenbaum case in her story, "Intimations of Murder" published in the September 2000 issue of Vanity Fair magazine.[17] The case was featured in an episode of OWN series Devil You Know.


  1. ^ "Bob Bierenbaum murder trial". Archived from the original on March 24, 2006. Retrieved February 24, 2007.
  2. ^ "Robert Bierenbaum murder conviction". Archived from the original on February 11, 2007. Retrieved February 25, 2007.
  3. ^ "NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision".
  4. ^ Rhee, Joseph; Schiffman, Keren; Wagschal, Gerry; Effron, Lauren (October 21, 2021). "Ex-surgeon admits to throwing wife's body out of plane 35 years after killing her". ABC7 Chicago. Retrieved March 11, 2022.
  5. ^ "The Surgeon's Wife". Archived from the original on January 10, 2006. Retrieved February 25, 2007.
  6. ^ The Surgeon's Wife, by Kiernan Crowley, published by St. Martin's True Crime Library, Paperback; 2001-09-17, ISBN 978-0-312-97641-5.
  7. ^ Landman, Beth (2000-12-11). "December 11, 2000". Retrieved 2012-11-23.
  8. ^ "Legal news". 2000-10-20. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
  9. ^ "Legal precedent". Archived from the original on February 14, 2011. Retrieved February 14, 2011.
  10. ^ KATHERINE E. FINKELSTEINPublished: September 8, 2000 (September 8, 2000). "Patient Confidentiality at Issue in 1985 Murder Case". New York Times. Archived from the original on February 15, 2009. Retrieved November 23, 2012.
  11. ^ "Court TV becomes truTV". Archived from the original on April 9, 2009. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
  12. ^ Bonvillian, Crystal (October 22, 2021). "Former New York surgeon admits killing wife, throwing body from airplane in 1985". KIRO 7 News Seattle. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  13. ^ "Physician". 2000-12-20. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
  14. ^ "Final Actions". Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved February 14, 2011.
  15. ^ "Peter C. Harvey Attorney General of New Jersey: In The Matter of the Suspension or Revocation of the License of Robert Bierenbaum, M.D." (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 17, 2012. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
  16. ^ Rhee, Joseph; Schiffman, Keren; Wagschal, Garry; Effron, Lauren (October 21, 2021). "Ex-surgeon confesses he took wife's 'body out of the airplane over the ocean'". ABC News. Retrieved March 11, 2022.
  17. ^ Depaulo, Lisa. "INTIMATIONS OF MURDER | Vanity Fair | September 2000". Vanity Fair | The Complete Archive. Retrieved March 11, 2022.

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